Friday, August 19, 2005

Harry Potter HBP Reviews (spoilers!!!)

EDITOR'S NOTE: AS PROMISED (TO DWEEBPAL CARRIE), HERE ARE THE BUCKETS-O-HARRY REVIEWS I SAID I'D GIVE YOU FOR WEEKEND READING. ENJOY!

SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: OODLES OF HP6 REVIEWS. MOST POSITIVE. A FEW NOT.

SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT!!!


EDITOR'S NOTE: AND NOW...THE REVIEWS -----

NEW YORK TIMES
Harry Potter Works His Magic Again in a Far Darker Tale
By
MICHIKO KAKUTANI

In an earlier Harry Potter novel, Sibyll Trelawney, divination teacher, looks at Harry and declares that her inner eye sees past his "brave face to the troubled soul within."
"I regret to say that your worries are not baseless," she adds. "I see difficult times ahead for you, alas ... most difficult ... I fear the thing you dread will indeed come to pass ... and perhaps sooner than you think."

In "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," that frightening prophecy does in fact come true - in a thoroughly harrowing denouement that sees the death of yet another important person in Harry's life, and that renders this, the sixth volume of the series, the darkest and most unsettling installment yet.

It is a novel that pulls together dozens of plot strands from previous volumes, underscoring how cleverly and carefully J. K. Rowling has assembled this giant jigsaw puzzle of an epic. It is also a novel that depicts Harry Potter, now 16, as more alone than ever - all too well aware of loss and death, and increasingly isolated by his growing reputation as "the Chosen One," picked from among all others to do battle with the Dark Lord, Voldemort.

As the novel opens, the wizarding world is at war: Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters have grown so powerful that their evil deeds have spilled over into the Muggle world of nonmagic folks. The Muggles' prime minister has been alerted by the Ministry of Magic about the rise of Voldemort. And the terrible things that Ms. Rowling describes as being abroad in the green and pleasant land of England read like a grim echo of events in our own post-9/11, post-7/7 world and an uncanny reminder that the Hogwarts Express, which Harry and his friends all take to school, leaves from King's Cross station - the very station where the suspected London bombers gathered minutes before the explosions that rocked the city days ago.

Harry, who as an infant miraculously survived a Voldemort attack that killed his mother and father, is regarded as "a symbol of hope" by many in the wizarding world, and as he learns more about the Dark Lord's obsession with his family, he realizes that he has a destiny he cannot escape. Like Luke Skywalker,EDITOR’S NOTE: IT IS THE SUMMER OF OUR DWEEB BEST, ISN’T IT? he is eager to play the role of hero. But like Spider-Man, he is also aware of the burden that that role imposes: although he has developed romantic yearnings for a certain girl, he is wary of involvement, given his recognition of the dangers he will have to face.

"It's been like ... like something out of someone else's life, these last few weeks with you," he tells her. "But I can't ... we can't ... I've got things to do alone now."

Indeed, the perilous task Professor Dumbledore sets Harry in this volume will leave him with less and less time for Quidditch and hanging out with his pals Ron and Hermione: he is to help his beloved teacher find four missing Horcruxes - super-secret, magical objects in which Voldemort has secreted parts of his soul as a means of ensuring his immortality. Only when all of these items have been found and destroyed, Harry is told, can the Dark Lord finally be vanquished.

There are a host of other unsettling developments in this novel, too: the Dementors, those fearsome creatures in charge of guarding Azkaban Prison, have joined forces with Voldemort; Draco Malfoy, Harry's sneering classmate who boasts of moving on to "bigger and better things," appears to vanish regularly from the school grounds; the sinister Severus Snape has been named the new teacher of defense against the dark arts; two Hogwarts students are nearly killed in mysterious attacks; and Dumbledore suddenly turns up with a badly injured hand, which he declines to explain. One of the few bright spots in Harry's school life appears to be an old textbook annotated by its enigmatic former owner, who goes by the name the Half-Blood Prince - a book that initially supplies Harry with some helpful tips for making potions.

The early and middle sections of this novel meld the ordinary and the fantastic in the playful fashion Ms. Rowling has patented in her previous books, capturing adolescent angst about boy-girl and student-teacher relations with perfect pitch. Ron and Hermione, as well as Harry, all become involved in romantic flirtations with other students, even as they begin to realize that their O.W.L. (Ordinary Wizarding Level) grades may well determine the course of their post-Hogwarts future. As the story proceeds, however, it grows progressively more somber, eventually becoming positively Miltonian in its darkness. In fact, two of the novel's final scenes - like the violent showdown between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker in the last "Star Wars" movie, "Revenge of the Sith" - may well be too alarming for the youngest readers. EDITOR’S NOTE: OBI-WAN, ANAKIN, AND HARRY….ALL IN ONCE SENTENCE. LIFE IS DWEEBISHLY GOOD.

Harry still has his wry sense of humor and a plucky boyish heart, but as in the last volume ("Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"), he is more Henry V than Prince Hal, more King Arthur than the young Wart. He has emerged, at school and on the Quidditch field, as an unquestioned leader: someone who must learn to make unpopular decisions and control his impetuous temper, someone who must keep certain secrets from his schoolmates and teachers.
He has become more aware than ever of what he and Voldemort have in common - from orphaned childhoods to an ability to talk Parseltongue (i.e., snake speech) to the possession of matching wands - and in one chilling scene, he is forced to choose between duty to his mission and his most heartfelt emotions. In discovering the true identity of the Half-Blood Prince, Harry will learn to re-evaluate the value of first impressions and the possibility that his elders' convictions can blind them to parlous truths. And in embracing his own identity, he will discover his place in history.

