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JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

After months of speculation and waiting, the sixth book in the Harry Potter septology has been released. And now I’ve read it. And hence, this review might contain spoilers. Though I’ll try to avoid them. But no promises. So look away now if you don’t want to know what happens.

The sixth book has a lot to live up to. The first five (or perhaps just the marketing craze surrounding them) had sent large sections of the population – and not just the younger members – into something of a frenzy. I didn’t really see that there was much that was terribly special about the first five books in all honesty, but perhaps that’s because I wasn’t reading them closely enough. After all, if I’d gone through and listed every occurance of the number twelve in the books (as has one dedicated fan), then perhaps I’d have got more out of them. But for me, they were never anything more than something to read. Once.

Book six, though, is quite a different kettle of fish. I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but I thought it was absolutely excellent. It’s a very different book to the first formulaic five, which all follow the same pattern of an event-filled year at Hogwarts, with Quidditch matches and lessons described in mind-numbing detail, followed by some huge battle with Lord Voldemort at the end of the school year and, hence, the end of the book. Book six sticks loosely to this framework, in so far as it is set in a year at Hogwarts, with a big action-packed bit at the end, but no more are the every movements of Harry and friends described in quite such detail. Instead, the book has very little action, but more discussion and exploration of the things that have happened in the previous five books, and the reasons behind them.

This is where the true mastery of the writing of the books hit me. Being the cynic that I am, I wasn’t entirely convinced that JK Rowling had indeed plotted out all seven books in her head, and felt that she was rather making them up as she went along. But the explanations in book six show that this clearly wasn’t the case – everything had a reason, from the smallest reference to the biggest events, leading up to the biggest (and most emotional) event yet at the end of the book, which provides the spur for Harry to go off and complete the necessary tasks laid out for him for the seventh book. Never previously in the series has it been clear from the previous book what is to happen in the next – hence my suspicion – but the path is now clearly laid, complete with the required motivation for completing it. Effectively, the story so far is wrapped up, in preparation for a huge ending in book seven. (Assuming, of course, that book seven is published as a single book, and that the publishers don’t try and squeeze every last penny of profit out of the franchise by releasing it in several parts.)

So, this book is effectively one long gear-change in the story of Harry Potter. It explains all that has gone before it, and sets the scene for the finale to come. And hence, it could have been mind-numbingly boring. But luckily for me, I found it not to be so, not least because the tone (although not the mood) is much lighter in this book than the previous one, in which Harry seemed to be constantly bad-tempered. However, I think a lot of the younger readers – JKR’s target audience, after all – would be both confused and bored by the book. There’s so much background to get to grips with, and so much double-double-double-crossing, that some adults, let alone kids, found it hard to keep up with which people were goodies, and which baddies. I also think that younger kids would have difficulty getting to grips with some of the humour in the latest installment, as – with the various romances involving the three central characters – it’s not quite the same kind of humour as in the earlier books. I’d imagine that children would prefer more action, as in the earlier novels. But who am I to speak for the under-twelves of today? And how many of the readers are really children, and how many are actually adults? With an increasing number of the latter, they have to be catered for. Or perhaps not, because they might well buy it anyway. Who can say?

Let’s be honest: Am I really going to complain that this book was rubbish because other people might not like it, when I thought it was excellent? Am I really going to rubbish a book because it’s supposed to be kids literature, and I haven’t thought the books so far have been particularly spectacular? No. I am, however, going to say that I thought it was excellent, and I’m quite looking forward to book seven – which, rumours appear to say, is already written, and will probably be released in a year or so. There we go, I’ve said it. Now I just have to prepare myself for the huge Pottermania which will no doubt accompany the publication of the last book. And read something else in the meantime.

This post was filed under: Book Club.

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