Buying a sequel published several years after its wildly successful predecessor is a risky venture. The reader never knows whether the writer is simply trying to cash in on the popularity (aka ‘desperately attempting to revive a flagging ouevre’), or has produced a story that genuinely fits within the context of the predecessor. Examples can be found on both sides. Thus, going in to Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage, first book in The Book of Dust (a prequel trilogy to the original His Dark Materials… trilogy), I didn’t really know what to expect. About a quarter of the way through, my concerns were assuaged, however. La Belle Sauvage is genuine.
La Belle Sauvage is the name of fourteen-year old Malcom’s canoe. Son of an innkeeper in an alternate-world (steampunk-ish) Oxford, he’s a smart, good-mannered young man who helps his father around the inn, as well as the nuns in the priory across the river when time allows. In the midst of serving a small influx of VIP guests at the inn, including some shadowy members of the Magisterium’s secret police, an infant is secretly brought to the nun’s priory for hiding and safe keeping. A tiny little girl named Lyra, Malcom falls in love with her while helping the nuns one day. Spring rains incessant, however, the river separating the inn from the priory swells, making Malcom’s trips across in La Belle Sauvage dangerous. When Malcom witnesses a rough man with a hyena as a familiar attempt to kidnap Lyra from the priory one night, the action is on. And when floods break out, it’s anybody’s guess as to the fate of the little girl. Malcom’s canoe may prove just as precious if she is to survive.