As in earlier volumes, Ms. Rowling moves Harry's story forward by chronicling his adventures at Hogwarts, while simultaneously moving backward in time through the use of flashbacks (via Dumbledore's remarkable Pensieve, a receptacle for people's memories). As a result, this is a coming-of-age story that chronicles the hero's evolution not only by showing his maturation through a series of grueling tests, but also by detailing the growing emotional wisdom he gains from understanding more and more about the past.

In addition to being a bildungsroman, of course, the Harry Potter books are also detective stories, quest narratives, moral fables, boarding school tales and action-adventure thrill rides, and Ms. Rowling uses her tireless gift for invention to thread these genres together, while at the same time taking myriad references and tropes (borrowed from such disparate sources as Shakespeare, Dickens, fairy tales, Greek myths and more recent works like "Star Wars") and making them her own.

Perhaps because of its position as the penultimate installment of a seven-book series, "The Half-Blood Prince" suffers, at moments, from an excess of exposition. Some of Dumbledore's speeches to Harry have a forced, summing-up quality, and the reader can occasionally feel Ms. Rowling methodically setting the stage for developments to come or fleshing out scenarios put in play by earlier volumes (most notably, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," with its revelations about the young Voldemort, a k a Tom Riddle).

Such passages, however, are easily forgotten, as the plot hurtles along, gaining a terrible momentum in this volume's closing pages. At the same time, the suspense generated by these books does not stem solely from the tension of wondering who will die next or how one or another mystery will be solved. It stems, as well, from Ms. Rowling's dexterity in creating a character-driven tale, a story in which a person's choices determine the map of his or her life - a story that creates a hunger to know more about these people who have become so palpably real. EDITOR’S NOTE: EXACTLY. WELL PUT!

We want to know more about Harry's parents - how they met and married and died - because that may tell us more about Harry's own yearnings and decisions. We want to know more about Dumbledore's desire to believe the best of everyone because that may shed light on whom he chooses to trust. We want to know more about the circumstances of Tom Riddle's birth because that may shed light on his decision to reinvent himself as Lord Voldemort.

Indeed, the achievement of the Potter books is the same as that of the great classics of children's literature, from the Oz novels to "The Lord of the Rings": the creation of a richly imagined and utterly singular world, as detailed, as improbable and as mortal as our own.

Sunday, Jul. 17, 2005
Love Potions and Tragic Magic
By LEV GROSSMAN
It's a curious fact about Harry Potter's magic that it doesn't really look all that hard to do. You wiggle the wand, you say the words--"Lumos! Expelliarmus! Accio Car Keys!"--and if you're not a Muggle or a Squib, if you've got the right stuff or the midichlorians EDITOR’S NOTE: HAR HAR. or whatever, you're in business. How hard is that? And that Hermione Granger is supposed to be some kind of genius.

What J.K. Rowling does doesn't look that hard either. She's not a showy stylist or a Big Thinker, but in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Scholastic; 652 pages), the sixth novel in the Potter series, she weaves a remarkable number of narrative threads into a complex, moving and elegantly balanced whole, without any apparent effort.

Rowling loves to wrong-foot readers, and the previous book, Order of the Phoenix, reads like the loins-girding preamble to an all-out, good-vs.-evil, wand-on-wand wizard war. But Half-Blood Prince turns out to be something else: an elegant, fugal tapestry in the mode of Prisoner of Azkaban. "And now," as Dumbledore says to Harry, "let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure." It's a tribute to Rowling's dramatic instincts that this actually sounds pretty cool in context.

We begin with the eternal, eternally entertaining compulsory figures. It's summertime, and Harry makes his way from the Dursleys' to the Weasleys' to Diagon Alley to Hogwarts (we're spared the Sorting Hat's customary verbosities this year). Snape has at long last secured the Defense Against the Dark Arts teaching job. Draco has his usual generic mischief cooking. Harry, now 16, has been made captain of Gryffindor's Quidditch team, and he has stumbled on a mysterious potions textbook that was formerly the property of--wait for it--a certain Half-Blood Prince. Meanwhile, Dumbledore and Harry, with the help of that always handy expository aid the Pensieve, are poring over the details of Voldemort's early backstory for clues to his intentions. Oh, and somebody's trying to kill Hogwarts students. As Hagrid puts it, with the barest trace of a wink, "Chamber o' Secrets all over again, isn' it?"

For true believers, Half-Blood Prince will be pure pleasure. There's Quidditch, potion-class high jinks, apparition lessons, loads of snogging (Ron and Hermione are slowly sorting out their longtime mutual crush) and some lovely business with a golden potion called Felix Felicis that makes whoever imbibes it extra lucky. But this is the second-to-last book in the series, and for all the fun, the mood is darkening. You can't help but feel that Rowling is trotting out the fan favorites--your Tonks, your Luna, your Buckbeak, your Fred and George--for a final sunlit outing before chaos overtakes Harry. Having carefully built a cozy fictional universe over five previous books, Rowling has the task of tearing it apart, and there are several tableaux of genuinely surreal horrors, including a vicious werewolf (not at all cuddly like Lupin). The book ends with a shockingly violent reversal that permanently and painfully alters the fixed stars of Harry's life.

Which is to say that once again, somebody dies.

