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.