This book made me so, so sad. And not because it was a sad book, but because this book had everything I loved—great characters, a wonderful plot, intense action—and I still didn’t like it. I felt like I was emotionally detached from the story, and I don’t understand why. So take everything I say in this review with a grain of salt, because this was a GREAT book. I just couldn’t convince myself to be all that interested in picking it up.
La Belle Sauvage follows Malcom Polstead, who’s parents run an inn on the bank of the river Thames, as he unintentionally finds himself drawn into a web of mysery, lies, and deceit. An acorn with a mysterious message, strange visitors to the Trout, and seemingly unnecessary precautions being taken at the priory all center around one thing—a baby named Lyra. But what is so special about this baby that warrants sending a religious organization after her, as well as a disturbingly violent man and his scary dæmon?
I loved the characters in this novel. Malcom was probably one of my favorite characters that I've read in a long time. He was smart, intelligent, and kind, but didn't come off as the Special Snowflake type of character. Alice was super feisty, protective, and wasn't the super weak and flimsy damsel in distress that some supporting female characters become in other stories. I also loved the supporting cast of characters, because they didn't seem flat or hastily constructed. The only character I didn't really like was a certain deranged man with a deranged dæmon. He just seemed... too messed up for my tastes. He crossed the line of believability waaayy to many times.
I also loved the story, and the action. The idea that there are organizations that would go to extreme lengths for this one baby was intriguing to me. What is so special about this baby? Why does everyone want her? And the world that Pullman created was just amazing.
This leads me to my only inkling as to why I didn't like this book. I'm not exactly sure why I was so detached, but my theory is that it is because I didn't quite understand the answer to the question above, and it was never really explained. This was super frustrating for me even though this is the first volume of a story and totally reads like one. It doesn't read like the first part of a series, but like the first part of one (giant) book. Which I think also contributed, because it was kind of slow in a way, like a build-up to the giant action, but then instead of the giant action the book ended.
I don't know how to feel. I don't know what to think. I'm still going to read volume 2 when it comes out, but I'm just so conflicted inside.