For twelve long years, the dread fortress of Azkaban held an infamous prisoner named Sirius Black. Convicted of killing thirteen people with a single curse, he was said to be the heir apparent to the Dark Lord, Voldemort. Now he has escaped, leaving only two clues as to where he might be headed: Harry Potter's defeat of You-Know-Who was Black's downfall as well. And the Azkban guards heard Black muttering in his sleep, "He's at Hogwarts...he's at Hogwarts." Harry Potter isn't safe, not even within the walls of his magical school, surrounded by his friends. Because on top of it all, there may well be a traitor in their midst.
Although not my favourite in the series (the winner of this title is the next in line - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), this definitely comes a close second. There are many reasons for this, but the main one is how large a leap it is from Chamber of Secrets. Things start to get very serious (and very Sirius), very quickly. The story is darker, bordering on deadly in places, and it's full of suspense. I also feel that the story in this one is the most intricate of the first three, with lots of lovely little details woven into the plot; the kind that make you breathe, "Oh!", once you realise their significance. Lovely!
Another exciting thing about this book is the deeper insights we are given into certain characters - Snape in particular. We're given a lot more of his past, and how he has come to hate Harry with such venom. I feel Dumbledore is shown a new light here too - he can be quite shrewd when he wants to be, and perhaps isn’t the jolly old gentleman we thought he was in the first two installments.
Most of all, our introduction to the Marauders is my favourite part of the novel. It's wonderful to see Harry presented with information about his father, and watching him meet some of the most important people in his father's life. Sirius and Lupin are two of my favourite characters of the series, and I really love meeting them all over again each time I read Prisoner of Azkaban.
Things are beginning to get exciting; so much so that I am almost dreading reading Goblet of Fire. It’s about to get real.