March 19, 2018

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The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman | SLJ Review

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Pullman, Philip. The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage. Vol. 1. 464p. Knopf. Oct. 2017. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9780375815300.
Gr 8 Up–Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead is the inquisitive son of two hardworking and no-nonsense innkeepers. He spends his days working on his beloved canoe, La Belle Sauvage, helping his parents, and avoiding Alice, a teen dishwasher with an attitude. When a trio of mysterious gentlemen arrive asking about the nuns at the nearby priory and whether they’ve ever cared for a baby, Malcolm, along with his beloved daemon Asta, begins working as a spy for the underground resistance. Six-month-old Lyra, daughter of Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter, who stars in Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series, has been secreted away into the care of the Sisters, where Malcolm meets and immediately bonds with the orphaned infant. When the enigmatic Mr. Bonneville and his terrifying hyena daemon arrive in Oxford, it becomes clear that Bonneville wants the baby for his own nefarious purposes. As a historic flood ravages southern Brytain, with the Thames overflowing and destroying buildings and bridges in its wake, Malcolm and Alice find themselves thrown together as they save Lyra from Bonneville and the rising waters. But all is not well; both Bonneville and the Consistorial Court of Discipline, an arm of the brutal and dictatorial Church, are quick on the young people’s heels as they race in La Belle Sauvage to London in the hopes of finding sanctuary and reuniting Lyra with her father. Readers need not have read “His Dark Materials” to be swept along on this quest, though fans will delight in returning to Lyra’s Oxford in this prequel. Pullman keeps the tension high as Malcolm finds clever ways to outwit and outrun their pursuers and Alice reveals a tender side. A subplot about the League of St. Alexander, a Church-run organization that recruits kids to spy on their parents and neighbors, is reminiscent of the Nazi Youth. Themes that permeated Pullman’s previous trilogy, including a sharp and subversive critique of organized religion, abuse of power, and the fragility of democracy, are at play once again—and just as timely as ever. VERDICT Luminous prose, heady philosophical questions, and a lovable protagonist combine with a gripping plot sure to enchant fans and newcomers alike.–Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal

Kiera Parrott About Kiera Parrott

Kiera Parrott is the reviews director for School Library Journal and Library Journal and a former children's librarian. Her favorite books are ones that make her cry—or snort—on public transportation.

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