Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Year Six at Hogwart's
Book Review by Diana deRiggs, MaceVindaloo, Rosie
Illustrator: Mary GrandPré
Publisher: Scholastic Books
RAting: 8/10 Victory Star Destroyer (packs a wallop)
We'd heard that at a Walmart in Utah, a 30-ish man kicked a young girl in the head and grabbed her copy of Order of the Phoenix as she dropped it in shock! WTF is wrong with people?? And this time around, 30 million books were bought in the first 24 hours. What's up, one might ask?
Harry Potter and his friends are 16 going on 17 and though there are many angsty, hormonal moments, it's far less whiney than year 5; for one, Dumbledore is the headmaster once again and an old teacher becomes the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher ... oops SPOILERS AHEAD!
Harry is a lot less whiney in this book, which made it a lot more enjoyable than the angst- and hormone-ridden Order of the Phoenix. In fact, we'd say this book is "back on track" in terms of "look and feel." True, many people said it was dark because of the ending, but in truth, it lent a certain satisfying smack of cleverness if you saw things the way we saw them as the story progressed.
Rowling is fond of laying in red herrings and dead ends throughout here tales, but she is also fond of foreshadowing in the same breath. So it's not always possible to predict if what you think you see will actually happen. For instance, his godfather's death in the previous book took most people by surprise, even though on analysis it was necessary for him to be the one to fall. The evidence did point to it. So ... if you read this book with a memory of the previous one, it was kind of obvious not only who the Half-Blood Prince was (and there were many candidates, but they were easily weeded out), but who the next character to die should be.
Maybe it's because we are used to the "clone" thing from the Star Wars universe, but there was a lot of discussion about cloning-type of magic here, and maybe we are hypersensitive to it as a plot mechanism. It actually came up throughout the series Voldemort, who obsessed with immortality found many ways to stay alive even when a normal wizard would have expired. Basically, "death" to Voldemort is not the same as it would be to someone like Harry or Sirius. Or even to Nearly Headless Nick!
In this tale, Dumbledore is back to talking with Harry, Harry become captain of the Quidditch team, Ron and Hermione are battling again, Ginny is a desired date, Percy's a prat, Bill Weasley gets married (despite being maimed and uglified), there is a captured garden gnome dressed in a tutu and made to pose as the Christmas tree angel, Fred and George show a real flare for business which could become a liability ... in other words, things are coming back to normal.
Example of red herrings within the book (yeah, bigger spoiler alert here!) include Dumbledor explaing why the teacher for Defense Against the Dark Arts never lasts more than a year (meaning he knows this in advance ... which explains why Snape never got the job ... until this year!); Harry inherits his godfather's earthly and wizardly possessions, but only a small part of the bequest leads to anything (for now); Ron finally gets to snog someone, but it doesn't lead to snogging with Hermione (and who knows how Hermione really feels about that); there is a big hullabaloo about the Quidditch captaincy and the team roster instability, but it leads to nothing in the end; etc. We find out definitively that Harry's mother's maiden name is Evans, and yet a boy mentioned earlier in the series named Mark Evans has nothing to do with anything ...
We are introduced to the idea of a horcrux, which is a vessel which can contain a fraction of your soul, but requires a "supreme act of evil" to create this unnatural fissure. This is the means by which Voldemort continues to live, even when he apparently dies. It's not dissimilar to the concept of "remaining distinct from the Force" even if you are part of it, i.e. dead. Rowling spends so much time on it that if you read carefully, one can determine that Voldemort is likely not the only wizard to have made a horcrux, and there seems to be some variety in terms of what kind of vessel one may choose to seal one's soul ...
There is also mention of people of things which may or may not have anything to do with anything, but Sirius's younger brother Regulus is brought up quite often. Young Reg was indeed a Death Eater, but was later killed by Voldemort ... hmn ... By the way, though he was a Slytherin (while Sirius was a Gryffindor), Regulus is the brightest star in the constellation Leo. Significant? Maybe not, but Sirius is the "dog star" after all. And mention of a locket, which rings a few memory bells, too ... argh, have to reread!
There is much more information regarding Voldemort's childhood and his genetic family and their fates. There is likewise more detail revealed about many things as Dumbledor (and Hermione, of course sometimes they are the same plot device) force Harry to slow down and think things through. And Harry's suspicions turn out to be right for a change here ... but is everything really as obvious as it seems? Are Malfoy and Snape really so bad? Is Neville really so gormless? Is Seamus still bitter? Is Slughorn such a shallow idiot? Is Ginny really such a ...
The story is definitely winding down, and you can feel a climax coming. There are still clunky things about this book that show a lack of good editing a funeral scene at the end of the book is way, way overdescribed (unless it's a clue or red herring, eh?) but it's still stuffed with hidden ideas and meaning. Rowling herself has said that "someone presumed dead will prove not to be dead" but that's not as obvious as it may sound. You can do a lot of research online and read what people who have done a LOT of thinking and ruminating feel about various things that have gone on. In the end, it will be very clever yet obvious. This book feels more like part of the full set than a novel in and of itself, which is an excellent thing!
It's likely that there will be a run on the tattered, scribbled-in used texts at the used book sales this year, as students try to get a copy of any text which might help them, as the Half-Blood Prince's old potions text helped Harry. From being "adequate" in potions, he becomes a superstar! Who'd a thunk it?
As for the people who kick children down to grab their copies of the books, Barnes and Noble reported they sold 105 copies per second in the first hour of sale! And then people read it and are cranky for a week after due to interrupted sleep patterns. Then there is the inevitable whining of, "Why doesn't Rowling hurry up and finish??" It's a pattern, and it will soon be over. Besides, we have the motion picture version of Goblet of Fire coming out this winter to hold us off ... the good thing about the movies is that because of their limitations in time and storytelling, Rowling will allow some things to be cut and others not. Which means those can be paired with the books as clues ... see if you can NOT read Book #7 so you can figure out the clues on your own!
Overall, hooray for Rowling for writing a rollicking tome which still has people thinking and wondering and wanting more, and connecting it all together cohesively. There are still many secrets left, and obviously IF Hogwart's re-opens next year, a new Dark Arts professor will be needed; and Harry has stated he won't return. But don't take that as an absolute, since teens are into making pronouncements that turn out to be simply stupid later on.
Pass the platter of red herrings, please?
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