The sixth book in the Harry Potter series of books by J.K. Rowling.

It was published in the UK on 16 July, 2005 and on the same day in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

World’s most popular

The book was – and remains – extremely popular. It was at the top of the best-seller lists at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com within 12 hours of the announcement of the publication date, on 21 Dec., 2004 and remained there until publication date and beyond. Orders from on-line bookstores in the States were around 1 million copies prior to publication. The book sold around 10 million copies worldwide in the first 24 hours after publication, of which about 6.9 million were in the United States. These numbers break all sorts of publishing records.

To underline the massive significance of this book to the publishing world, the initial print run by Scholastic (the US publisher) is set at 10.8 million units, according to a corporate press release. The previous US record was set by book 5, with an initial print run of 6.8 million units. For comparison, a new novel by John Grisham might get an initial print run of 2 to 3 million, while Dan Brown's the Da Vinci Code has sold a total of around 25 million units worldwide since its initial publication. That book had an initial print run of under 100,000 copies.

Altogether, the BBC reported, sales of the first five Harry Potter books hit 250 million units world wide by November 2003, with a revised estimate of 265 million sales at the end of 2004. On 4 October 2005, the BBC said total sales broke through the 300 million mark. That means around 40 million units were sold in 2005. Even in 2004, a year when no new HP book was published, the titles were selling at a rate of 15 million units per year.

A plot summary

This book is somehow different from the previous two. (book 5, book 4)

First, it bears marks of more vigorous editing than previous books.

Second, it's back to the non-stop action and rip-roaring yarns that we saw in the first two books, but which disappeared a little in 3, 4 and 5.

Third, this book really moves the plot forward. Book 5, for all its length, barely moved the plot forward at all. In retrospect, that book seems more like an interlude in the development of the Harry-Voldemort conflict. However, if one particular theory is correct (see below), then book 5 serves to give some big clues to the central mystery of the series.

Fourth, despite the substantial plot development, Voldemort himself is absent from the book. Having said that, this book is mostly about Dumbledore passing on to Harry all his knowledge about Voldemort's origins, tactics and weaknesses.

Fifth, in a dramatic turn-around from book 5, Harry is once more confident and courageous. Almost overnight he has turned from a snarling teenager to a man determined to have his own way.

Rowling was right when she said this one is the beginning of the end. There are more answers in this book than we are used to with Rowling’s work. She has finally helped us solve many of the mysteries she set out when she penned the first novel over a decade ago.

Finally we are seeing Harry approaching and accepting his destiny. In book five, his passion was uncontrolled and directionless, but now, with Dumbledore back to act as mentor, we are seeing Harry come to terms with his destiny; bring his emotions under control, and focus some of the power that lies within himself on the huge challenge ahead of him.

A personal note I liked this one best of the lot. I think the writing flowed easily, so that most of the editing was about cutting the superfluous, rather than trying to re-build a heavily edited story.

I'm going to get the serious spoilers out of the way first. Beware the spoiler-ific pipelinks.

Good versus evil

Wizarding World

Old friends, old enemies

Love is in the air

OK, now that's out of the way, let's talk plot.

Mild spoilers below

This book has two main themes. The first has Dumbledore giving Harry as much information as he possesses about how to defeat Voldemort. We discover the main method Voldemort has used to achieve immortality -- or near-immortality. We discover that Voldemort works alone, having never let anyone into his confidence or into his heart. This information comes in the form of memories seen in a pensieve. Some are Dumbledore's own, others are memories taken from people and creatures near to death.

On the basis of Know your Enemy, Dumbledore shows Harry how Tom Riddle grew up; his parentage; the circumstances of his birth and his experiences in the orphanage. As Riddle becomes more powerful, the memories dry up, since most of the people and creatures Riddle came across in that period became increasingly scared of him, or simply died after meeting him. This means the memories of the period between Riddle's departure from Hogwarts and his transformation into Voldemort, are fewer, and each is more significant. After Riddle has become Voldemort, there are no more memories. This means Dumbledore's suspicions about the later stages of Voldemort's transformation are mostly intelligent guesswork.