Harry's adult readers, this one included, tend to want Rowling's novels to Mean Something, and in this somewhat transitional book there are a few too many ingredients in the cauldron for it to come to a boil. But if there's an abiding preoccupation here, it's love: both requited and un-, misplaced, perverted, denied, repressed and obsessive. Rowling plays that theme as both comedy--watch for the long-suffering Ron to get dosed with a love potion--and tragedy. The story of Voldemort's early life plays as a dark parody of Harry's--Voldemort too was a Muggle-raised orphan, desperate to feel special--but while Harry's power comes from his mother's true, pure love, Voldemort is the product of a twisted, sorcerously coerced love, from which only evil could arise.EDITOR’S NOTE: OOOO…THIS I HAD NOT THOUGHT OF. THAT TOM JR.’S MOM’S MEANS TO SEDUCTION OF TOM SR. MIGHT HAVE TAINTED THE CHILD SPAWNED AS A RESULT. INTERESTING…..

Love is much more important to Rowling than magic. The real mystery, for her, is the human heart. She has always been more interested in the hand that wields the wand, the way the enchantment illuminates the wizard who casts it. --L.G.

Harry Potter review blog
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth book in the best-selling series by JK Rowling, is released worldwide at 0001 BST on Saturday.

The BBC News website's Darren Waters picked up his copy then and reviewed it here overnight, posting a new review entry every few chapters.

You can follow his reaction to the book - and see your own comments - here.

This blog has now ended. Beware - book reviews inevitably contain plot spoilers. We will try to avoid these as much as possible, but if you DO NOT want to know what is in the new book, DO NOT READ ON.

2200 BST 15 July
With just two hours to go before Harry Potter hits the world - again - I'm limbering up for my marathon speed read effort.

I've done a few warm up exercises - reading the last few chapters of the previous book The Order of the Phoenix as quickly as I can - and I've managed to get a few hours sleep this afternoon so that I do not collapse into a narcoleptic heap mid-chapter.
I will be receiving no special treatment as a journalist when it comes to getting my hands on the new book. I will be waiting outside my local bookshop along with all the other eager Potter-ites at midnight.


I will then be dashing home, brewing some coffee, settling down and reading.

I understand there are 672 pages to plough through and no doubt I shall be cursing JK Rowling's garrulous writing style as I go along. How I yearn for the days when Harry Potter was a slimline volume.

The books have got bigger and bigger as Potter has got older and the Harry phenomenon exploded out of control. Coincidence?

But I pledge to read every word of every chapter in order to bring this review to you.

I'll be reviewing chunks of the book as I go along, pausing only to type and to imbibe caffeine.
I'm doing this as an adult, and hope no children will be allowed to read their new book before going to bed. It simply isn't healthy.

0010 BST 16 July
I have the book in my hands - hundreds and hundreds of pages worth - after picking it up at my local Waterstones in Richmond.

The coffee is brewing, the sofa is my domain and let the reading begin.

Will Dumbledore be killed as the rumours seem to suggest? Who is this mysterious Half-Blood Prince?

And does JK Rowling still have the magic in her fingertips?

I'll guess I'll find out in the next five or six hours.

I'll update with my thoughts in about 100 pages time. Happy reading.

0100 BST
A hundred pages in and it's been something of a lethargic start. JK Rowling usually sets off at a terrific pace, but this time it is much more reflective.

The first chapter is a rather drawn out re-capping of all that happened in the last book - although, given how convoluted it was, that is no bad thing.

Chapter two is much better and already the first shock and surprise is unleashed on an unsuspecting audience. Who would have thought that....no, I'm not going to ruin it for you.
Harry Potter himself, the boy who lived, makes his first appearance in chapter three and the book starts properly here.

As Dumbledore says to Harry at the end of the chapter: "And now Harry, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure."

And so I must continue with that pursuit.

0200 BST
Two hundred pages in and JK Rowling is into her stride. The Potter novels are always quite comforting because they follow a common structure - each book is based around an academic year at Hogwarts.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is no different. The pace of the books always lifts once Harry, Ron and Hermione are ensconced within the walls of the school.

Children connect with the books because they have a rhythm that they can instantly relate to - the shock of the new, but the comfort of the familiar.

This of course is book six, the penultimate in Rowling's series.

All threads, plots and questions must be tied together and resolved soon and in this book one can feel the narrative moving to a conclusion.

Ten chapters in and Rowling is beginning to address some of the books' biggest questions.

In some ways that need to draw the series to a conclusion, it is hindering the narrative of the book.

It is still unclear what this particular book is about - and there has only been one brief mention of the Half-Blood Prince of the title.

0300 BST
Half way there! But something is wrong. The magic of Potter books past just doesn't appear to be working in this new volume. Has the spell cast on JK Rowling's ink well expired?
The problem is that there doesn't appear to be any particular thread in this new book. The old, familiar elements are all there - Quidditch matches, magic lessons, old rivalries - but the plot itself seems to be lacking.

The problem is that Rowling seems to have her sights so firmly set on ending the series that what little excitement she has left in store seems to have been spread ever so thinly. EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS BLOKE DOESN’T SEEM TO APPRECIATE THAT HALF THE FUN IN THE HP BOOKS IS THE JOURNEY. THE END IS JUST A BONUS.

Interestingly, Rowling seems to have belatedly realised that her main characters are teenagers with raging hormones.

There is even some passion to be found in the pages - even if it is wrapped in that ever-so-quaint and nostalgic fog that envelops all of her books.

0400 BST
I am now past the 400-page mark and a mere 205 pages remain.

I'm not sure whether it is the lateness of the hour or the paucity of the plot but I am definitely beginning to flag. EDITOR’S NOTE: CYNICS ARE SUCH TEDIOUS CHAPS.

The book is creeping towards a conclusion but there appears to be little rhyme or reason to much of what happens in the book.

