Friday, May 4, 2018

Book Review: La Belle Suavage

'La Belle Suavage' is Phillip Pullman's newest book. It takes place in the same world and has some of the same characters as the 'His Dark Materials' trilogy.


In the world where Pullman's novels take place, all humans are born with a daemon, which is like an animal familiar that is always with them. The daemon is essentially part of the human's soul. When people are children, their daemon can turn into any animal. But then as they mature, their daemon settles on just one animal that somehow represents who they are. I love this idea and like to ponder what my daemon would settle as.

'La Belle Suavage' centers around intrepid young protagonist Malcolm Polstead. He lives an ordinary life with his mother and father who run a local pub. But the world is changing around them. People in power are striving for more and there is political and religious upheaval. Malcolm is exposed to the outside world more than most young boys because of his family's pub. He sees many people and overhears many conversations.

Near by the Polstead's pub is a nunnery. The local nunnery is caring for a young child named Lyra. Those who have read the original 'His Dark Materials' books know who Lyra is! Malcolm is instantly fascinated by the little girl.  He is not the only one. The reason Lyra is kept at the nunnery is to keep her safe. There is a wild man who wants to kidnap Lyra and almost does, until a a rainstorm and flood ensue, preventing the would-be kidnapper and forcing Malcolm to jump into action.  Malcolm and his friend Alice grab Lyra to save her from the crazed man and from the flood. Malcolm has a boat called 'La Belle Suavage.' In this boat, Alice, Lyra and Malcolm flee the man who is in hot pursuit of them.

Malcolm, Lyra and Alice have many adventures! They are the type of adventures that are often in whimsical books for children. But as with Pullman's other novels, the book philosophizes between passages of witches and fairies. Just as in his other novels, Pullman's portrayal of religious zealots in his books clearly are set to have the reader question religious ferocity. Many of the most religious in his books have questionable morals and dubious motives. This isn't to say every religious character is portrayed as an antagonist as their are many loving nuns that help nurture both Lyra and Malcolm. But their are other's who use their religion to justify bad behavior. One way this happens is through a directive that enlists children to spy and tattle upon their parents or other adults in their life for heresy. The children are allured in the group partly by the name 'League of St. Alexanders' (which sounds pretty cool, what kid doesn't want to be part of a 'league'?). But the children are also influenced to join the league by a story that twists a child's betrayal of his family into an act of heroism. It was interesting the different ways the children reacted to their new found power. With one word, they could send the adults who once had power over them away.

'La Belle Suavage' was a very enjoyable book that I definitely recommend!...especially if you read the original novels from the 'His Dark Materials' trilogy. There is nothing like being re-immersed in a familiar make-believe world of your youth with fresh eyes and fresh characters! 

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