The second theme is the 'shipping among the students--and others--that we have come to know over the previous five books.

Since the fourth year, we have seen various of the students realising that members of the opposite sex might be rather more than just schoolmates. Most of the pairings to date have been disastrous. Rowling herself has said it was quite funny since they are all making the wrong choices. In this book we are seeing the students work out who is right for them, and start some more serious relationships. There's snogging in darkened rooms, jealousy; snogging in public and hints that some of the couples may even have got naked together.

If Voldemort's main weakness is love, then the increasing emphasis on pairings within and beyond the school students may become more significant in book seven.

Rowling would be nothing without sub-plots and there are plenty of those, all coming together--as has become a Rowling trade mark-- during the final crisis of the book.

The first of the sub-plots is Malfoy's mission, and how he progresses with it. The second is the continuing analysis of Severus Snape, and his role as double-agent for both Voldemort and Dumbledore. The third sub-plot is various lessons and information that will help Harry to defend himself, escape from trouble and help the good guys. The fourth, of course, is the increasing mayhem that the death eaters are causing among the wider population.

Careful editing

It looks to me like there has been a lot of tinkering with the text. I can't tell if that came from Rowling or from her editors. I suspect it came from Rowling herself, as the editors are on record as saying that her manuscript does not need a great deal of work. Furthermore, here is her answer to a young fan, who asked about re-write:

You always rewrite while you are writing it and then your editor sees it and will suggest things and I do not think I had to do any major rewriting after my editor had seen it, it was more a question of sometimes things are obvious to me as the writer and my editor will say, 'that might not be too clear to the reader', so I have to go back and sharpen things up or maybe need a little more exposition there to make people understand what is going on, so it is normally things of that order. JKR

Rowling has shown a tendency to give excessive details in previous books. Blow-by blow accounts of quidditch matches; specific instructions for making potions; minute-by minute events at the Dursley house. Most of that is gone from this book. Maybe this was to cut the manuscript down to a more acceptable length, or maybe it came as a result of criticism of padding in previous books. Either way, it's a big improvement.

Now, each chapter has more excitement than in the previous two books.

I think some of the key signs of editing are in the passage about the Dursleys. Normally we get too much information about life in their suburban hell. This time, it's all over in a few paragraphs. Another obvious cut surrounds Wormtail. Before publication, Rowling said we would learn more about what he has been up to, but he makes only the briefest of appearances, in Spinner's End. I'm guessing there were whole paragraphs of exposition that got lost there. The same is true of Grawp, Rita Skeeter and others. Rowling said we'd see more of them in book 6, but in the event, none has more than a sentence or two.

Not-so-careful editing

A couple of significant sentences in the American edition were edited out of the UK and other editions. US editor in chief, Arthur Levine has admitted this was a mistake. He said the the editorial trio — Rowling, Emma Matthewson of UK publisher, Bloomsbury, and Levine had agreed a number of changes to the manuscript prior to manufacture of the book, but they were up against tight deadlines. In the rush, he said, these particular sentences were not removed from the US edition as they should have been.

The passage comes at one of the climactic moments of the book, in chapter 27, The Lighting-struck Tower It is when Dumbledore is trying to persuade Draco not to go through with his mission. In this passage below, Draco speaks the words in italics while Dumbledore has the other reported speech. The text that should have been deleted is in bold.

" He told me to do it or he'll kill me. I've got no choice."