Of course, Rowling is trying to keep the suspense going

Draco Malfoy is up to no good as usual - but what precisely are his plans?

Severus Snape - can he be trusted?

And who is this Half-Blood Prince? I had hoped that given the book bears his title that we might have learned a little more by this stage.

The most interesting part of the book, without doubt, is the history of Lord Voldemort himself that is being revealed.

Finally we learn the origins of the dark wizard himself and it is quite a tale.

I can picture children across the globe delighting in every detail that is being teased out by Rowling.

0530 BST
I've just finished the last few words of the book.

In the final few chapters, the book seemed to rouse itself out of a slumber and concluded with a number of dramatic episodes that will no doubt leave devoted Potter fans reeling.

I will not spoil the surprise for anyone reading this. But this I will say - all the pieces for the final book of the series are now in place.

In many ways this book has been a mere staging ground for Rowling's final narrative to come.
Too much of the book was either a repeat of what we have seen before, or bogged down by Rowling's attempts to manoeuvre plot lines and characters into position.

After a while all magic tricks begin to lose their impact.

Cut a woman in half? Boring. Make your assistant disappear? Seen it a thousand times before.
Quidditch? Magic lessons? Dark Arts?

After six volumes I am a little disinterested in the magic that Rowling has to offer.

But of course the Potter phenomenon hurtles on like the Hogwarts Express.

But with just one book left in the series, does JK Rowling have anything left up her sleeves?

What do you think of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? Is it as good as the first five books? Do you agree with Darren's review? Let us know using the form below.

I was left with a despairing, defeated feeling Chandni Rosser, London

I received the book this morning and I've finished it. All I can say is that it has left me feeling very upset. I usually end on an upbeat note after Ms Rowling's books. This time I was left with a despairing, defeated feeling. The magic is wonderful, as always. It is well written, however the realistic real life events are a bit too sad, and the twist, a little too twisted. Chandni Rosser, London

I had planned to spend a romantic Saturday, sun-bathing with my partner, unfortunately I lost her earlier this morning to Harry Potter's bespectacled charms... I'm hoping she finishes it by the end of the day! Marquis, Suffolk, UK

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have been looking for good reviews and thoughts on the book since I woke up this morning. Sadly I was not able to get a book as I am in a Third World country but I am awaiting it from a friend who is bringing it to me. I can't stand the tension, thank you for the small clues given in the above blogs. Now I might be able to survive the long wait. Dominique Lassalle, Bogota Colombia

Rowling just spins it all up, the intricacy and touch of the arising plot lead up to a climax that will keep your nose buried in the book till the very last word. Plenty is revealed as the author so cunningly kept the last few bits of the jigsaw. It also teaches us not to extend the hand of trust too far, and to bear in mind that death could be waiting just around the corner. Kalon Tsang, Hong Kong, China

I thought this book was one of the best. A lot of back-story on Voldemort and a good set-up for book seven. The first part of the book did move slowly, but once the pace picked up I couldn't put it down. I can't wait for the last book! David, Perth, Scotland

Credibility is a bit of an issue Jay, Staffordshire
Credibility is a bit of an issue. Whereas before things seemed feasible, here that doesn't always feel the case. It did seem to be more preparation for the final instalment. Despite that it was fairly enjoyable, and staying up reading until 9am - an adventure in itself. Jay, Staffordshire, England

The book will be great as I have not read it yet but I'm sure it will be more exciting, amazing and more adventurous than the first five books. Madhavi Deshpande, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Harry Potter is an action-packed book! Aqdssd, Nottingham, UK

I actually managed to buy a copy of the sixth Harry Potter book (Half-Blood Prince) in Brussels on Thursday morning, just before boarding an Eurostar to London. There were plenty of books on display and they even put it in a Harry Potter paper bag for me. Anyway, I'm a big fan of Harry Potter (in my early 30's) and am now half way through the book. I'm very much enjoying it so far and plan to spend Friday night finishing it (it's quite thick!). It's probably best not to say anything more about the contents at this point - but you won't be disappointed, I find it so far even better than the Order of Phoenix. Cathy, Cambridge, UK

My copy arrived from Amazon this morning! I couldn't believe it. I'm half way through so far having taken the day off work to be one of the first to finish it. I was very surprised that the expected death occurred so early in the book, EDITOR’S NOTE: QUE? NOT SURE WHICH DEATH THIS PERSON IS TALKING ABOUT. seeing as how the last big death was at the end of book five. I'll just say this: it's no-one suggested in any review I've read. Time to place more bets! Richard Barker, Basingstoke, UK

I am upset that the person who dies has to die. I am upset that the murderer had to kill. EDITOR’S NOTE: YEP TO BOTH POINTS.Grsillpuff, Berlin Germany

I think the Harry Potter books are one of the best book series I have read, I think they are better than the Lord of the Rings too. After reading Darren Waters' thoughts about Harry Potter, it really is obvious that he has not read any of the books, except maybe the first one! In each book, the characters develop and mature more and more, and many things he "thinks" are missing from the book are very clear if you actually read them! Nathan S, WA, USA

I love Harry Potter and I am sorry to see that the 7th year is coming up. Sara Mcgilligan, Ireland

I've started reading it and I can only say that it's a complete and utter pile of pap. EDITOR’S NOTE: BAH HUMBUG TO YOU TOO EBENEEZER.Gaz, Oxford

I read The Order of the Phoenix in under three hours and regretted it. The books only come out every few years, take your time and enjoy it! EDITOR’S NOTE: YEP. BUT SO HARD TO DO WHEN YOU JUST WANT TO KEEP READING AND READING AND READING.David Horn, Leeds, UK

