Suspenseful and rich in intriguing characters, this prequel to His Dark Materials stands on its own and might be a good place to start for new readers. I loved the solid details of life in this other Oxford and the dreamlike journey on flood waters.
Malcolm's headmaster Mr Willis was still away on Monday, and on Tuesday Mr Hawkins the deputy head announced that Mr Willis wouldn't be coming back, and that he would be in charge himself from then on. There was an intake of breath from the pupils. They all knew the reason: Mr Willis had defied the League of St Alexander, and now he was being punished. It gave the badge-wearers a giddy sense of power. By themselves they had unseated the authority of a headmaster. No teacher was safe now. Malcolm watched the faces of the staff members as Mr Hawkins made the announcement: Mr Savery put his head in his hands, Miss Davis bit her lip, Mr Croker the woodwork teacher looked angry. Some of the others gave little triumphant smiles; most were expressionless.