"He cannot kill you if you are already dead. Come over to the right side Draco, and we can hide you more completely than you can possibly imagine. What is more, I can send members of the Order to your mother tonight to hide her likewise. Nobody would be surprised that you had died in your attempt to kill me — forgive me, but Lord Voldemort probably expects it. Nor would the Death Eaters be surprised that we had captured and killed your mother — it is what they would do themselves, after all. Your father is safe at the moment in Azkaban "

There are, of course many interpretations of these extra words, and why Matthewson, Levine and Rowling agreed to cut them. Personally I think it shows that the Order is well-practised at hiding people and relates directly to the the climax of that chapter, when the AK curse is cast. Every time we have seen that curse, the victim merely slumps to the floor. Not at the end of the LST chapter. Furthermore, the person who cast the curse is an expert at non-verbal spells, and is completely trusted by Dumbledore. My own interpretation is that the words used had no intention or emotion behind them, and thus the curse would have had no effect. Instead, a different spell was used in a non-verbal way. That spell created the jet of green light and propelled the victim up in the air and over the battlements.

Draco, Fenrir, the other death-eaters and Harry all thought they saw a murder up on the tower, and we can guess they duly reported that to their respective friends and allies. However, amid all the passion and intensity of the moment Harry never really stopped to think that there may have been more to it than immediately met the eye. We can assume the same is true of Draco, though I have to wonder if Fenrir was so completely taken in by the acting.

Which means, of course, that reports of his death may have been somewhat exaggerated. While the mentor figure has to die —or be seen to die — allowing the young hero to continue on alone, this tricky little plot device allows Rowling to bring the mentor back —as the only one who knows what is really going on — to explain all the back story after the final conflict has been resolved.

Title and trivia

Back in 2000, Rowling said she used Half-Blood Prince as the working title for book 2. The title was only changed, she said, when the Half-Blood Prince storyline had been completely removed from book 2, and destined for book 6.

Rowling's fifth book was released on June 21, 2003.

Rowling has said that the last two books in the series, books six and seven, are almost one book divided into two halves. She has also said that she will change the emphasis away from laying many more hints and clues to future events, toward solving some of the mysteries she laid earlier in the series.

Describing the book, she has said The end [of the series] is approaching, and there is more of a sense of finality in book six, compared with the hope and expectation of previous volumes in the series.

Using the web and JKRowling.com

As an aside, Rowling is using her website to communicate directly with her readership, by-passing all the usual mechanisms of press, agents and so on. The result is that the fans are usually ahead of the newspapers with respect to news on Rowling's progress on the Potter novels. Confirmation that the book was completed arrived on the world’s media around 14 hours after Rowling had told her fans about it. Another benefit to Rowling is that she can immediately de-bunk any false rumours spread by the press through her website, and her comments are picked up by a series of dedicated fansites within minutes of appearing on JKRowling.com. Once more, Rowling has the upper hand on the media machine that feeds on publicity and the popularity of the novels.


Some speculation about book seven

Serious spoilers to book 6 here

These may change...

The overwhelming question readers are left with at the end of this book is, "which side is the Half-blood Prince on?" My own view is that the more obvious clues laid in book six are red herrings. Dumbledore set out the plan giving the HBP a prominent role in the plan, and the HBP had great difficulty accepting that role. Hence the scene where Hagrid tells Harry that he heard Dumbledore and the HBP talking in the forest, and Dumbledore has to persuade the HBP to take on a particularly difficult role. The second piece of evidence, for me, is the note of pleading from Dumbledore near the end. The pleading is for the HBP to fulfil his role, as agreed.

This act, in front of witnesses, ensures that the HBP can continue his role at the heart of things in book 7, without his loyalty being questioned. In the end, should there be a confrontation between Harry and Voldemort, the HBP can finally show his true loyalties. I believe Dumbledore thinks that having that kind of person in the death-eaters' inner circle is more important than anything else.

Another question is why Dumbledore trusts Snape. I think we come closer to this in book 6 than we have previously. Try re-reading the conversation between Harry and Dumbledore, just before they set off for the Cave, I think it is clear that Snape had feelings for Lily Evans at Hogwarts. They studied advanced potions together, and in book 5 we saw that she defended Snape, though he rejected her with insults. When Snape, as a loyal death-eater, told Voldemort of the prophecy, he did not know it would lead to the death of his childhood sweetheart.

