Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

J.K. Rowling (2005)

I finished it yesterday morning, moments before jumping in the car for a seven-hour road trip from KY back up to Chicago–I couldn’t get on the road with just 50 pages left!

Despite the darker tone, which is perfectly in tune with the story and the maturing characters, Harry Potter’s tale continues to be the perfect mystery-fantasy escape for a lazy, hot summer afternoon. It will also make an exciting installment in the film series, though quite obviously ending in the greatest cliff-hanger since The Matrix movies.

Yet, while I very much enjoyed the book, overall it felt like an extended preamble to the final book–a lot of explanation and set-up for HP7, yet to come.

*** WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!! ***

I was struck by the fact that there weren’t any new characters or creatures introduced, and the plot didn’t really move forward, but kind of backward and sideways, realigning for what’s to come.

My one criticism was that there was quite of bit of telling rather than showing, which is always a weak story telling device. How much more exciting is it for the reader to witness what’s going on “first hand” rather than to overhear a conversation between characters telling us what happened. I’m thinking specifically of Dumbledore’s lessons and the recounting of the final battle at the end by everyone in the hospital. With the flashback lessons telling us what we (and Harry) needed to know, I could cut some slack and see how the Pensieve worked into the story. But when Rowling did it again in the hospital “wrap up” scene following the battle, I thought it was a cop-out and not very exciting to read.

As to specifics, my one major excitement about the book was the emphasis on Snape. He’s always been one of my favorite characters, especially as played by one of my favorite actors, Alan Rickman. (Sorry, but it’s practically impossible to divorce the movie characters/actors from the reading of the books at this point.) I’m very much looking forward to seeing Snape/Rickman get more screen time, front and center.

The Ginny/Harry love story was just eh. I completely agree with Teresa on this one–Ginny is one of the most uninteresting, one-dimensional characters in all the books. The Tonks/Lupin, Bill/Fleur love stories, yeah, whatever. Perhaps these will lead to something bigger in the end, but otherwise they just seemed like Rowling was spreading the love all around.

I’m sorry to see the big D go. I was glad to see that Rowling didn’t pull the oldest trick in the book by having the bad guy delay in killing the good guy, outlining their entire evil plan, thereby giving the good guy time to escape. Reading of Dumbledore’s exit from the series, I was reminded of how I felt when I read Charlotte’s Web as a kid. Sad, sad, sad. Did anyone else think his send off was a bit rushed at the end?

So, all in all, I think Half-Blood Prince, as firm groundwork for the concluding book, is entertaining fare, well worth reading. Rowling tells a great tale, and she tells it well. I’m primed and ready to see good and evil battle it out in HP7. [****]

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6 Responses

  1. Yeh, the love did get spread around a bit in this book. Everyone was coupled up by the end, even Neville and Luna (sort of).
    I’m still analyzing crap in my head; I’m never right, but I do enjoy it. I just hope we don’t have long to wait for HP7; I keep telling myself that I’m sure JKR must have started it already, if only to be “released” from having to store so much stuff in her head.

  2. pam

    When JKR tried to transform Ginny into a kinder, gentler version of Fred/George, I knew she was destined for Harry. Too bad the romance wasn’t written better.
    Except for the first chapter of a few of the books, the whole book is written strictly from Harry’s experiences. I think it would have been odd and unwelcome to suddenly live the battle through other peoples’ eyes.
    Is Snape a really good guy or a bad guy? This the one question we’ve been arguing the most, post HP6. Bring on HP7!!

  3. pam

    BTW I also read ‘The Curious Incident’ and liked it a whole lot. What a different way that character had of looking at the world.

  4. Your crits are spot on. I also enjoyed the book due in large part to all the Snape action we got. I loved when he came fluttering down the stairs to the gates of Hogwarts at the beginning. I could just see Alan Rickman! Regarding Dumbledore’s murder, something tells me this is all part of some plan. I just can’t believe that Snape is evil. Complex and ambivalent, yes, but not bad to the bone. Isn’t it possible that he cast some different spell with his mind, and only uttered the words of the killing curse? The book made a big deal out of casting spells without speaking. Anyway, I’m getting t-shirts made up that say “Dumbledore Lives!” I can’t stand it. =)

  5. Good points Matt. I also don’t believe we’ve seen the last of the big D. And just about everyone I’ve talked to thinks that Snape’s still a “good” guy, keeping his front as a member of Voldemort’s posse by fulfilling the promise he made to protect Draco. Let’s hope JK doesn’t keep us wondering for two long.

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