# of Pages: 450
Time it took me to read: 4 days
# of pages a day to finish in a week: 65 pgs
Rating: 5 out of 5
Malcolm Polstead is a smart, curious boy of elevan. His life has always been interesting, but ordinary and happy. He lives with his parents, who own an inn/pub on the river in Oxford, he has his own little canoe, La Belle Sauvage, which he rows across the river to visit the nuns in the priory, who are his closest companions. His days are spent in school, and his nights are spent helping his parents out in the pub, where he’s always privy to the most important news and gossip in town. And it is in this way that he first hears about a very important infant who is staying with his very own nuns at the Godstow priory: the baby Lyra, who is already the subject of much mystery and intrigue. And before long, Malcolm finds himself inexorably wrapped in the life of the baby Lyra, and the forces that conspire to either protect her or harm her.
As soon as I heard that Philip Pullman had another book coming out from the world of His Dark Materials, I knew I had to have it. The Golden Compass was one of my very favorite books growing up. Long after I had read all three books, but before the movie came out, I remember my mom telling me that she read something about the author being a hard-core athiest, and that there was some really blasphemous God-killing scene in The Amber Spyglass. This was right around the time there was a big stir about it, and I think to this day that His Dark Materials is banned in just about every private school in America, which I always thought was odd, because at the time I read The Amber Spyglass, I read right through the scene where “God” dies without batting an eye. I was only twelve or thirteen at the time, and I feel as if a lot of that book went over my head. It was only after my mom mentioned it that I remembered going oohhhhhh, I see how people might be uncomfortable about that. However much of a radical that Philip Pullman might be, I don’t think that his books deserve to be banned anywhere, because they are quite obviously words of fiction, and even as a very impressionable, though not particularly religious, preteen, I never felt as if there was any sort of “agenda” drilled into my head or anything. They were just delightfully creative fantasy books with talking animals and witches, where this entity called “The Church” were the bad guys, though my twelve-year-old brain did not even associate “The Church” of His Dark Materials with the churches that I understood in the real world.
Anyway, enough about that. The Book of Dust was a wonderful dive back into the world of Lyra’s Oxford. Even though I haven’t read any of the books since I was in middle school, it didn’t take me long to really become fully immersed in the world that Philip Pullman creates once again, with the gyptians and the daemons and Lord Asriel and Ms. Coulter. Though the nice thing is, if you’ve never read His Dark Materials, you can still pick up and enjoy The Book of Dust, without feeling like you’re missing anything, though surely it’ll make you want to go and pick up The Golden Compass. I know my next reread, for sure.
The main character of this book, Malcolm, has the same wonderfully pure, intelligent quality that Lyra has, though this book puts Malcolm, only elevan, though very adult trials, and is definitely a test of his goodness and purity. Something that I believe that Pullman does very well is writing children that are still fairly believable as children, but makes them very intelligent and strong in a way that inspired me as a youth not much older than Lyra or Malcolm. These books, I think, are very accessable to any reader above the age of ten, though I wouldn’t call any of them “easy” by any means. Philip Pullman would never talk down to any of his readers, just because they were children, and all of the children in Pullman’s books are written with the respect they deserve, which is always something that I’ve loved.
Though I did feel as if both Lyra and Malcolm had some similar core qualities as characters, Malcolm didn’t feel redundant, or anything like that. He’s a unique character, and his story is very unique as well. This book is more complex than The Golden Compass, which I feel is the most accessible of His Dark Materials, and I feel as if this book is a more advanced first book in the trilogy than The Golden Compass, though I honestly couldn’t say that one is better than the other, just different.
Though you won’t catch me saying much of anything negative about any of Philip Pullman’s books, which I’ve loved since I was a child, I will say this: he is one of the more pretentious writers I’ve ever met. While I think that it’s excellent that he writes books that are accessible to a young audience while not talking down to them, he does write with this haughty air that if I didn’t love the stories and the characters so much would bother me, because it’s the same vibe that most writers who consider their books “literature” have. I’m not sure if I’ve ever ranted about how much I’m annoyed by writers who take themselves too seriously, but I am so very irked by them. Writing fiction, to me, is art done for entertainment’s sake, and some authors, I feel, try to hard to impress some heavy symbolism on me, the reader, or write books with the intention that book clubs will gather and talk about the heavy “themes”. The best books, for me, are ones that use symbolism and address heavy themes without making me think “wow, the author tried really hard to leave me with THAT impression”. Philip Pullman has, always, danced on that line for me. He’s almost too pretentious, but not quite. Which is why I considered giving this book 4.5 stars, but I’d be lying, because I loved every page of this book.
If you’re a lover of Philip Pullman, this book won’t disapoint. If you’re a fan of deeply immersive, intricate fiction, this is definitely the book for you. But if you’re looking for something that’s light and easy to read, I’d recommend something a little bit different.
If you liked The Book of Dust, try: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
The Black Witch by Laurie Forest
The Reader by Traci Chee
The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud