For most of CBR10, I’ve been in a real reading rut. While I’ve read plenty of books I liked, there have been only a few that met my criteria for The Kind of Book I Love to Read:
- The story is engrossing: I have to feel like I can’t put it down.
- It’s not just engrossing, but also evokes specific emotions: I love a book that makes me feel happy or excited, or that awakens my curiosity or makes me want to learn something new. Books that make me feel depressed or grossed out may still be good, but I can’t say I love reading things that make me feel that way.
- It makes me think about the ways my life could have been different, or helps me imagine or discover things I had never thought of: Harry Potter’s the obvious example of this one, but a book like Into Thin Air also fits the bill.
This year, I’ve really struggled to find anything that fit all three criteria, and it’s made it hard for me really feel engaged in either my reading or my reviews. Not to build up La Belle Sauvage too much, but it changed all that. Holy crap, I loved this book.
La Belle Sauvage is the first book in a trilogy by Philip Pullman that takes place in the same universe as the His Dark Materials stories. This book takes place 12 years before the start of The Golden Compass, and it’s the story of how Lyra Belacqua ended up living at Jordan College. It introduces 11-year-old Malcolm Polstead, whose parents run a tavern in Oxford. Malcolm often does odd jobs for the nuns who live in a priory nearby, and he’s one of the first to meet Lyra when she is brought there soon after she’s born. He ultimately becomes the person responsible for seeing her safely to Jordan College, along with Alice Parslow, who works at his parents’ tavern and who is a complete and total badass.
To say anymore would be give away a story that is thrillingly, nail-bitingly satisfying and enjoyable. I listened to the audiobook version of this, narrated by Michael Sheen, and I recommend it so highly. Michael Sheen should be narrating every book from now on. Michael Sheen could make a weekly grocery store trip sound exciting. He was fantastic. I know from reading other Philip Pullman novels that sometimes the conversations between characters go on a bit too long, or discuss abstract concepts in bewildering ways. Listening to the audiobook mitigated any of that. I was literally never not giving this book my complete attention while listening to it. A couple of times I actually had to turn it off while driving, because I was paying too much attention to the book and not enough to what I was actually doing.
It helps that the book itself, like The Golden Compass, is the kind of adventure story that is full of twists and turns and last-minute saves. The second half has a sort of Odyssey-like feel, and the villain is one of the creepiest characters I’ve ever read about. There’s this scene where he’s talking to Malcolm from behind a locked door and it made my skin crawl, it was so creepy (a lot of that is due to the absolutely terrifying voice Michael Sheen uses for the villain).
I could gush about this book all day, if I had the time. It obviously met all my criteria for a Book I Love to Read. I cannot wait for the next one to come out. I loved this book.
CBR10 Bingo: Backlog (just barely, since it was published last October, but it’s been on my list ever since I first heard Pullman was writing it).