Sunday, July 24, 2005

Review: "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" by J.K. Rowling

As Harry grows up, so does J.K. Rowling's writing style, and that's as it should be.

With "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" ($29.99, Scholastic), Rowling delivers a fairly grown-up tale of the now 16-year-old boy wizard. Though not quite as dark and menacing as the previous volume, "Order of the Phoenix," this book deals with much more mature issues than the earlier volumes of the series. That, too, is proper, considering how much people change between the age of 11 and 16.

"Half-Blood Prince" opens in a world that's eerily similar to our own over the past several years. Lord Voldemort is back, the Death Eaters are reformed and the wizarding community lives in fear of their attacks. Wizards are being killed or simply disappearing almost daily. Harry, Hermione and Ron often start their morning reading the Daily Prophet with Ron asking if anyone they know has died today. It's very much like the on-edge feeling following terrorist attacks in the real world.

Even in the midst of this, life must go on, so Hogwarts reopens with a surprising new professor in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and the young wizards put their noses back in the books. One book, in particular, formerly owned by someone calling himself the Half-Blood Prince, is helping Harry to excel in potions and learn a variety of new spells that aren't taught in the classroom.

Harry has also begun private lessons with Professor Dumbledore, designed to help him better understand the enemy, and he's obsessed with finding out what his old rival Draco Malfoy is up to.

While parents have been cautioned to read this book first - and it's not a bad idea for younger kids - I didn't find it too graphic. There are some intense action sequences and a very emotional ending that, as has been widely reported, includes the death of a major character, so it may be good to discuss some of the issues along with kids.

"Half-Blood Prince" works to flesh out a lot of the deep background of the story and set up the final volume that's to come. We learn much more about the history of Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters. We're also hit with a few surprises along the way - one being the true identity of the title character.

There are also some allusions to other literary works. Whether intentional or not, I was reminded greatly of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" as Dumbledore and Harry take trips into the past through the Pensieve. I was also reminded of scenes from Tolkien as the two cross an underground lake to retrieve a magical artifact.

The only real problem I can find with the book was that it ended. While the earlier books in the series have been pretty self-contained, this one feels more like the first part of a two-part story. While it doesn't exactly end in a cliffhanger, it does end in a place that leaves the reader with many more questions. It creates even more anticipation for the grand finale.

No comments: