My Harry Potter Review

I just finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

The first question my wife asked me was "how did it rank with the other books?"  This is very hard to answer, because it is very different from the first five.  Each of the first five was fairly self-contained.  There was a dominant story cycle that came to closure at the end.  Yes, there was still Valdemort running around out there, but that was kind of just like knowing that Blofeld and SPECTRE would still be a villain in the next Bond movie.  The best comparison I can make, for people of my generation who saw the original Star Wars movies as they came out, was that the first 5 Potter books were like the New Hope, while this book is Empire Strikes Back.  The only problem was that Empire Strikes Back stands out as perhaps the best Star Wars movie, and this definitely is not the best Harry Potter book.  In a real sense, book six is really part 1 of a two-part finale that presumably ends with book 7.  I was left with the same thought as at the end of the LOTR Two Towers movie:  OK, so when does the last one come out?

I found a couple of things about the book unsatisfying.  The mystery of who is the half-blood prince does not really drive the story as well as other mysteries, like say how the Sirius Black mystery or Chamber of Secrets mystery or the Tri-Wizard tournament drove other books.  This book is driven more by revelations about Harry and Valdemort, and by the time these play out the identity of the Half Blood Prince is kind of a letdown, or more precisely, irrelevant.  More unsatisfying to me was that this book is mostly about Harry.  While stuff is happening to all the traditional suspects, the mysteries are being solved by Harry alone, not by the traditional Harry-Ron-Hermione team.  Harry has always had to stand alone at the end of each book, but Ron and Hermione contributed to his getting there in the middle, and there is less of that here (Ron and Hermione, as well as everyone in the book seem distracted by their hormones). 

I guess I would say that a number of the traditional Harry Potter story elements were kind of half-hearted, even the Quiddich.  Rowling is obviously trapped by the need to get a lot of exposition done to bring the 7 book series to a close, and as a result the book never really gets moving until the final few chapters, and then all-too-much occurs in a few pages. 

This will never be considered the best book of the series, but the best spin I can put on it is that it was probably essential to start driving the series to a conclusion.

Update: Several folks have argued that I am missing the point, that quiddich and friends and school stuff are fading in the background as part of the wizarding world going to war and Harry coming of age to face his destiny.  This hypothesis about the ending is very interesting but only if you have read the book, it is FULL of spoilers.  If he is right, then it may be possible to look back and find this book more interesting in light of what we learn in book 7.  We'll see.  I still stand by my statement that the first 3/4 of the book is much less satisfying than the previous books.

2nd Update:  I guess predictably, various groups on opposite sides of the political spectrum and the Iraq war are claiming that Rowling is supporting them with this book.  Jeez, can we politicize everything?  Here is what are two clear tenants of the book:

  1. There are times you have to actually fight evil, rather than just hope it goes away or is not really there
  2. Governments can't really be trusted to do #1 responsibly

If my reading is correct, you can see why there is a bit in it for everyone.


  1. Matt:

    LOTR was not, originally, supposed to be a trilogy. Tolkien wrote it as a single mega-book, and it was split into three by the publishing industry. It is thus unsurprising that TTT was, relative to the first and third volumes, disappointing both in print and on film. It was never meant to stand big surprise that it doesn't.

    JKR doesn't have that excuse. She committed to a seven-volume story and a novel-corresponds-to-school-year structure long before she set pen to paper for this volume...and I think, to a certain extent, she thereby PR-ed her way into a corner.

    Volume 7 is incapable of making volume 6 a better book. The only things that can make a particular book better necessarily all happen before copies hit bookstore shelves.

    Given her self-imposed structural limitations, this kind of treading-water story was probably inevitable at this point...and it's to her credit that she hasn't done it before.

  2. Robin:

    I agree that the identity of the Half-Blood Prince is secondary as we delve into Voldemort's past via Dumbledore and Harry, but it provides a good diversion and goes far to explaining the strengths of Snape, which I believe have been somewhat overlooked. There are folks out there who suspect that Snape might provide the necessary wizard power that Harry will need with his undeveloped skills to defeat Voldemort. I give Rowling great credit for her ability to keep us all speculating about how the saga will play out.