Perhaps there was a promise from Voldemort not to hurt Lily. Perhaps not--but this would explain why Voldemort told Lily to stand aside, where he has no compunction in killing others. In any case, I am now convinced it was Voldemort's murder of Lily that has persuaded Snape to switch loyalties and become Dumbledore's spy on Voldemort. There is some speculation on the fansites that Snape has made an unbreakable vow to Dumbledore to protect Lily's son. This sounds likely, as it means Snape risks death if he ever fails to protect Harry. No doubt we shall find out at the climax of book seven.

Harry has fallen in love, and that love is returned. No-one--least of all Ginny--is fooled by his intellectual decision to go after Voldemort on his own at the end of this book. No matter what Harry says, his feelings for Ginny will not change, and nor will hers for him. She has been besotted with Harry since the start, and that infatuation has grown into respect, admiration and love. Harry has no occlumency defences, so Voldemort is bound to find that Ginny is the object of Harry's intense love. Did you see the strength of feeling in Harry's heart? That scaly monster rearing it's head or jumping for joy.

Harry is already powerful, but add the power of that sexual love to his already formidable gifts and there is little going to stand in his way if Voldemort tries to harm Ginny.

Ginny has already been possessed by Voldemort once, With her DADA lessons from Harry, her native wit and her ability to lie and to love, she stands as good a chance as any of the students of fighting Voldemort and the death-eaters through her own merits. It is also interesting to note that Harry saved Ginny's life in the Chamber of Secrets, so there might be some kind of extra connection there, should Voldemort try to use Harry's love for Ginny against him.

Five, or six horcruxes? I saw a bit of speculation that makes a huge amount of sense. Huge spoiler alert here. We can be fairly sure that Voldemort was planning to make the sixth horcrux when he murdered Harry. This means there must have been some preparation to transfer the last part of Voldemort's soul into something, before he killed the baby. As Voldemort cast the AK curse, and his soul ripped apart, the fragment would have to find somewhere to reside. Would it have found it's way here? Personally, I think it highly likely, and would explain a lot about the bridge between Harry and Voldemort.

Additional evidence to support this theory. The primary evidence is from Dumbledore at the end of book 2. Think about Dumbledore's explanation of horcruxes to Harry in book six, and then think back to what Dumbledore said to Harry at the end of book 2. In book six, we learn that Dumbledore realised that the diary was a horcrux, and very unlikely to be the only such horcrux, as soon as Harry revealed the ruined diary in front of Ginny and the Weasleys. Just after this, Dumbledore explains that Harry can speak Parseltongue because "Voldemort accidentally transferred a bit of himself into you." There's lots more evidence, if you read the books with the idea that Harry may have a piece of Voldemort's soul inside him.

Think also of the prophecy. "...shall mark him as his equal" When Voldie is preparing to kill baby Harry, he has (very likely) already created five horcruxes, leaving him with two-sevenths of a soul left. In transferring the last part of his soul, Voldemort gives Harry the same amount of Voldemort-soul as Voldemort has left for himself. They are equal. And if Harry manages to destroy the other horcruxes before the final one-on-one, then Harry and Voldemort will each have the same amount of Voldemort-soul inside themselves. Except that Harry has also a whole soul of his own.

So, for the story of book seven, we have Harry returning to Godric's Hollow, discovering that R A B is this person, and remembering the locket and other items back here. He'll find and destroy those horcruxes, probably with the help of Bill Weasley, the Gringotts curse-breaker, and others.

He'll destroy them by taking them to the Department of Mysteries and throwing them behind the veil. Just as he has thrown the last item through, Voldemort will turn up, with Nagini. The snake dies, and Harry thinks it is time to get rid of Voldie. Once that has happened, the Riddle-in-Harry will come to the fore, and Harry will realise he has to kill himself, in order to dispose of the last remnants of Riddle's soul. He dives through the veil, but before he gets all the way through, Ron, Hermione and Ginny grab his legs.

