Book review: The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman


The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman (first published in 2017 by Penguin Random House)

When not working at his parents’ tavern, 11-year-old Malcolm loves to explore the river on board his little boat La Belle Sauvage. 

One day he witnesses a violent encounter that makes him question the security he has always taken for granted, and leads him to a connection with an academic who is trying to understand the mysteries of a strange device that seems to be able to tell the future. 

He is also drawn to find out more about Lyra, the mysterious baby being cared for by nuns at the local convent - especially when more than one guest asks about her. 

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He starts to suspect the friendly man with the aggressive three-legged hyena daemon, who seems intent on insinuating himself into the affections of one of the young nuns at the convent. 

Then there is the awful, insidious League of St Alexander, which entices schoolchildren to spy on classmates, teachers and parents who seem to question the status quo. Its founder? The charismatic Mrs Coulter, who has her own reasons to be interested in Lyra’s whereabouts.

If some of this sounds familiar, it is because The Book of Dust is a story set in the same world as the smash-hit His Dark Materials series, 10 years before Northern Lights. 

Twenty-two years after  the success of the earlier books, author Phillip Pullman returns to this world with a follow-up which is gripping from the first page, and becomes even more so as Malcolm and his companion Alice set off bravely into a raging flood to keep the baby safe from those who seem to wish her harm.

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Fans will learn a little more about the background to the original novels with the engaging Malcolm as their touchpoint, while new readers will almost certainly feel compelled to seek out the His Dark Materials trilogy for more.

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