Despite Philip Pullman’s pronouncement that this is book is an “equal” (not a prequel or sequel) to His Dark Materials, this first volume is most definitely a prequel. In fact, it’s so firmly set on creating additional backstory for His Dark Materials characters that it leaves little room for new characters and storylines to shine. I would have much preferred a brand new story set in the familiar world, where known characters and events are merely mentioned in passing…but here we are.
The Book of Dust follows tavern boy Malcolm Polstead and his trusty canoe La Belle Sauvage, as he journeys to aide/protect baby Lyra from the oppressive religious agencies set to snatch her away. He encounters several familiar characters from the original series along the way.
Pullman’s writing evokes storytelling of a bygone era. Apart from (occasionally heavy-handed) allusions to present day authoritarian regimes, there is very little here that identifies this as a novel written in contemporary times. It makes it seem like a timeless story and I very much enjoy that aspect of Pullman’s style.
Overall, though, this feels like a missed opportunity to chart new territory in an established world. I hope the future novels divert further away from the known storylines and allow Malcolm to leave the baggage of the original novels behind.
★★½ out of 5