I have finished reading the book and was utterly dismayed. Everything has been turned on its head but it's not quite credible (I won't give details and ruin the read for others). It's good if you like that kind of twist, but to my mind the twist is such an extreme stretch of the imagination that I was not carried along by it, as I have been the other stories. Phoebe, Wellington, New Zealand

One book: excellent; second book... good; third one... hmhmhm; 4, 5, 6... pure commercial almost literature. F Velasquez Federico Velasquez, Colombia

I am so glad that SOMEONE is publishing a blog on the new book and revealing spoilers!!! I went from Harry Potter fan site to Harry Potter fan site to find some information about the plot that was leaked, but all I found were guarantees that "extra precautions were being taken" so that it would be impossible to read a spoiler about the new book. How frustrating!!! Thank you so much for doing this service for the people who are anxiously awaiting information on the plot of the new book!!! Kuba Szulaczkowski, NY, USA

My son was in bed from 6pm to 11pm before we awakened him and his sister to go to a bookstore launch party near where we live. The atmosphere was wonderful with quizzes and children dressed up as their favourite characters. He's been allowed to stay awake until 1am to read the first chapters. I am watching him read. I'll be amazed if we can wrestle the book away from him as I want to start reading it. Gillian Coulthard, aged 35, Newcastle upon Tyne

I am so excited about reading this book. Love the site and your blog. Charles, Los Angeles, USA

The first feeling of getting the new book after months of waiting is "disappointed" because it contain fewer pages than the last one! Nevertheless, I believe I am going to enjoy every bit of it and let my mind travel with the storyline for a while. Happy reading to all. Cheng, Kuala Lumpur EDITOR’S NOTE: HOW COOL IS IT THAT PEOPLE FROM LA TO KUALA LUMPUR ARE ALL READING THE SAME THING AT THE SAME TIME, THAT A STORY IS THIS UNIVERSAL?! WOW!

I am following your blog closely! I won't be able to buy the book until Sunday at least for a number of reasons so I am going to vent my frustration by reading as much as possible about it online. And I am 26 and a Potter (actually Hermione fan) fan! Keep writing your reviews! Sizzlingtree, Baton Rouge, USA

About a hundred pages behind and enraptured. It is a little slow-going at first, and yes the second chapter is... "surprising" is the best word I can come up with. If I remember correctly in Order of the Phoenix, the sound of apparting was a loud crack (as opposed to a pop in the first four books), but here in Half-Blood Prince it's back to a "pop" sound, and "crack" is left for house-elves... Loving it! Jaime Ignacio, Loughborough, UK

I have just finished reading Book 6 and right now am in a slight state of shock - who saw some of the things coming? But that is part of JK Rowling's magic, that almost indefinable quality which keeps millions of us worldwide, young and old, queuing up in their droves to lay their hands on the latest instalment. I read it almost without drawing breath and I have to say - I am impressed. I now want to know what happens next, and will have to wait a rather long time to find out. A magical story, told in the most human of ways and appealing to the heart as well as the imagination. Philippa Norman, Wiltshire, UK

Like the look of the book as it has more dark an edge, and clearly JK wasn't afraid to go into honest territory by starting off with introducing the Prime Minister, easily pictured character of course. Nicely put, while entertaining fans with Snape as the catchy story interest also at the start. Mmm... wonder what more surprises lay ahead as the pages turn? Scottish Potter Fan, Dundee

Just finished reading it and have to say that I'm a little disappointed but hopeful. This book seems to do no more than to set the scene for the final book in the series although there are a number of questions answered - or are they? Anyway, hope the kids like it as much as they liked the others but for an adult this was a disappointing anti-climax! Richard, Burton on Trent
My long, dark night with Harry

It's that time of the year again ... the latest Harry Potter is out. Robert McCrum delivers his verdict
Robert McCrum Sunday July 17, 2005
Observer

Obviously, this is not just any old book review. The summer launch of the new JK Rowling has become as much a fixture in the diary as Ascot, Wimbledon, or the Lord's Test.

Yesterday, at midnight, the press was invited to go to a secret location in south-west London. There, after the presentation of suitable credentials, The Observer was handed a sealed package containing an early hardback copy of the book known to the trade as HP6, and to you and me as Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Usually, your reviewer would settle down to read and evaluate a new novel in the tomblike tranquillity of his library. But not with HP6. Rowling is a writer you read against the clock, with news bulletins breaking in throughout the small hours. Internationally, at the moment The Observer's precious package was spilling its secrets, there was what can only be described as uproar.

In Scotland, after a ludicrous torchlight parade, Ms Rowling read from her work to a specially selected juvenile audience in Edinburgh Castle. In Greenwich, more candles: a procession from the Cutty Sark to Ottakar's bookshop.

In America, summer camp counsellors roused their charges at dawn, dished out mugs of steaming cocoa and reportedly read aloud, in relays, to rapt circles of yawning Potter fans. In Australia, camper still, there were Potter parties on Manly Beach. In British Columbia, Rowling's Canadian publisher went to the Supreme Court to uphold the embargo after the Real Canadian Superstore (oops!) was caught selling HP6 a week early.

Among the unbelievably silly things inspired by this quasi-literary event, the claim by Amazon.com that 'Harry Potter Brings the World Together' probably takes the biscuit. But never mind. Harry Potter is a global marketing phenomenon. What else would you expect ?
How dear, distant and otherworldly seems the long-ago (1997) publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. In that fabled pre-millennial time, the first printing of HP1 was numbered in the low thousands and the text itself ran to a modest 190 pages.

