Monday, July 25, 2005

Book 42: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling

Book five in the Potter series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, left me totally disappointed. Not only did I feel that Rowling killed off a character needlessly and almost emotionlessly, there was a character in the book, Dolores Umbridge, who was so cartoonish and over-the-top that I could hardly bear to continue reading the book. And so it was that as the sixth book in the franchise was set to be released, I found myself unable to remember anything other than those two portions of the book. Since it was more than 800 pages long, that's probably not a good thing.

Fortunately, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince sees Rowling returning more to the tone and feel of the earlier books in the series. Although a number of people have claimed that this book is quite dark, I found it to be considerably more light-hearted (with the exception of the last 100 pages, perhaps) than she has been since Prisoner of Azkaban. Harry, Ron and Hermione are just hitting that age where romance becomes a major factor, and the situations that result are handled with a wry, comedic touch.

Of course, the book ultimately centers on that good vs. evil battle between Harry/Dumbledore and Co. and Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters. From the very beginning of the book, it's clear that Voldemort has gotten ever more sinister and ambitious in his efforts to take over the wizarding (and perhaps the normal) world. Every day when Hermione opens her Daily Prophet, Ron asks, "Anyone we know dead?" Sometimes, the answer is yes. With the situation becoming more and more serious, Harry begins to have regular meetings with Professor Dumbledore to learn more about Voldemort's past. These sessions are quite revealing, and preoccupy our young hero much of the time even as he remains convinced that Draco Malfoy is up to absolutely no good.

I do have a few quibbles with the book. I found the ending to be rushed and perhaps not as well thought out as it should have been. The conclusion is telegraphed pretty openly, so it is not a surprise. Somehow, this lessens the impact of what takes place. I certainly won't spoil the story here, but all I can say is that I hope Rowling is taking things much deeper in the finale.

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