Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Teen Tuesday and Audiobook Review: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman. The Book of Dust Volume One. Unabridged recording on 11 compact discs. 13 hours, 8 minutes. Read by Michael Sheen. Random House/ Listening Library, October, 2017. 9780525522997. (Recording borrowed from public library, hard cover purchased.)

Teen Tuesday features La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman. This is book one in a series called, The Book of Dust and it is a prequel to Pullman's earlier trilogy, His Dark Materials. While it is not necessary to read the earlier trilogy to enjoy this prequel, Ms. Kahn recommends that you do. The worldbuilding in this alternate universe is vivid and spectacular. The story hits the ground running and the tension and suspense ratchets up and stays up leaving the reader breathless. La Belle Sauvage also features one of the most frightening villains in YA literature. While His Dark Materials can be read by most students at TMS, La Belle Sauvage is better for students in grades 7 & 8.

This is the story of Lyra Belacqua's early childhood; but the hero of the story is eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead. He is the bright, observant and personable son of innkeepers. Though he goes to school and enjoys it, he sees an end to his education soon to most likely work with his parents at the inn, The Trout. He enjoys visiting the sisters who run the nearby priory and his curiosity is piqued by the newest resident, the infant, Lyra. He is totally enchanted by her bright-eyed cheerful manner and her daemon, Pantalaimon.

Malcolm is also intrigued by an artifact left behind by a patron, who later is found dead. He investigates and stumbles upon a spy network where he becomes an informant. The danger and suspense ratchet up pretty quickly. George Bonneville, one of the most terrifying villains I have come across in children's literature, abuses his hyena daemon. The idea of abusing one's own daemon is as shocking as it is painful. There is quite a bit of violence as well as a rape in this story, making it more suitable to a teen audience. 

While I believe the book can be enjoyed by readers who haven't read His Dark Materials, I think the enjoyment of the prequel is heightened with knowing what its to come. To me, it's like watching the Star Wars episodes in a row starting at episode one. Fine, but not as originally written. But then, I still order my Chronicles of Narnia by the date written. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is always book one to me. 

ETA: Oops! I just reread my "audiobook review" and realized that I didn't mention the performance at all. Michael Sheen turned in a phenomenal performance. I was so absorbed that I had to remind myself to breathe often. Somehow, he managed to be coherent and understandable even when the characters were incoherent with fear. Outstanding, not to be missed. 

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