I quickly and deeply fell in love with Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy. The ending of the third book has me in tears each time I read it. However, when I heard that he was writing a prequel with Lyra “at the centre of the story”, I rolled my eyes. We already have three books where she is a main character. How much could have happened to her before the start of The Golden Compass? Then last year a fellow Cannonballer warmly reviewed it (apologies, I can’t remember who now). The reviewer had the same doubts as me going in but was won over and the review convinced me that I should give it a try too. I had a 10% off discount so decided to get the collector’s edition. The cover is much prettier than the standard edition but I’m not sure it’s worth the price difference as I was underwhelmed by the interior art, it didn’t add to the reading experience, imho. I too was taken by this story and am now intensely curious about the second book in this new series, which will take place twenty years after La Belle Sauvage and thus will happen after the events in the “His Dark Materials” books. In an interview Pullman says, “In fact, The Book of Dust is… an ‘equel’. It doesn’t stand before or after His Dark Materials, but beside it,” he said. “It’s a different story, but there are settings that readers of His Dark Materials will recognise, and characters they’ve met before.”
The book unfolds a bit like a mystery. There are many variables that slowly come together as characters gain new understanding and insight into the puzzle that surrounds the infant Lyra and Dust. While Lyra is integral, and you find out how she came to be a ward of Jordan College, primarily this is the story of Malcom Polstead. A curious and intelligent boy of eleven, who’s daemon, Asta, has yet to settle. His family owns an inn that is at a bend in the river Thames and is not far from Oxford and the colleges that reside there. Many scholars come to the inn and Malcolm at an early age was an eager listener and learner. Across the river is the Priory of Godstow where nuns go about their holy business. Malcolm is a good friend of the nuns and often helps with odd jobs. But when left to his own devices he loves nothing more than to spend time with his cherished canoe, La Belle Sauvage. Malcolm’s world begins to shift when he becomes entangled with a spy and a group of mysterious individuals come to the Inn one night asking questions about the nuns in the priory.
Philip Pullman does an excellent job writing children and exploring the boundary between childhood and adolescence. If you liked “His Dark Materials” trilogy I strongly suspect you’ll like this book too. I was engaged and curious at every turn, eager to find out the next layer of what was happening. This isn’t just back story for Lyra, it is also gives greater understanding of the world politics that led to events in The Golden Compass and of Dust itself.