I remember being puzzled when this book series was announced. What more could there possibly be of this story to tell? And also, it was going to be a prequel AND a sequel series, somehow. It just felt bizarre to me, so I shrugged in my mind and then moved on with my life. Well, it all makes sense now. This is a prequel and a sequel, because it concerns Lyra still at its center (she’s an infant throughout the course of this book), and Pullman is still concerned with issues of freedom and anti-authoritarianism, but the central plot seems to be very different. This book actually feels more like a prelude than anything.
It’s a strange little book. Despite featuring an enormous flood, plots to kidnap babies, death and destruction, fearful pursuits in the dark of night, an abundance of spies and secret organizations, and the evils of encroaching totalitarianism, it’s mostly just a story about an eleven year old boy who owns a boat on the Thames, and who seems brave, kind, and smart. Malcolm Polstead is a very calm center to structure a book around, but his deliberate nature makes the book seem slower and less impactful at first than it actually is. The book also takes a while to get going, as Malcolm is slowly drawn into the plots that are happening around him (mostly involving Lyra’s mysterious parentage, and protecting her from multiple factions who want custody of her for various nefarious reasons, but also having to do with the secret organization Oakley Street, which is working behind the scenes to thwart the curbing of freedom of thought and expression).
I was pretty captivated by this book from the start. It has a great atmosphere, and I liked spending more time in one place and getting a sense for it. Lyra has adventures all over the world in the original trilogy, but Malcolm’s adventures take place mostly within the confines of his home neighborhood (at least, in the first half; the second half they go where the flood takes them. I liked seeing some of the many characters from the original trilogy here, and I thought Pullman did an excellent job making their appearances feel organic. He used previous characters where it made sense, and new ones where that was called for instead.
But still, this felt like a prelude. Lyra is only a baby, and while these events shape Malcolm (and Alice?) into who he will become, presumably the fireworks will be happening in books two and three, which take place when Lyra is an adult. And how exciting that will be! I’ve wondered often about what happened to her.
(P.S. Prepare yourself for the extreme cuteness of baby Lyra and her baby daemon Pantalaimon. It was excessive and well-played at the same time.)
(P.P.S. Logistical question. Does this mean parents not only have to name their babies, but also their baby’s daemons? How did Pan get his name? Do the parents’ daemons name him?? I just really need to know.)