Behind the veil, Harry and Riddle are having a tremendous soul-battle when Sirius comes to meet him. Sirius acts as a guide through the spirit land, taking him to meet his parents. Once Harry meets his mother, the seal on the love-protection is confirmed and Riddle-in-Harry is finally destroyed.

Back in the chamber of death, the friends holding Harry's legs feel him go limp. He seems dead. Regretfully, amid great tears, they pull him back out and amid wailing and sobbing and beating of breasts, we all start writing requiems for the boy who finally did not live.

But wait, there's still two chapters to go....

Harry makes his peace with his parents, hears the story of what really happened with Snape, Pettigrew et al, and Rowling explains a few of the minor mysteries of the series. After all the exposition, Lily, James, Sirius, Dumbledore and others lead Harry to a special room, full of Love. he finds a door. It looks like the one he failed to open on his first visit to the DoM. But this time, operated from the inside, the lock opens. Harry -- or rather his soul -- flies back to the room with the veil and re-inhabits his body.

Harry's eyelids flickered. He thought he could see a snitch above him, he tried to raise a hand to take it, but his mind still hadnot re-connected with his limbs. A moment later, the snitch came to him, and the golden image swam into focus. He realised it was not a snitch, but the ring he had given to Ginny two nights before." Kisses, reunions, celebrations yadda yadda yadda.

(With apologies to http://www.redhen-publications.com/Premature.html. I'd worked out that Harry will probably destroy at least one of the horcruxes with the veil and that he has to die and that there'll be a resurrection scene (JKR almost told us this in one of her interviews) But I hadn't got as far as the Chamber of Love as the mechanism for the resurrection. That makes a lot of sense. That guy knows his literature. And he's not especially complementary toward Rowling either. heh.)


Back to the Harry Potter project

Book five

Book seven

Personal Review (No spoilers):

Purchased at 12:41 AM 7/16 US Eastern Time. Reading (competitive sprint) begun at 1:32 AM. Completed at 5:19 AM.

As we used to say back in the Babylon 5 days, WHAM.

Heh.

Points raised during reading: This book is in a noticeably different style - in keeping with the fact that Harry and his compatriots are in their sixth year, and that Scholastic explicitly intended the series to progress the reading skills of their customers. Sentences are more complex, themes are more adult, and handled more through matter-of-fact reference and assumed familiarity by way of implication (or actual slang) than the slightly cartoonish explanatory metaphor of books four and five.

Heh. Nasty typo on Page 10 of the U.S. edition, too.

While the change in writing tone is conceivably that of J.K. Rowling consciously bringing new style or choices to bear, it is also possible that heavy editing was employed. Although the story, characters and flow felt (to this reader) quite perfectly hers, the language was in places new enough to make me wonder. This is not a value statement, just an observation; I was quite satisfied (read: it's friggin' awesome) with the book. It did a better job (for me) with adult-themed plot issues than four or five did - themes which, given the already exposed bits of the plot arc (no, I'm not going to discuss them, go read up on them if you're confused - and if you are, why are you reading about book six anyhow?!) are unavoidable.

As indicated above, the U.S. edition clocks in at 632 pages in hardbound, and the CD edition (read by the awesome Mr. Jim Dale) comes in at 17 discs.

Must sleep now.

Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince

Published 2005, Bloomsbury Publishing Copyright (c) 2005, J.K. Rowling ISBN 1-55192-756-x

Canadian Edition by Raincoat Books

Holy crap in a tube.
Holy crap in a tube.
Holy crap in a tube.

Please excuse my excitement, I just finished the book literally moments ago, and the feverish delight is still fierce in my mind. As you may have gathered by this point, this is an incredible book, not just as the continuation of the rising climax begun in Harry Potter And The Goblet of Fire (which was, incidentally, my favorite of the series until now), but also as a piece of literature unto itself.

