Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials revealed an enchanting world that was somewhat similar to our own, with remarkable differences. Yet despite the walking subconsciouses (dæmons), sudo-science and armoured polar bears, Northern Lights felt grounded in reality and was a thrill to read.
Pullman’s latest book grounds itself so far into reality so as to suck any life from the story, until it violently changes tack and loses all credibility.
The book’s first half is spent doing not that much in the English town of Oxford. That’s until the main characters tumble into an Alice in Wonderland fantasy that bears no correlation to the hundreds of pages that came before. In the second half, nothing makes sense and you’re left wondering (and hoping) the main characters wake up to find it was all a dream.
Great fantasy fiction uses curious encounters to expose our naive protagonists to the wonderful cultures outside of their previously sheltered lives. Each pit stop in La Belle Sauvage’s second half confuses rather than enlightens, with no explanation in sight.
While I could talk further on the bland characters, ludicrous problem-solving and a deflating resolution, it’s the lack of credibility that leaves the reader floundering in a turbulent sea without a paddle.