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Book Reviews

Spotlight on: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Though I had read and enjoyed the five previous entries in J.K. Rowling’s astonishingly successful Harry Potter series, I didn’t expect anything special about the newest offering, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Boy, was I surprised! This just may be the best one yet (my previous favorite was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). Author J.K. Rowling’s portrayals of teenagers and their extremes of emotion are right on the money. We find them swearing, making "rude hand gestures" at one another, and "snogging" in every available location whenever the opportunity arises.

A new year at Hogwarts brings yet another Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher -- only this time it's a familiar face. But other questions arise in the meantime, like what is Draco Malfoy up to, wandering the school grounds by himself? And who is the title character whose textbook offers Harry valuable assistance in his Potions class?

There's a lot going on in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, with the death of another major character providing a climactic event. I’m going to do my best not to give anything away to the six of you who haven't yet finished this behemoth, but this character's death makes a lot of sense in terms of Harry's destiny, and it follows a definite mythic structure.

The most interesting part, however, comes after the book is finished -- from rethinking about what came before. Several previously confusing events become clearer once they are approached in a certain way. This gives the whole book an extra level of enjoyment -- one could almost call it an interactive experience.

But what Half-Blood Prince excels at the most is showing Harry's maturation from a somewhat fearful child into a self-assured young man. He comes to terms with the prophecy and events that originally made him The Boy Who Lived and essentially readies himself to take it on without hesitation. It’s a beautifully done piece of characterization and, though people will be talking about the identity of the title character and his unexpected behaviors for some time, this skill at characterization is what will stick in my mind the longest. At least until the next book (which promises to be a firecracker of a finale) comes out in ... 2007?

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form in The Gardner News. Copyright 2005.

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