But before I get into my personal thoughts and opinions, some quantifications.

MILD SPOILERS AHEAD, though I'll try to avoid ruining the book.

Compositionally, this book takes a markedly different tack from the previous books in many ways. The maturity level is ramped up quite severely, though it does not descend into luridness or crudity, both in violence and the increasingly adult nature of Harry & Co's relationships. While I won't give you specifics, I can say that many of the things you, like me, have likely been predicting will come to fruition here, and seeds that were planted in the first few books come to bloom with surprising results, especially on the teenage romance side of things. This more mature content, while still mostly PG-13, is not jarring or misplaced, but flows naturally from the fact that it is about a bunch of sixteen-year-olds living in the middle of what is effectively a religious war against a villain that could teach Darth Vader (the good, ominous one, not the whiney, emotional one) a thing or two.

The book is built around three main themes. First, and most obvious, is the escalating war against Voldemort and the Death Eaters. People are being murdered or vanishing daily, Voldemort is gaining power, and the entire book has a lovely film noir-esque haze of fear and pessimism blanketing everything. Second is Harry's continuing development as a teenager and as a wizard, a subject which is handled not only entertainingly, but with sufficient authenticity that even I, who has been past that age for nearing ten years (gulp!) now, was forced into pleasant/painful identification with Harry and Ron's continued growing pains and advances into the rather intimidating (and hellishly confusing) world of dating. And snogging. There's a great deal of snogging. The final theme is the continuing search for the identity of the Half-Blood Prince. While I will not reveal the way this mysterious moniker comes into play, I can say that though it seems tertiary and even under-explored early on, it is potentially the biggest part of the ending, eclipsed by perhaps only one other event.

The book opens (and don't worry, this is giving nothing away, because it's the first page or two) with the Prime Minister of the UK (and a rather sly (and surprising) dig at the current US administration) getting a visit from Cornelius Fudge, who does some explaining about events between the end of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and the present time. While this mechanic might have been a rather unpleasantly obvious visit from the Exposition Fairy, it is actually handled quite well, introducing not only new readers to the story, but re-familiarizing old fans with the plot, all while doing an excellent job of setting the tone for the entire book.

The main portion of the book is true to form for J.K. Rowling, a mix of Harry's school and personal life balanced against the rising war outside the school. Personally, I think the balance is handled extremely well, perhaps even better than the last two books. The conflict quickly rises, throwing Harry's world in a frenetic pace on all fronts, where some rather startling (or gratifyingly predicted) developments come faster and faster, all leading to an incredibly explosive ending that will, if you're even a half-hearted fan, leave you really hating that the next (and last) one isn't due out for two years, or so.

For my personal thoughts... I never really was much interested in the series until late last year when Order of the Phoenix came out and listening to my girlfriend rave about it made me relent and read the entire series to date. I was, like so many others, instantly hooked. Needless to say, I decided to forgo sleep tonight in order to wait for my partner (who bought and has yet to touch the book) to go to sleep so I could devour it in one session. It took me about six hours, which I thought was pretty damn good, until I saw The Custodians' time. Most of the time, I merely roll my eyes when I hear people describe a book as "gripping" and "impossible to put down" but this book is truly both of those. Harry's character development is absolutely stellar, and Ron and Hermione both continue to grow to be distinct and individually fascinating characters, rather than being relegated to paper cutouts to play foil to Harry. Amazingly, even Draco Malfoy, who had really not changed much thus far, gets a significant amount of development of his own.

I would like to go on at a great deal more length about specific things that really made the book great for me, but I would hate to ruin the experience for anyone else, because the book depends so much on having no more idea of what's coming than Harry does. I will say this, however: if you read this book and do not at least once feel the urge to grab Harry by the metaphorical collar and yell advice at him, I'll probably eat someone else's hat (I'd eat mine, but I doubt Tilley would be as agreeable to me as to an elephant).

