Hundreds of fans turned out to the midnight events held around the country on Wednesday evening (18th October) to celebrate the publication of the first in Philip Pullman's The Book of Dust trilogy. Meanwhile, critics have given the highly-anticipated novel rave reviews on its publication day today.
Around 150 people turned out to the event at Waterstones Tottenham Court Road in London to be among the first to get their hands on a copy of La Belle Sauvage (PRH Children's/ David Fickling Books). Widely tipped to be one of the bestselling books of the year, Waterstones' event organiser Rosie Beaumont-Thomas said “preorder sales have been enormous, even higher than we anticipated”. While the publisher declined to reveal sales figures, Kate Skipper, Waterstones’ buying director, said overall its pre-order sales were the biggest since J K Rowling's Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Little, Brown) last year, which totalled 100,000, and earlier in the week had surpassed Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman (Arrow), which sold 50,000 copies at the chain in its first week. “There was so much excitement in our shops last might and today; it’s such a treat of a book sell,” she said.
Waterstones Bristol branch took money for 230 pre-orders over the past few months, while 10 deluxe collector signed editions sold out within minutes, Edouard Gallais, events manager at the Bristol event said.
“The evening went very well with about 60 people attending from 9.30pm, all strong fans of the first trilogy," he added. "We had gypsy jazz music, cocktails and snacks on offer and the Penguin quizzes were a good success too.” The branch sold 26 copies on the night.
Meanwhile at Blackwell's in Oxford, around 170 copies were sold, according to sales manager, David Kelly, with 350 fans expected for the signing at the store on Thursday afternoon (19th October).
Jack Tindale was the first customer to purchase a copy of La Belle Sauvage at Waterstones Tottenham Court Road
Heffer’s Bookshop in Cambridge sold around 40 copies last night after 60 people attended to hear authors Chris Priestley and Julian Sedgwick read from the book to a “room full of cheers and hushed anticipation” according to Anna Millward, festival manager for the Cambridge Literary Festival.
At the Tottenham Court Road Waterstones, fans enjoyed readings of the book from poet Mark Grist and chef and writer Kate Young, who made chocolate cake for the event. Throughout the evening, customers also enjoyed "Sauvage Sidecar" cocktails and "chocolatl" (a drink featured in the books).
Waterstones' Beaumont-Thomas said excitement ahead of the launch had been "absolutely massive".
Waterstones Bristol sold specially made cupcakes
"It's been really exciting to bring together fans of the original trilogy and new fans. This is one of the biggest preorder campaigns we've done, it rivals The Cursed Child. Pre-order sales have been enormous, even higher than we anticipated. We're expecting queues outside the shop tomorrow morning and we're anticipating that at shops around the country."
Forty fans were picked in a ballot to receive cloth-bound special editions of the book. The first person to buy the book on the stroke of midnight, Jack Tindale, said: "I remember reading The Amber Spyglass when I was 12 and wondering if there would be something else to follow it up. It's very surreal to think that I'm in my 20s and still just as giddy as when I was a teenager to be at a midnight book launch."
Waterstones is also sporting a "beautifully reimagined" logo on its website, reminiscient of the book's cover, featuring two characters in a canoe, created by the cover illustrator Chris Wormell. The retailer tweeted to its 201,000 followers: "The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted our website logo has changed - beautifully reimagined by illustrator Chris Wormell. Journey over... to take a look at our special #BookOfDust site-takeover. We don't do this kind of thing for everyone".
The companion book to the His Dark Materials trilogy, penned 22 years later, has been praised by reviewers. Writing in the Telegraph, Sam Leith gave the title five stars and emphasised its "rich, dreamlike" qualities. “Pullman is an easeful storyteller and an intricate and inventive world-builder, and everything he has to write is worth reading… There’s something dreamlike, almost hallucinatory, about La Belle Sauvage’s watery pilgrim’s progress,” he wrote.
Writing for the Guardian, Marina Warner praised Pullman’s “immense powers”. “Much mythological material is being brewed: a predestined wonderful foundling, a child snatcher, a few treacherously beguiling spectres and perilous fairylands," she said. "Pullman’s immense powers of kinaesthetic visualisation keep the story pulsing on an epic scale as enchanted allegory combines with a full-on retelling of the Biblical story of the flood: defences cave in and banks break under roiling storm clouds, and the familiar world of Oxford and its meadows is drowned.”
The former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams meanwhile offered more muted praise in the New Statesman and said two chapters in the book "felt like padding". "For much of the book, the narrative energy keeps up well: Pullman’s style is lively and physically specific, and the descriptions of the flood and its consequences are brilliantly done," he wrote. "But I was puzzled by the way in which the second part seemed artificially lengthened by two chapters that didn’t appear to contribute anything to the flow of the story... It may be that future volumes will shed some light; but in terms of this book, it felt (uncharacteristically) like padding."
A special event for 50 ballot winners was held in Oxford on the eve of publication yesterday (18th October), where Pullman revealed ill health had delayed the writing of the book. However, he also revealed the second in the three-part series had already been completed.