Then the cult took over. Next came HP2, The Chamber of Secrets, a mere 368 pages. This was followed by HP 3, The Prisoner of Azkaban, a chunky 480pp. After what amounted to five-finger exercises, Rowling pulled out all the stops on the thundering organ of her imagination and gave her myriad readers HP4, The Goblet of Fire, a thumping 636 pages. But that, as it happened, was just an overture. HP5, The Order of the Phoenix was a doorstop of 766 pages. EDITOR’S NOTE: WASN’T THE AMERICAN VERSION CLOSER TO 900 PAGES (OF OOTP)?

Nearly 10 years on, Rowling is the 36th richest person in Britain, and an international literary brand of almost unprecedented power that stretches from China to Peru, taking in some 90 countries. Men and women, young and old, queue around the block for her books at midnight. Bloomsbury, her publisher, has so brilliantly managed the career of its golden goose that the imprint has become one of the most significant in Britain.

Hype is one thing. Reading is something else. Today, as reason returns to her throne, and the world ceases to rock on its axis, there is only one question to answer. How good is Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince?

The short answer is that, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, people who like this sort of thing will find that this is the sort of thing they like. Even its length (some 600 pages) conforms to international HP standards. From the unprecedented and dramatic appearance of Professor Dumbledore during Harry Potter's summer holidays, Rowling had three tasks to perform with HP6. She had to manage the brand she has created, and develop a complex plot for the climactic confrontation with Harry's nemesis Voldemort in the final volume, HP7. Finally, she had to deliver a book that works on its own terms.

Rowling has no problem with the first two tasks. The fans will be delighted. Working on the principle of if it ain't broke, don't fix it, after a bumpy start Rowling slips smoothly into top gear in the first 200 pages, wheeling out Ron and Hermione, Snape and Malfoy et al for yet another spin on the carousel with all the cynical calm of a circus magician.

As usual, Rowling's prose runs the gamut from torpid to pedestrian, but her plot - driven by the quest for the identity of the Half Blood Prince - always clips along inventively and Dumbledore, one of fiction's great headmasters, cunningly instructs Harry in many of the unresolved mysteries of HP1 to HP5. But it's not just the same old tricks. In keeping with Harry's mid-adolescent years, the mood is darker, even topical, with references to 'troubled times', global warming and the 'breakdown of law and order'. So: a book for Potter fans and perhaps a few Potter converts.

But does it stand alone? There's a lot of jargon (Dementors, Owls and Horcruxes), and sentences like 'Where were you a few weeks ago, when we battled to retrieve the prophecy for the Dark Lord?'. Harry the chosen one, is said to be approaching his 17th birthday, but life at Hogwarts seems to have changed surprisingly little from his first day as a new boy.

Apart from some awkward scenes of 'snogging', Harry Potter is not a teenager many parents will recognise. Hermione describes Harry as 'fanciable', but there's not much evidence of this, unless it's in his extraordinary way with spells. EDITOR’S NOTE: SPEAKING AS ONE WAY WAY WAY TOO OLD FOR HARRY, I FIND HIM QUITE ‘FANCIABLE’. (CREEPY, PERHAPS. BUT TRUE).

Elsewhere, Rowling does her best to bring new readers up to speed with a mise en scene more complex than Wagner, but her concerns are really to do with the series as a whole. The dominant theme of HP6 is the tying up of loose ends in preparation for the final volume, the fabled HP7. When she describes Harry 'racking his brains', but 'doing what he did increasingly these days when at a loss: poring over his Potions book, hoping that [the Half-Blood] prince would have scribbled something useful in the margin', it is tempting to morph Harry into Rowling herself.

As well as reasserting control of her Potter franchise once again, Rowling still exhibits literary ambitions. She wants to be taken seriously as an artist.

The dedication of HP6 describes the new volume as the 'ink and paper twin' of her 'beautiful daughter' Mackenzie. Then there's the violent death of a central character, not typical of books for children. Plainly this is a pitch to play in the big league. Narrative action is a test for any novelist.

In her high-octane climax to HP6 Rowling does begin to make a claim to more serious consideration. For the moment, this exhausted reader looks forward to HP7 (Harry Potter and the Global Economy, perhaps) with the grateful sense that it's at least two years away. EDITOR’S NOTE: THEY CRITICIZE JKR FOR ASPIRATIONS THAT SHE HAS NEVER LAID CLAIM TO. PISSY SNITS.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

Latest 'Harry Potter' rewards faithful readers as young wizard grows up
By MARTA SALIJ FREE PRESS BOOKS WRITER
Saturday, July 16, 2005

What you need to know about "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince": It's the best book so far in the series. But you have to have been reading the series all along to follow some of it.
There's wonderful news and devastating news in it.

The wonderful news is on page 533.

The devastating news is on page 608.

The Half-Blood Prince is ... not who I thought it was all through the book.

And, the sixth book in J.K. Rowling's series about the boy wizard who's chosen to save the world from the evil Lord Voldermort proves an interesting point: Many heads are better than one.
Because, you see, the online betting pools that had sprung up to wager on what would happen in the book were largely right, especially right before the book was released Saturday at 12:01 a.m.
Surprises and revelations
That last part intrigues me, having read and reviewed "The Wisdom of Crowds," by James Surowiecki (Anchor, $14), last year. Surowiecki described how asking a vast number of lay people to predict something was almost always more accurate than asking a small group of experts.

And that's what a betting pool is: a way to average many hunches.

For "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," some online sports betting sites had added pools on which major character would die in the sixth book -- a plot development Rowling had announced. Several names had strong betting, but in the days and weeks before the book's release, some pools, especially in the United Kingdom, shifted around one name.

