The three volumes of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy have a permanent place on my bookshelves. All three have featured in my end of year Top 10s with “Northern Lights” (1995) being my second favourite book of the year both times I’ve read it (1998 and 2001). I last read the whole trilogy 18 years ago but I know I’ll be revisiting them again.
From this you might have thought that I would have snapped up “The Book Of Dust” when it was published in 2017. I didn’t, not even when it came out in paperback. The copy I’ve just read I borrowed from the library. My selection was motivated by two things- the publication of the second volume this month and the impending and much heralded BBC adaptation of “His Dark Materials” which begins this weekend.
But why was I put off from reading this before now? I think it’s because it’s a prequel to the main series. Prequels- they are never that great are they? Immediately coming to mind was CS Lewis’ “The Magician’s Nephew” published five years after “The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe” which certainly, I feel, if read before the more famous book diminishes the reader’s introduction to Narnia because it is greatly inferior. It’s more common for a different author to write a prequel (as in Jean Rhys’ 1966 “Wide Sargasso Sea” linked to “Jane Eyre” which is an acknowledged modern classic but also left me cold). Because this is by a different author, however, it doesn’t influence my view of the Bronte novel which I love. When you look at prequels to movies you’re in the realms of “Psycho IV – The Beginning” and “Oz; The Great & Powerful”, I’m not at all sold on this prequel idea.
In this first volume main trilogy character Lyra is a baby who is being cared for by nuns. She becomes a source of fascination for 11 year old Malcolm Polstead who helps out at his parent’s pub and spends free time in his canoe (La Belle Sauvage) mainly bridging the watery gap between The Trout pub and the priory on the opposite bank. When he observes a strange occurrence on the riverside a chain of events opens in which he has to take direct action to ensure Lyra’s safety. The Oxford area is threatened by heavy rain and broken river banks making a proficient canoeist significant. His interest in Lyra leads to his introduction to a couple of shadowy organisations. Plot-wise this is all good, I love the presence of individual’s daemons, an idea which so enhances the trilogy. This time around, however, I did find the pace slow in places as if Pullman is fully prepared to take his time over his narrative thread and stretch it out over a sequence of novels. Malcolm is a very good central character and there is no doubt that this pre-teen protagonist would appeal to a quite young audience as would the structure of the adventure story which harks back to a modern take on children’s classics such as “Swallows And Amazons”, yet a couple of scenes, the language (there is the odd outburst of swearing by one particular character when pushed to the edge, which even despite this context still feels unsettling within the framework of the novel) and certainly the scientific principles demand greater maturity. It’s probably a case of the reader taking from it what they can and letting the rest wash over, which, let’s face it, is how many of us read Victorian classics.
I did enjoy this book and will read the next volume more quickly than I got round to this one (I have already reserved a library copy) but it is unlikely to make my Year End Top 10 and that fact alone makes me feel a little disappointed by it, and I would very much urge readers discovering Philip Pullman for the first time to read “His Dark Materials” and approach this as a separate introductory and related series.
The Book Of Dust: Volume 1 – La Belle Sauvage was published by David Fickling Books in 2017.
The first book in British author Patrick Ness’ “Chaos Walking” trilogy really does span boundaries. Aimed at a teen audience it works well for adult readers. Its Sci-Fi/Fantasy elements are well thought out and do not get in the way of first class storytelling and there’s so much running in it that I’ve classed it amongst my adventure novel/running man thread.
I’ve never read Patrick Ness before but I know he has many fans mainly through this trilogy and “A Monster Calls” which was recently made into a film. Main character Todd Hewitt is approaching manhood as a settler in a New World. A battle with aliens living on the planet has wiped out the human female population, made animals talk and all men’s thoughts expressed out loud as “The Noise”. Todd makes a discovery which challenges all he has been told and the only option open to him is to run.
Patrick Ness has got me eating my words as here he does something I normally gripe about yet here it works. Much of the novel is written in present tense. I moaned about this in Andrew Pyper’s “Demonologist” a horror novel made significantly less scary as a lot of the action becomes reported rather than letting us readers experience it. Ness avoids this largely because of his “The Noise” device. With all thoughts coming out as a stream Todd’s narrative can be filled with interactions from other characters which enables it to remain in the present.
It makes for action all the way and works here as a narrative style just about as well as it can. It also makes it quick to read but it can feel a little like it is all on one level. He maintains a fairly high octane pace throughout which may frustrate readers looking for a little more light and shade. Being much older than the intended audience I wasn’t sure about the talking animals but I was soon won over by Todd’s dog Manchee who becomes a great character in his own right. Animals in novels always cause me anxiety in case bad things happen to them. (I’ve discussed this before on here. I can read all kinds of things happening to humans without flinching but put an animal in the mix and I become squeamish. I used to think that odd, but a number of you have agreed with me). The relationship between Todd and his dog adds much to the novel.
This kind of dystopian future feels right on trend and if this appeals then I’d urge you to seek this book out as it is so well done. The world in which they live is revealed to us very much as it’s revealed to Todd and that provides a great opening for the trilogy. We’re left with a cliffhanger and the edition I read had a bonus short story “The New World” (published 2013), which, because I knew by then how it fits into the general narrative proved to be chilling reading. The whole thing would seem to be of lasting appeal to young adult readers and possesses the qualities to win over a much wider audience.
The Knife Of Never Letting Go was first published by Walker Books in 2008
Every so often I feel the need to give fantasy fiction a go. I know there are books of this genre that do have the potential to blow me away, but they seem to be few and far between. I was keen to read the first part of Peter Higgins’ trilogy which also incorporates “Truth and Fear “ and “Radiant State”. With all three novels in Peter Higgins’ trilogy now published, Gollancz has re-issued in a new edition the first volume, which originally appeared in 2013.
There is no doubt that this is a richly imagined world. A war amongst angels has caused a number of them to crash down to earth and become embedded in the ground, turning to stone on impact. Angel stone has properties used to control individuals and to form Mudjhik, giant stone creatures used in warfare. When an Archangel secretly falls to earth without dying, his embedded body slowly poisons the surroundings, controls and invades minds and causes the odd seismic interference. If you are with me so far then it is likely that you will enjoy this book.
Policeman Lom is seconded by a Government Department to track down a terrorist and is drawn into a complex scenario of intrigue and violence. I did find that I had to read the first half very slowly to take on board Higgins’ vivid imagination but once we’re in the realm of fight or flight things begin to slot into place. It reminded me of writers such as China Meiville, whose “Kraken” I read and really didn’t get on with but I did find this more accessible and enjoyed it more. I am still looking for writers to provide me with a good point of entry into this genre, so if anyone has any ideas please let me know. I’m not convinced that this would be a good introduction to fantasy fiction as there are considerable demands made on the reader but there is no denying the vividness of the language and the quality of Peter Higgins’ imagination.
The Wolfhound Century was published in this new edition by Gollancz in 2015. It was previously published in 2013.