The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman

Second paragraph of third chapter:

The atmosphere in the Trout was subdued for some days afterwards. Malcolm went to school, did his homework, fetched and carried in the inn, and read over and over again the secret message in the acorn. It wasn’t an easy time; everything just then seemed hung about with an unhappy air of suspicion and fear, quite unlike the normal world, as Malcolm thought of it, the place he was used to living in, where everything was interesting and happy.

This is the first of the WSFS YA finalists that I have read; also the longest of the six. It’s a prequel to the His Dark Materials trilogy, with Lyra as a baby being protected by the teenage Malcolm, son of the landlord of the pub across the road from the convent where Lyra’s father has placed her for refuge. Malcolm teams up with both a smart young woman and a nice neighbour girl against the baddies, in particular when their world is devastated by a catastrophic flood that seems to overflow the boundaries of reality. A lot of great description and subtle characterisation, and I think this will be a tough one to beat. You can get it here.

For next year’s Worldcon, it’s worth noting that the venue in Dublin shares the same initials as the secret church police in Pullman’s world.

“Malcolm didn’t know much about it, but he knew the sense of sickening terror the CCD could produce” (p.30)

“That was the way of things with the CCD; it was better not to ask, better not to think about it.” (p.42)

“‘Malcolm,’ said the man, ‘get your boat further in the trees, quick. Bring the baby in here out the way. That’s the CCD down there. Come on!’” (p.384)

“Mr Boatwright sat down and stirred the fire up before lighting a pipe. ‘What’d they say after I vanished, eh?’ he said. ‘Anyone guess where I’d gone?’ ‘No,’ said Malcolm. ‘They all said you were the only person that had ever got away from the CCD.” (p.395)

Well, it made me smile.