HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE
by J.K. Rowling
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The penultimate volume of J.K. Rowling's immensely popular Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince sees Harry and his companions return to Hogwarts, but not before Rowling deigns to show the readers life in the Muggle World. While the Muggle world has previously been the realm of Harry and the Dursleys alone, in this book, Rowling opens with the Minister of Magic interacting with the English Prime Minister, as well as a brief scene of Severus Snape at home.
Unlike many of the earlier novels in the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince focuses less on action and more on relationships. Especially coming after the action-laden Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, this comes as an abrupt change of pace. While Harry is able to work more closely with Dumbledore, the relationships between various Gryffindors show how the characters are growing as people, if not as magicians. Similarly, Dumbledore and Harry begin to actually look into the history of Voldemort in an attempt (finally) to understand their nemesis better.
Rowling's ability to show the characters in more complex relationships works well to offset the less action-filled atmosphere at Hogwarts. While there are still problems at Hogwarts and many students are injured or pulled from the school, most of that activity takes place off stage. Harry isn't directly involved and Rowling doesn't feel the need to show those scenes, thereby helping to focus the book away from action and on more cerebral events.
As always, this book sees a new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. At the same time, Harry finds himself the object of unwanted attention by the newly arrived Professor Slughorn, who likes to collect students with potential to be influential following their graduation. Slughorn's unwanted attention causes Harry difficulties with Hermione and Ron, both of whom are pursuing their own lives, even as they are helping Harry, who is popularly believed to be the Chosen One of a prophecy believed to have been revealed at the end of the previous novel.
Rowling's writing is engaging and pulls the reader in. Her characters act, for the most part, as real people surrounded by extraordinary circumstances. All of her characters, from Harry the protagonist to Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy, have their share of strengths and weaknesses. As Harry and Dumbledore explore the life of Voldemort, even the Dark Lord becomes a little more three dimensional and sympathetic than he was in previous volumes, although the choices he made tend to negate much of that sympathy, firmly demonstrating the difference between him and Harry.
Although the ending of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince appears relatively straight forward, Rowling leaves open several potential plot twists to explore in the seventh, and reportedly final, volume. Even when characters appear to have done one thing in the current book, Rowling has left herself room to twist their actions to provide a seventh novel full of surprises and a satisfying denouement.
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