And then there was the word Dust, with a capital D …
Well, I know, I know … where are all my blogs! I’ve been busy reading some very weighty tomes, firstly Tombland by CJ Sansom (another Shardlake roller coaster which in my opinion was 200 pages too long but I still enjoyed it) and then this wonderful book by Philip Pullman. I loved the first trilogy without ever really reading the Christian metaphors in it until someone mentioned it to me then it hit me in the face like a giant spade. I woke up. So when it came to this text the idea of church vs state and all the inherent issues were already lodged in my brain.
What’s it about I hear you scream. Well it’s in the time before the Northern Lights, Lyra is a tiny baby and she is living in a convent on the outside of Oxford, having been hidden there for her own protection. However, the world is in a state of turmoil as a number of people seem to want Lyra dead, although it’s not clear why. So if Lyra isn’t our hero who is? Well Malcolm, the son of the local pub landlord and a girl called Alice who works in the pub find themselves caught up in Lyra’s story. After a ‘biblical flood’ (pun intended) the convent where Lyra has been living is destroyed and by a twist of fate Malcolm and Alice find themselves carrying the baby to safety away from the evil Hugh Bonneville who wants her dead (although he doesn’t seem to be the only one).
With all the countryside flooded and no hope of returning home, Malcom and Alice escape on La Belle Sauvage, Malcolm’s trusty canoe which just so happens to have been completely fitted out by Lord Asriel, Lyra’s father. The story then becomes an incredible journey, full of betrayal, fairies, violence and a deepening friendship between Malcolm and Alice. Some of their escapades had me hanging on the edge of my seat and my normal bedtimes were destroyed by this book. There are a vast array of characters, as you’d expect and the villains are delicious. I loathe Hugh Bonneville. I wanted him to be defeated from the start but that 3 legged hyena dæmon of his and its demonic laugh haunted me throughout. There are also characters from the first trilogy that readers will recognise.
Now, I must admit that I was caught out by the language. I suppose that Alice represents a dose of reality but the swearing was a shock. Maybe I am just too old or a prude or something but I don’t particularly want to read the ‘f-word’ in an adult book never mind one for young adults. Maybe it was the legacy of being a teacher! But when Alice is f-ing and screaming at Malcolm, I was a little disturbed. And it shouldn’t detract from the amazing adventure story and I have already pre-ordered the next one, so clearly not that much of distraction.
In summary, highly recommended and worth 550 odd pages!
Who should read this book?
This is sold as YA and due to the language I would recommend it for 14 and above. There are some very dark themes in this book and they might be hard for anyone below Year 9. As an adult, it’s a fantastic read. You don’t have to read the other 3 books either, this stands alone. It’s a bit overwhelming for a classroom setting but if you wanted to learn about world building, pace and plotting as a writer, then this is certainly one to read.