Friday, July 17, 2015

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

JK Rowling
Completed 7/1/2015, Reviewed 7/6/2015
5 stars

With every book in the series, the tone gets darker and darker.  “Half-Blood Prince” is no exception.  The coursework at Hogwarts has taken a back seat to the battle against Voldemort, Harry has become obsessively suspicious of Draco and Snape, and Dumbledore is tutoring Harry in Voldemort’s past.  At the end, a major character in the series dies, signifying the Dark Lord’s rise to power and the despair of our heroes.  Fortunately, there is still some humor in what is probably the most gripping and gut-wrenching book of the series.

I’ve spaced my reading of the series with one or two unrelated novels to help me separate the books in my head.  Still, they begin to run together and leaving me feeling like I’m reviewing a chapter in one massive tome rather than one large book itself.  So I’m finding myself digging for differences. 

Perhaps the one thing that separates this book from the rest is love and relationships.  Harry realizes he likes Ginny, and Ron and Hermione realize they like each other.  I remember the films hinting at sexual tension between Harry and Hermione as well, but there are no such hints in the book, for which I am truly grateful.  The development of these two relationships have enough complications without a love triangle.  They’re both done really well, particularly in its forcing Ron to grow up.  Up to now, he’s been the goofy guy who you’d expect to be running around shouting “Cooties”.  He finally gets to mature, and it’s not easy for him or his friends.  They all make a lot of mistakes in their awkward mating dance.  I really liked it though, because it was much more realistic than some of the literary adult romances I’ve had to bear, particularly in science fiction. 

The other relationship of note is between Harry and Dumbledore.  Now with his godfather Sirius Black having been killed, he was without a guardian or mentor.  Dumbledore picks this up by offering Harry training.  Rather than actual wizarding lessons, Dumbledore takes him through the little that’s known of Voldemort’s past from the memories of the few who knew him growing up, hoping to find a way to destroy the Dark Lord, or at least weaken him before the final confrontation.  It also helps repair the damage done in the last book when Dumbledore was avoiding Harry for the psychic link he had with Voldemort.  The scenes are touching, and reading them filled me with a sense of sanity and safety when the rest of the events in Harry’s life felt completely out of control. He’s like that teacher you had in school who had confidence in you when you were losing confidence in yourself. 

To review Voldemort’s past, they use a “pensieve”, a magical bowl that stores and replays memories.  Harry accidently fell into it in an earlier book, but here he goes in accompanied by Dumbledore.  The best thing about the pensieve is that it is perhaps the ultimate exposition tool, catching you up on Voldemort’s life while keeping the plot moving.  Going into the memories through the silvery liquid in the bowl is far more exciting than having Dumbledore say, “Sit down and let me give you a brain dump of everything I’ve discovered so far.”

There’s so much more to “Half-Blood Prince than these few items.  Luna is still whacky as ever, and the once mousey keeps on putting himself in the thick of things.  Love also sprouts among two of the members of the Order of the Phoenix, and even one of Ron’s brothers finds himself in love.  And of course, the climactic ending with the death of the major character (which isn’t a spoiler because it was leaked before the book was initially published, but I still won’t say who it is, just in case).  Whereas the last book felt like it could have been pared down, every part of this one felt necessary.  Five out of five stars.

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