    This one is my second favorite too, my favorite being The Prisoner of Azkaban. I think that actually the narrative of this one was as tight and polished as the PoA, and I was greatly relieved (as I was reading aloud to my son) that we weren't taken on any detours like the last book's Grawp fiasco. Rowling said in an interview that much of the information in Book 6 was intended to be in the second installment, but that she realized that she needed to wait to flesh out Voldemort. I think she's done an admirable job of leaving Voldemort to the reader's imagination for the most part, building him up over the saga so that the final confrontation is sure to be mind-boggling.

    I'm really looking forward to what appears will be a grail-like journey in the search for the last horcruxes and I sure hope that Harry will be relying on the clever Hermione and loyal Ron to accompany him.

  3. Kelly:

    I felt like HBP started off slow in the first 3 or 4 chapters.

    I felt that the death scene was very emotional. I am still not quite sure why Dumbeldore made Harry unable to move/speak. Together, they could have taken Malfoy and escaped. So I was left feeling like it was unresolved. I can't help but think that we will see more of Dumbeldore, though, in some shape or form.

    I also was surprised about the brevity of the Half Blood Prince discussions. Besides the occasional scolding from Hermione and spell by Harry, I don't think it was the focal point of the book. Harry spent practically the whole book following Draco and spying on him. I think Draco was more of the center, rather than the "Half Blood Prince."

    I also was disappointed that Ron and Hermione were not as included in the "outings" that Harry went on. The two spent so much time scolding Harry and making him out to be nuts (about Draco). Yes, I know they are growing up and have other things to worry about now, but it's the team of Ron, Hermione, and Harry that makes the books so fun. They are 3 brilliant and unique characters.

    I just feel like there are a lot of things unresolved at the end of this book. The other books all have some sort of closure, but I felt like this one kind of just...ended. Why did Dumbeldore trust Snape so much? Does Draco still have some "good" in him? Will he help Harry in the end? Why was Dumbeldore so willing to die? Why didn't he let Harry help him? Will Hermione and Ron EVER get together?

    Biggest question, though, that will/should be answered in book 7...will Harry die?

    I HOPE NOT!!!

    There are just soooooo many questions I have now, and I really hope they will all be answered in the last book.

  4. Lucy:

    I must say that when I started reading book 6 I thought it was going to be my favourite( it had a better beginning than book 5 ).
    This book was a combination of the previous 5, but was ruined by the final chapters (starting from "The cave").
    Rowling´s books are famous not only for the Harry-Ron-Hermione clan, but for the amazing adventures this characters have. Since book 5 I´ve seen a change in this adventures...they´re no longer unique, when you read them you think any author could have invented them.
    Maybe this 2 adventures ( the one in the Ministry and the one in the cave)needed to be like that in order to make Harry´s final one (facing Voldemort)the most impressive that Rowling´s ever written.
    Anyway, I also didn´t like the way the half-blood prince´s mystery was solved and the way Dumbledore died (wandless, without giving any fight and not letting Harry help him).
    I hope we´ll see Dumbledore in book 7, maybe Rowling gave us a hint when she mentioned the portrait...after all if Phineas´s (who had been headmaster)can talk, remember and help the Order..why can´t Dumbledore´s?(though I still don´t know why it didn´t talk when McGonagall asked Harry what he and Dumbledore were doing)

    Now about the horcruxes and Dumbledore´s mistake (about Snape), it made me think that maybe Dumbledore was wrong again and one of the objects he thought were horcruxes is not and the real horcrux is...Harry (althought this seems too far-fetched). This way Harry would have to die (and we know Rowling´s pretty serious about killing him)but I´m speculating...(wish I could ask her)


  5. lachesis:

    Snape is trustworthy. He was following Dumbledore's orders, and a very difficult and painful order the final one was! Reread The Flight of the Prince and note when Snape loses control (he didn't mind be called a coward a few pages earlier...)

