The Book of Dust Series. Volume 1. La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman.
First let me explain that I liked Northern Lights (Book 1 in His Dark Materials trilogy) right up to the penultimate chapter. After that I found the end a bit disappointing, mainly because I felt that Philip Pullman had his eye too much on writing the series rather than a novel that would work well in itself. I know I’m probably in the minority, but I found the subsequent books in the series didn’t have the same magic as that brilliant parts in the Jordan College and at Oxford.
Having said that, this prequel to the His Dark Materials trilogy tells how Lyra ended up in Oxford. It’s fast paced and carries the reader along (so it’s good for boys as well as girls). It also has a boy as a main character. Malcolm Polstead (and his dæmon, Asta) both live with his parents at the Trout Inn near Oxford. So the book is set on the River Thames, where Malcolm has a boat called La Belle Sauvage. He soon discovers that the nuns in Godstow Priory, on the other side of the river, have a guest: a baby by the name of Lyra Belacqua.
The action follows Malcolm, Alice and Lyra as they grow older. There is a mysterious place known as Oakley Street, and the League of St Alexander opens up a number of side themes to help the series later; I cannot say more about either of these without spoiling the read.
This is not ‘more of the same’ (although the daemons lose some of their originality because of Dark Materials) and it keeps you reading right up to the end... where, once again, I found it a little bit frustrating for the same reason as above.
The book is suitable for all readers of 10 years+ and we give it a Yellowbird rating of: 4½ yellowbirds out of 5.