I won't tell you which name, because that would be spoiling the book for those who haven't yet finished it. But those pools were right.

Inside information? Maybe, but then more bettors clearly saw the wisdom of that guess and put more money in that direction. That proves Surowiecki's point: That many people, putting together their various sources of information, good and not-so-good, would come up with a more accurate answer than asking, say, a random book critic to predict the death.

(Though, for the record, I did agree with the betting pools on the death, but was wrong about the identity of the Half-Blood Prince.)

That intrigues me from a literary standpoint. Is Rowling plotting her books in a way that seems obvious to readers? Or is she dropping subtle clues that have prepared her devoted readers for the bombshells in Book 6? EDITOR’S NOTE: ACTUALLY, SHE’S MOSTLY JUST KEEPING TRUE TO THE TRADITION OF THIS BRAND OF MYTHOLOGY ABOUT WHO HAS TO DIE (OR BOW OUT) FOR THE HERO TO MATURE INTO HIS OWN.

I'm voting for the second possibility. Part of the pleasure of "The Half-Blood Prince" is watching threads of plots from the first five books come together with astonishing neatness. There are some boring passages, to be sure, in which characters rehash the past, but they're remarkably few, given the scope of Rowling's saga. EDITOR’S NOTE: HAVING READ MY SHARE OF SAGAS, I HAVE SEEN FAR FAR WORSE REHASHING, FAR LESS SUBTLE, FAR MORE INTRUSIVE. JKR ALMOST ALWAYS ACHIEVES IT WITH AN INTEGRATION THAT MAKES IT AS ENTERTAINING AS THE NEW INFORMATION SURROUNDING IT.

Rowling manages, this time, to put together the story with none of the flab that marred the nearly-900 page Book 5. "The Half-Blood Prince" is 652 lean pages, in which the essential plot -- Harry gets prepared for a final battle with the Dark Lord -- has just the right amount of side stories. Harry is captain of his Quidditch team, for instance, and it seems everyone at Hogwarts falls in love.

The revelation in "The Half-Blood Prince" is the evolution in Harry's character, from boy to man. Even as late as the end of Book 5, it was hard to imagine Harry as the steely warrior he will need to become to rid the Wizarding world of the evil it suffers at the hand of Lord Voldermort and his minions, the Death Eaters.

But in Book 6, the tentativeness is gone. Harry has begun to shed the impetuosity that brought him so much danger in the past, in favor of a resolve and deliberation that is rather breathtaking to see. He has taken on the mantle of command, and it fits.

"But," Harry thinks at a crucial point in his evolution, "he understood at last what Dumbledore had been trying to tell him. It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew -- and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents -- that there was all the difference in the world.'' EDITOR’S NOTE: LIKELY MY FAVORITE MOMENT IN A BOOK FULL OF GOOD MOMENTS. THIS WAS A BEAUTIFULLY DEFINING PASSAGE FOR A CHARACTER WE HAVE WATCHED GROW UP BEFORE OUR EYES.

The battle between Harry and Lord Voldermort in Book 7 will be something to see. I already know who I'll be betting on.

MARTA SALIJ is the books writer for the Free Press. Contact her at 313-223-4530 or salij@freepress.com.

Tragic? Yes, but humor triumphs
By Julia KellerTribune cultural criticJuly 17, 2005

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince By J.K. Rowling

Grief, terrible grief, the kind of bleak and feverish woe that wracks the body and overwhelms the mind and shrivels the spirit--that's what young Harry Potter endures in the final, furious flurry of pages in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."

No surprise there.

Thanks to a cascade of leaks, everybody already knows that the sixth volume in the "Harry Potter" series, which went on sale at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, includes the death of a major character.

So it's a tragedy, right? A dark parable of our tumultuous times?

Don't bet the castle. The key to the Potter books--the element that makes them catnip to readers EDITOR’S NOTE: GIGGLE. VERY APT ANALOGY! and the constant object of flattery by literary critics more typically disposed to treat a popular series with a sneer and a smear--is one of their seemingly lesser features: humor.

Everybody's searching for the secret of author J.K. Rowling's mind-blowingly successful franchise, which had sold upwards of 270 million copies worldwide before Saturday's release of almost 11 million copies of "Half-Blood Prince."

You've heard it all chalked up to readers' love of magic and fantasy; to Rowling's deft and clever hand with character names such as "Albus Dumbledore"; to her ability to create a fictional world of luminous verisimilitude. (That last is an odd non-compliment, since every good novel does that, anyway, whether or not it's about wizards.)

You've heard it attributed to the books' willingness to grapple with elemental good-vs.-evil battles and to embrace chaos and dread.

What's suddenly made clear in "Half-Blood Prince," however, whose 652 pages easily constitute the most eloquent and substantial addition to the series thus far, is that the Potter saga works because of its deep, illuminating humor.

Yes, the books are dark and scary in places--"Half-Blood Prince" has its creepy corners and moments of soul-furrowing sadness--but the real emotion driving the "Harry Potter" phenomenon is not a shudder, but a chuckle.

Consider one of the early scenes in "Half-Blood Prince," when Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts, the boarding school for wizards that Harry attends, drops by the Dursley home. The comically mean, rude and small-minded Dursleys are Harry's adoptive parents. Dumbledore, a true gentleman as well as an accomplished wizard, attempts to take up the slack of hospitality, summoning libations from the air. Harry happily sips his, but Vernon and Petunia Dursley, Rowling writes, "tried to ignore their glasses completely, a difficult feat, as they were nudging them gently on the sides of their heads."

