It’s been a few years since I travelled into Phillip Pullman’s world of Dæmons, the alethiometer and the mysterious Dust. This book has had me excited since it was first announced, and Pullman has not disappointed. I mean, look at those stars!
I love everything about this story – it is hard not to put any spoilers in, but I am going to give it a shot.
At the beginning of La Bella Sauvage, you can tell that it is not set in modern time. There is no mention of cars, of telephones or mobiles and I honestly think this ‘old-fashioned and feel’ to a story is what makes it better – because the characters have to work harder to get to their goal.
La Bella Sauvage is set ten years before Lyra’s story in His Dark Materials but still does feature her – in the form of a six-month baby. Baby dæmons are really cute by the way! Yep, her Dæmon, Pan is with her too.
Pan was a butterfly again, a pure white one, and was dancing in the air with the cloud of blue ones
However, you do not have to read His Dark Materials to know what is going on in the story. I find this amazing, as it has saved me a lot of rereading to do – though I will reread them at some point.
This story starts with a new protagonist. Malcolm Polstead. He lives in a pub with his parents and is a goody-two-shoes child who has a strong conscience along with strong values and ideas of what is right and wrong. He is also talented at building things. His companion through the story Alice hardly speaks to him, she’s fifteen and likes to show that she is a sharp cookie. This is illustrated when someone pinches her bottom and she breaks a beer glass as a warning to the offender. She is strong, but she is also a softie, and I think Pullman has illustrated some great characters from the beginning.
The characters character arc is realistic but so gradual that you don’t see it until the very end. Alice and Malcolm, first starting off without speaking a word to each other, become best friends and they learn valuable lessons along the way – this includes breaking character values if it helps protect an infant. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t feel guilty about them, but learns that sometimes it is the only way.
If he’d been the sort of boy who acquired a nickname, he would no doubt have been known as Professor, he wasn’t that sort of boy.
Just like His Dark Materials, Malcolm’s society is a theocracy rather than democracy or dictatorship and troubles are even harder because of this. He is unable to trust his friends at school, just in case they have joined the League of Saint Alexander – an organisation that is not too dissimilar to George Orwell’s Big Brother in 1984. Meanwhile, he is on the run from another institution and from a crazy, rapist and possibly, paedophilic of a man with a hyena-formed dæmon. But as he only knew three people in the ‘good-side’ spy organisation, he has no idea who to trust at all and tries to tread carefully.
Malcolm is aware of places that may be safe for them and Lyra, but obstacles are met along the way. A flood. No knowledge of Latin and creatures from the fairy whelm all prevent him and Alice from getting Lyra to safety in a decent amount of time.
All stories, whether we want them to or not can be linked to mythology and fairy tales. Pullman embraces this by adding realms and events that relate to the fairy tales and myths we know today. However, he does it in such a way that we see them in a different light altogether. From the biblical story of Noah’s Ark to mythological stories of Changelings and fairy tales like Rumplestiltskin. Phillip Pullman uses them, references them and then changes them into his own. Just like the Brothers Grimm did with all of their fairy tales.
Yet, with all this excitement, it is nothing to do with the story at large. The real story is the struggle of two children who are stuck with a baby that the world seems to be chasing. And as I am sure experienced parents will know, looking after an infant is no easy task. Imagine it in the middle of the flood, where supplies are low because no one believed the flood would take place. Nowhere is safe enough to stay long enough because people are after you and then you have a screaming child in your ear begging for milk and food and nappy changing and warmth. Everything a baby needs, they had to try and fit it in a tiny canoe and sterilised. A massive challenge.
… in any event, Malcolm felt daunted, and very young and small.
Lyra, on the other hand, has no intention of helping in any way what so ever. She has no idea where she is, all she knows is that she is no longer being looked after by nuns but two – what she must think are imbeciles – are looking after her. Lyra will often want Alice to hold her rather than Malcolm, throw her toast on the floor, cry when the enemy is approaching and they’re trying to hide and then laugh when the other two are nearly in tears. A right little monster.
There was a beautiful scene where they fall through a waterfall. Malcolm and Alice are terrified out of their wits, and Lyra is laughing her head off. It looks sinister in my eye but it also shows how innocent she is of the danger around her.
I honestly feel that the adventure Alice and Malcolm go on is realistic and that the characters are braver than me. I think if I were presented with the same issues and problems, I would probably break down on the spot or not be able to continue. But, Malcolm and Alice continue because it is the only hope they have and because Malcolm has more courage than the average eleven-year-old (perhaps the average adult). Likewise, Alice is wise beyond her years as she has often had to look after her younger siblings and work to feed the family.
The book is really well written, I wasn’t bored for a single second that I was reading it. It only took me two and a bit days, I was enjoying it that much. I can’t wait for volume 2. No seriously, where is it?
Thanks for reading: next week I’ll be reviewing The Selection by Kiera Cass.
Feel free to join Berg’s Bookclub on Facebook.