    Once Voldemort was resurrected, it was inevitable that the books would have to be less "jolly hockey sticks" stories and more about fighting evil. As much as I've enjoyed the school stories, it isn't reasonable to keep up quidditch and house points when a manichean war is underway.

    I believe that J.K. Rowling has not turned Snape into a traitor. That would betray not only Dumbledore, but us readers. One of her great strengths is the complexity she gives characters who do good or evil.

  6. Chris:

    The writing of Rowling has matured, like the readers from the first book on, over the past several years. Instead of wasting time bring the reader up-to-speed through in-depth references to previous novels, HBP builds and maintains momentum throughout.

    The minimized role of Quidditch as well as other "key" characters in this book was done, I believe, to allow Harry to be the focus as he hunts Voldemort. As lachesis wrote, " ... it isn't reasonable to keep up quidditch and house points when a manichean war is underway."

    Dumbledore "froze" Harry because it was time for him to die. He knew that the only way for Voldemort to be killed was for Harry to finally be out front without the protection of anyone. In other words, it is only through his journey that Harry can properly battle Voldemort. Take the Star Wars example from above a step further ... Obi Wan let himself be killed so he could be stronger and help guide Luke to the ultimate defeat of the Empire.

    Now, re-read the death scene. Dumbledore doesn't beg for his life. He askes Snape to kill him. Snape has not betrayed good for evil. He could have killed Harry (or at least caused him some serious problems) but let him live ... though he said it was because it was Voldemort's right to kill Harry. At the sametime, and as they run across the field to the gates, Snape is TELLING Harry how to fight ... to say the spells in his mind and not outloud.

    You can lose a battle, but win the war.

    The identity of Snape as the HBP is a major aspect. His hatred for 'mudbloods' and HE is one? I'm confident this will play out in detail with the next book.

    As for the interpretation by some to show Rowling's support of various political issues, I find this amusing. In college I often times sat in English lit wondering if the writer truly meant for their to be juxtaposition of thoughts. To me, it's similar to a film critic. Sometimes a movie is meant for entertainment and there are no political, or other, over-tones.

    However, it's ultimately a question for the author to answer (if it's her perogative to do so).

  7. Eliot:

    I am not English myself so for me it was quite hard to read sometimes. I think I'm going to read it again, but then slowely...

    As I read all five books in English and Dutch and I found them really enjoyable. Loved the school stuff, quidditch and the house cup to be part of the books. HBP however is in my opinion more a beginning of the end. I would say equel to The Matrix Reloaded. Not THAT much fun, but more for the information.

    It is certainly not the best of the books, but the information given in part 6 is needed to understand part 7.

    In the beginning of the book you read about Snape and the conversation between Snape and Malfoy's mother. Then I thought he is on Voldemorts side. Then the year starts and all of it just fades away. In the end of the book (wich I read at 5 o clock in the night) it comes back, Snape is on the other side, although so it seems. It shocked me that Dumbeldore died, I did not believe it until he was burried and I still hope that he will return in part 7. I really hope, because I saw so much in his character. The death of him kept me busy for quite some time, but now I read the opinions of other people and I start realising that it is true... Harry has to be out front to defeat Voldemort.

  8. Mike Cheliak:

    Harry comes of age...The inevitable turn in the life of Harry from child to young man will bring about an interesting conclusion to this series. Of this I can only say that some younger HP fans will be disappointed where some of the older ones will gain a greater interest in the more mature exploits of young master Harry. The book itself did ramble a bit from time to time but had a real purpose. Enjoyable, interesting and at some times almost impossible to put down.

    Mike C.

  9. Mohammed:

    Dumbledore's death was really sad but does anyone have any idea as to who "R.A.B" is.

  10. Nicholas:

    RAB is Regulus Black