As a massive fan of the His Dark Materials trilogy since the age of nine, this might be a slightly biased review, so it might be worth bearing that in mind. Set a full ten years before The Northern Lights, La Belle Sauvage is the story of how exactly Lyra ended up at Jordan College. It’s also the tale of the two children, Malcolm and Alice, who risk everything to get Lyra to safety in Malcolm’s canoe.
This fantastic tale is set (mostly) in Lyra’s universe, though it combines allegorical elements from the tale of Noah’s flood with strange encounters which are almost lifted from the Odyssey. Furthermore it depicts the chilling effects of religion creeping into politics, in a world where children inform upon everyone for blasphemy, and people can disappear into nowhere almost as quickly as they do in V for Vendetta.
There are some brilliant easter eggs for people who know the original trilogy quite well, though there are also a few other bits which made me smile considerably – such as the discovery that Stephen Hawking (or an analogue) also exists in Lyra’s world.
Mature year 6s and above will be fine with this book, but if you have any concerns and want to know which talking points are likely to come up in conversation, it might be worth having a bit of a read before handing it over to your child. I’d definitely say that this book straddles the line between children’s fiction and young adult in a similar way to His Dark Materials, and it’s a bit darker in places as well.
As a heads up, there is a bit of bad language in this one. Alice is particularly fond of the “F-word” and uses it a few times ( I think it was seven times in total. Contextually her swearing is somewhat justified, so this might would be a good basis for a conversation about why swear words exist). There is some depiction of sex, and the main villain was previously convicted of paedophilia. This book contains violence, a few deaths and a pretty hefty amount of mortal peril, but please don’t let that put you off – it’s still a fantastic children’s book and well worth giving to anyone who loves the His Dark Materials trilogy.
I absolutely adored this newest book in the sequence of books about Lyra’s world, and I really look forward to the next part of the trilogy – Phillip Pullman has reportedly already finished writing it!