Book Review

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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I know. I normally review web comics. I’ll have a web comic review up later today, once I’ve slept and caught up on the daily comics. But this… this deserves a tangent, I think.

Well. It’s just shy of 8 a.m. and I have finished reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It took me a little under seven hours to go through it all, and no doubt I missed a bit here and there in my mad caper through Rowling’s imagination to the end, but from the beginning until the end one thought reverberated through my mind: This is the best novel J.K. Rowling has ever written.

Oh, I can hear the snide remarks on this now. After all, it’s her sixth published novel, and with each newer novel writers learn things. We learn how to craft a story, how to put it together properly, how to link our varied plot points and make it into a greater whole. But for the longest time I considered her third novel to be the best of her works to date.

There is something special about Sirius Black to me, and the novel that made him big. From the beginning I realized that it was obvious that Sirius Black, this horrible murderous fiend, was not the threat. If you’ve read Rowling’s other novels, the pattern is clear: expect the unexpected. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone if you’re in England) faked us out with Snape being the obvious villain… and but for one dream and a few subtle clues, no real sign that another was the threat to the school and to Harry.

Again, in The Chamber of Secrets we had the oh-so-helpful glimpse of the past from Tom Riddle… only to learn later that Riddle was in fact something dark and dire. (And if you’ve not yet read The Half-Blood Prince, keep in mind the second novel, because Rowling skillfully crafts the story of Riddle into this latest novel.)

In my eyes, after the first two fake-outs, I naturally then Sirius Black was not evil. He had to be a scapegoat, and his interest in Harry was not something murderous, but instead to protect him. I was pleasantly surprised to learn I was right. I was even more surprised at finding out who the real threat was. (I mean, really. Scabbers? He’d never done anything… which is sort of the point, I suppose.)

But after the third novel, things cooled down slightly. Sure, Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix were good stories and well crafted. They continued the story quite well. But… they didn’t have the oomph that Prisoner of Azkaban had. They didn’t ignite my interest in quite the same way. The doppelganger in GoF was unexpected, but it was once again part of Rowling’s repertoire. OotP… well, it was good but… it felt empty somehow. I don’t know why, but it was (to me) the least favorite of Rowling’s stories.

Around 5 a.m. I tried putting down The Half-Blood Prince. I couldn’t. I needed to return to the story and finish it. I needed to learn what happened. And I was shocked and amazed and amused and more. Rowling has bottled a genie, and unleashed it in this novel. She’s stated that it’s her favorite of the works to date. It’s also mine, now.

Oh, and the rumors? They’re true. Someone very dear to Harry dies. Amazingly enough, it’s the very character I predicted would die for over a month now. And this character’s death tears up Harry something fierce. It affects every surviving character in Harry’s cadre of friends.

I don’t know how popular the seventh book is. Because the very tone of the series has changed. Up until now, Harry Potter has been as much about Hogwarts the School as it’s been about Harry Potter. But now… I’m willing to bet that we won’t be seeing much of Hogwarts in the seventh novel; while Harry may return there; it will not be as a student. It will be to find the clues he needs to destroy Voldemort, once and for all.

If you’ve not read any of the Harry Potter novels, or if you’ve skipped one or two, do not read The Half-Blood Prince just yet. There are ties from every novel preceding this one, and you cannot appreciate how encompassing this novel is without having read the ones that come before. So catch up on the rest of the series. Then you can appreciate this masterpiece of literature.

R.K. Rowling? You’ve outdone yourself this time.