The Canadian edition clocks in at 607 pages, which I'll put down to formatting differences from the US version, which has more pages. While I will agree with The Custodian that much of the language is very evolved, I did not find that it was so significantly different from the previous books as to make me suspect editorial interference. However, I would not be at all surprised if the Canuk and US versions received different treatment.

If you've read it and want to hear my thoughts on specific things, or even more spoiler-iffic commentary, drop me a line and I'd be happy to talk. I think this is a book I'll be talking about for a while, to anyone who's willing to listen.

Read this book.
Must sleep now.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
by J.K. Rowling, illustrated by Mary GrandPre
Arthur A. Levine Books (July 16, 2005)
ISBN: 0439784549
652 pages

I know a fair number of adult SF fans have been complaining about the Harry Potter series lacking depth etc., but seriously, these are children's books -- should any grown-up find it shocking that Harry's adventures aren't meant for them and thus don't suit them?

It's not supposed to be Sartre, folks. I think if most of us go back and read beloved books from our childhood, we'll find them a bit lacking in one respect or another. For instance, I adored Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time when I was a preteen and young teenager. It along with a couple of other books were what inspired me to want to become a writer. But when I read it again as a thirtysomething, the characters seemed flat and the villainous force seemed insufficiently frightening. Wrinkle is undeniably a classic work, and I still love it, but it was written for 12-year-old me, not jaded ol' modern-day me.

Some people have commented on Rowling's not portraying adolescents as the horny little monsters that pretty much all of us were in our mid-and-late teens. Seeing as this is nominally aimed at kids ages 9-12, Rowling couldn't very well turn in Harry Potter and The Last Picture Show, could she?

Still, in Half-Blood Prince, Rowling does at least hint at the wizard kids having budding sex lives and shows Ron and Hermione quarreling and running off to date other students in an effort to make each other jealous. Ron and Hermione aren't the only ones who find romance in the novel -- Harry suffers a great deal of teen angst over his attraction to Ron's little sister Ginny. Order of the Phoenix member Tonks is wandering around in a broken-hearted funk. And all the Weasley women are upset over Bill's engagement to stuck-up Fleur.

The first two-thirds of the book spend enough time on the kids' romantic entanglements and on Voldemort's adolescent history that the story lacks real tension. Furthermore, Harry is treated as a hero by his classmates, which removes a great deal of the drama found in the earlier novels. I found the prose as readable as always, but I just didn't have the sense of fear and impending doom I got from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Some other reviewers and readers have claimed that this is the darkest book in the series; really, it's not. Order of the Phoenix was loads darker overall. What does happen in this book is that A Major Beloved Character dies in an entirely plotworthy manner. Some people will be aghast and turned off by that, but the character's death was utterly necessary for the events of the final book.

And we all know what's going to happen in the last book: Harry has his final showdown with Voldemort. A kid can't go into a killing battle with a wizard, but a young man can. This book is about Harry leaving the nest, once and for all.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince only starts getting truly interesting in the last third of the book; by the end, Rowling had me good and ready for the final book in the series.

There are of course The Usual Problems: much of the book seems derivative and echoes the work of writers like Tolkien and Dickens and Barry Hughart (Bridge of Birds); Rowling even nabs some imagery from the Dead Marshes sequence in the film version of The Two Towers. The plot doesn't entirely hold water in places. If you've read the entire series so far, you're probably prepared to forgive Rowling for being a bit of a literary George Lucas. I personally found the book (along with all the others in the series so far) interesting enough to finish in under two days, but if Order of the Phoenix bored you (as some have reported), you probably won't get through the first few chapters of this.

It seemed to me that in many ways, this novel was an exercise in backstory and setting up events for the final novel. It's a shame she couldn't have made this book as gripping as some of the others have been, but I have faith that the final book will give us the payoff we've been looking for.

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