Book Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

I loved Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. One of my favorites of the series. Perfectly plotted, and a continuation of the great character development set up from the start.

(Warning: MAJOR plot spoilers ahead. Proceed with caution.)

J.K. Rowling is a master at deceiving her readers. Even with the second chapter of the book spelling out Snape’s betrayal of the Order, I was convinced that he was a triple agent, still loyal to Dumbledore. Dumbledore’s complete trust of Severus was infectious. Also, Harry’s past, wrong beliefs that teachers and students he hated were evil kept me from really believing his most recent accusations. Even when Snape killed Dumbledore, I tried to find a loophole, a way the Killing Curse could have been faked.

I was an idiot.

But I was an idiot at the expense of incredible writing, so I’m okay with it.

What I love about this series, but especially the sixth book, is how fallible the characters are. Of course, all stories contain such characters, but Rowling spared none of hers this fate. While many authors would have felt compelled to make the professors at Hogwarts infallible adult figures who were obeyed on principle, Rowling understood the plot depth she could harness if they were in fact the opposite. Harry is loyal to the school and its (not evil) teachers, but he is more loyal to his personal beliefs and his gut instincts. This keeps him safe as his peers and his mentors fall.

It is refreshing to have an adult author write so plainly about adults’ misunderstanding and underestimating of youth. I’m a teenager; I know what it’s like to realize an adult has no respect for me, only the cookie cutter stereotype of “teenagers” that society has chosen. To see great wizards humbled by lesser youths is uplifting, and I hope many adults recognize their own flaws in the failings of the adults in the Harry Potter universe.

I love the insight we gain into Voldemort in this book. He used to be a simple, imposing Evil–terrifying by his legacy alone. He was a monster, and rightfully so, but in this book, we see the man…and we understand him. What was once a random rampage of evil is unearthed. Even his heartless nature is explained with the splintering his soul endured to create six Horocruxes. Young Voldemort is almost more frightening than the one alive in the present story. We watch him coolly, intentionally become evil. We have to accept that he chose this path, deliberately. His need for power, lack of friends, desire to cause pain–they are all rooted in his past, and when we learn of their causes, we feel sickly close to the Dark Lord. This is terrifying. Rowling did an incredible job with these plot reveals, using them to test the bond between Dumbledore and Harry, set of the end of the series, and get her readers closer to her villain than we ever wanted.

Harry and Ginny’s relationship in this book added a needed burst of happiness. They’re perfect for each other. Even with Harry’s (stupid) need to be a hero and “break things off” with her, I know they can’t stay apart. Even if I didn’t remember the ending, I would believe this. (Screw the realistic romance I mentioned in my review of book four–they are soul mates and I LOVE it.)

J.K. Rowling’s gift for characterization is breathtaking. She captures personas we’ve all met and brings them to life effortlessly on the page. We understand every action they take, including their failures, because of the characters she has created. Slughorn’s pride, Snape’s hatred of Harry, Voldemort’s power-hunger–in understanding them, we are drawn into the story. As the series lengthens and teaches more and more about every character involved, my emotional commitment to the series grows, leaving me sobbing during Dumbledore’s funeral.

I think Dumbledore’s death was, though painful, necessary. Harry has slowly lost every one of his support structures: Sirius Black, Dumbledore, his faith in Hogwarts’ impenetrability. Looking in the seventh book, with a clear goal of destroying the Horocruxes and Voldemort himself, Harry must finally face the world without an adult’s watchful eye keeping him safe. By losing Dumbledore, he lost his safety net. Had he not, the seventh book would not be as powerful. The stakes have to be as high as possible–Harry has to be alone. Sure, he has his friends, but even that is tested, and they are his same age and (basically) skill level. They are youth against the vast evilness of the world, what the series has been building up to.

Of course I cried when Dumbledore died. But after all of the botched, unnecessary character deaths I’ve read, I appreciate a character dying for a reason, not just a body count.

It’s clear J.K. Rowling knew what she was doing when she wrote this series. She can write, and I love that.

I’m halfway through the seventh book now. I can’t believe this series is going to end. It’s kinda killing me.

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