Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Book review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
J.K. Rowling's fantasy masterpiece takes on a different tone as she begins winding up her saga in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Up until this book, even in the darkest and creepiest scenes of books 1-5, Harry and his friends are kids and there is a pervasive sense of swashbuckling adventure. That sense doesn't disappear in the 6th book of the series, but Harry and co. are no longer children. Nor is this a book for children in the traditional sense. If you've read my previous reviews of the series (and if you haven't, they are here: book 1, book 2, book 3, book 4, book 5), you will be aware that in my opinion, books 1-3 are appropriate for children but books 4 and up require greater parental involvement and discernment. They simply may not be appropriate for your child at the present time, and only you can tell for sure.
I have two sons who grew up with Harry Potter; we discovered the series when book 4 was about to come out and quickly read through the first three books. Book 4 wasn't that much later although I had reservations about some scenes, and then my firstborn had to wait along with the rest of the world for each new installment every few years. It built family togetherness and a deep appreciation of reading - both of which are priceless. But it also gave my boys time to grow a little and develop some maturity to deal with the darker themes that run through the entire series, but especially through the final two books. With my daughters it's a little harder.
The evil Lord Voldemort is gaining power but there is not yet open war in the wizarding world. Harry Potter has learned from some of his missteps in the 5th book: his relationship with kindly old wizard Albus Dumbledore has deepened and he is called upon to help the headmaster in some important quests, although he is not entrusted with full knowledge of the circumstances even yet. Some are calling him "the Chosen One," while he and his friends would like to be normal teenagers, falling in and out of love and grousing about the staffing changes at Hogwarts. Much of the book is concerned with laying necessary groundwork for the final book. I may be the only one to think so, but it seems to me that the Pensieve as a device for relaying backstory information is just a trifle cheap: "and then Harry looked into the magic Pensieve and saw what (x-character) had seen many years ago)." It works, but just barely. Voldemort, it appears, has engaged in a particularly evil form of black magic; not once, but many times, he has attempted to ensure his own immortality by creating horcruxes. (And it may be just because I'm a Latin teacher, but I think it should be horcruces. But anyway.) Harry still struggles with intense hatred and suspicion of Professor Severus Snape and his classmate Draco Malfoy. Is it unreasonable? And, as will be a theme in the 7th book as well, should Harry continue to act on blind faith and loyalty even when everyone else is telling him otherwise? Between the 5th book and the 7th book, Harry changes from a moody teenager into a leader. This book is the turning point that allows that transformation. There are still plenty of moody teenager moments, but the trend is upward.
Unfortunately, a major character has to be killed off at the end of this book, and great turmoil ensues. (I myself had the ending spoiled for me by one of the worst types of Muggles at Reagan National Airport on July 17, 2005, who was talking loudly on his cell phone -- as I sat reading my hot-off-the-presses British edition -- and revealed the big secret. Pthbtbtbt!!! I was unable to enjoy the book for a few years because of him!) The ending is necessary but deeply unsettling and the only solution for that is to read onward to the 7th book. Spare a moment of pity for those of us who had to wait years between them!
This book is appropriate for ages 13 and up, and may be suitable for mature 10-year-olds. Possible areas of concern: teenage romances, dark scenes, scary creatures called Inferi, themes of death, deception and betrayal.