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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Book Review

Molly Griffin | Friday, August 26, 2005

“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” the penultimate book in J.K. Rowling’s massively popular series, deals brilliantly with the difficult task of setting up the final tale of the boy wizard’s adventures. While not necessarily the best book of the series, it effectively brings together many of the multiple plot strings that arose in earlier volumes and pushes them forward for the final novel, which is no easy task. This book reveals the care and attention to detail with which Rowling planned the Potter series from the beginning. The sixth book opens with a series of events that signals the massive changes that are occurring in the magical world. There’s a sense of chaos due to the escalating war between the forces of good and evil. The newly-appointed Minister of Magic meets with the Muggle (a term for a non-wizard) Prime Minister and reveals that the normally tight security separating humans and wizards is breaking down under the stress and tension. The Daily Prophet (the wizard newspaper) is full of obituaries and disappearances, and the ranks of the evil Voldemort are returning to their former strength. In the midst of this chaotic outside world, Hogwarts, the wizarding academy, is both a safe haven and a seriously changed place. Harry and his friends, Ron and Hermione, are teenagers, learning to apparate (the wizarding equivalent of getting a driver’s license). And just like normal teens, the romantic lives of the students become more prominent and complicated.Harry becomes convinced of the involvement of his nemesis, Draco Malfoy, in a plot to help Voldemort, and he tries his best to prove it. Following the theme of constantly rotating professors, there is a new Potions teacher and a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. As usual, these changes are ultimately key to the action in the novel. Students must not only deal with the trials of being teenagers, but also with losing family members and living in a state of fear. The most significant new development in Harry’s academic life is the addition of special classes with the headmaster, Professor Dumbledore, who reveals Voldemort’s origins to Harry. This gives important background for both Harry and the reader to understand the evil of Voldemort and how he might potentially be stopped. He also learns of perhaps the most significant addition to Rowling’s ever-expanding universe of magical items, the Horcrux. The novel culminates with a battle between good and evil at Hogwarts, which is far more violent and adult than the others. But given that Rowling has taken to killing off central characters beginning in the fourth book, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” it is not entirely unexpected that she chooses to escalate the violence and destruction.The added violence actually makes the aura of fear and terror that pervades the sixth book more palpable. Without it, the action in the book, and ultimately the series, would not be as effective. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” the fifth book, presented Harry as a sullen and difficult teenager, and while he is not yet out of adolescence, he truly grows up in the sixth novel. He begins to grapple with the evil that he must face in the near future, and he deals with very adult situations and decisions. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is by far the bloodiest and most emotionally draining of the series so far, but it distinctly illustrates just how horrific the forces of evil are and how difficult his battle is going to be. The most difficult thing for Harry, and by extension, the reader, is dealing with a death that hits very close to home and drains the little sense of hope that seemed to remain. One of the best and most difficult things about the Potter series is that Rowling makes him grow up, no matter how painful or terrifying it is. It makes the characters seem more real, and for better or worse, it gives the series emotional intensity and realism that is missing from most children’s books. When the book ends with Harry’s realization that he has to finish his journey alone, it gives a sense that he has finally grown up and is ready to take on the arduous journey that awaits him in the final book of the series. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” doesn’t have quite as interesting a plot as some of the earlier books, and it lacks some of the emotional intensity. It does fulfill the important role of setting up for the final installment of the series, and it allows Harry to grow as a character more than he has in previous novels.