A few pages later, as the conversation progresses, "The glass of mead was now knocking quite insistently on the side of Vernon's head; he attempted to beat it away."Dumbledore is there to discuss quite serious matters, because Harry, the boy with the lightning-bolt scar on his forehead, might very well be personally responsible for the fate of the world.

But the scene is hilarious nonetheless.

And it's followed by dozens of similar scenes throughout the novel, as Harry struggles to discover his destiny through special sessions with Dumbledore and the use of a device called a pensieve--in which one can access not only the past, but also the memories of others.

Lord Voldemort is back, back with all of his evil dreams and his disgustingly loyal, distressingly sneaky henchmen, and Harry must discover who's who in this complicated opera of subterfuge and betrayal.

Oh, and he has exams and homework--and a girl who makes his stomach feel as if he's swallowed a toad under a hyperactivity spell--to worry about, too.

But through all of these trials and challenges, all of these important matters with grave consequences, "Half-Blood Prince" still is deeply funny.

There's the special charm to conjure up a daydream ("side effects include vacant expression and minor drooling"); there's the Hogwarts grading system, which goes from "O" for "Outstanding" down through "D" for "Dreadful,"ending ignominiously at "T" for "Troll."

And once again, Hermione Granger, Harry's plucky schoolmate, is defined by the amusingly titled books she's always pulling out of her backpack: "Confronting the Faceless" is one. "Flesh-Eating Trees of the World" is another.

Hence no darkness in "Half-Blood Prince"--the identity of which is crucial to the book's plot and revealed through Rowling's typically impeccable pacing--is so immense that it cannot be rescued by a snicker or a smirk.

It's as if she means to suggest that even the most agonizingly difficult times, even the real world that lives beyond the land of Harry Potter, even a world currently enduring an insane spasm of terrorist-induced violence--analogies to terrorism speckle "Half-Blood Prince"--the world might be restored to itself through imagination. Through hope--and through hope's giddy sibling, humor. EDITOR’S NOTE: OOOO…ANOTHER GOOD TURN OF PHRASE. ‘HOPE’S GIDDY SIBLING, HUMOR’. YESSS!

The best children's books of all time contain just such a barely suppressed giggle, even when they feature dark themes and exceedingly tragic events, as they so often do. "A Wrinkle in Time" (1962) by Madeleine L'Engle; "The Wind in the Willows" (1908) by Kenneth Grahame--these grown-up authors didn't shy away from the grim realities of the world, but found the secret of that world through laughter, through a sort of heedless hooting at the absurd.

To remark only upon the darkness of Harry's life and adventures--as so many critics and admirers do, in a misguided attempt to elevate the books toward some kind of timeless profundity--is to miss the richness of Rowling's achievement, which needs no such boost. "Life," wrote Rowling's countryman, the 18th Century British literary critic Horace Walpole, "is a tragedy to those who feel and a comedy to those who think." EDITOR’S NOTE: I THINK OLD HORACE MIGHT BE ON TO SOMETHING, HMMM?

Rowling is a thinker and so, it seems, is Harry Potter--although his grades at Hogwarts School might not be especially indicative of that just yet. But give the boy time. He's been underestimated before--and usually to the everlasting sorrow of his opponent.

- - -Catching up with Harry"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," released Saturday, is the sixth book in the popular series. Below, a recap of Potter's adventures so far:

1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (illustration)On his 11th birthday, orphan Harry Potter learns he has a place in a magical world he knew nothing about.

2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (illustration)Drawing on unexpected powers of his own, Harry solves a school mystery and foils the evil Lord Voldemort's plans.

3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (illustration)Harry turns 13 and learns he is being hunted by an escaped killer. He discovers the truth about his parents' deaths.

4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (illustration)Harry competes in a tournament and becomes part of Lord Voldemort's terrible plan to return to power.

5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (illustration)After a tragic battle, Harry learns more about his past and prepares for a future showdown with Lord Voldemort.


Book Review

Emotional twists come with a grown-up Harry
By Deepti Hajela The Associated Press

"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" by J.K. Rowling
NEW YORK — A word of caution to all those hard-core fans about to dive into the latest adventures of Harry Potter: There will be tears.

Yours.

It's odd to think of the next-to-last Potter book as being a turning point but, in so many ways, that's the truth about "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." J.K. Rowling's hero is no longer a boy wizard; he's a young man, determined to seek out and face a young man's challenges.
Veteran Potter readers shouldn't worry about outgrowing the series, but younger fans may find that it has grown up too much.

All ages, however, should be assured: Rowling's latest has lost none of the charm, intelligence and hilarity that have catapulted her series into publishing history. But this book also has a poignancy, complexity and sadness we probably couldn't have imagined when we started reading the first one. There's an emotional punch you won't believe.

When Book 5, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," ended, we learned what made the evil wizard Lord Voldemort kill Harry's parents and try to kill him as an infant — a prophecy that said Harry could vanquish him, and that one of them would have to kill the other to survive.
The wizarding world Rowling returns us to in Book 6 is a scarier place, even though only a few weeks have passed. Thanks to Harry and friends, the entire magical community knows that Voldemort is back — and how. He and his Death Eater followers have unleashed so much violence and murder that even the head of the nonmagical world has to be told about it.
Sooner than in her previous books, the action shifts Harry away from his awful relatives, the Dursleys, and right back to friends Ron and Hermione and all the others at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. As usual, there are new faces — the new teacher of Defense against the Dark Arts gives Harry some serious concerns.

As sixth-year students, Harry and company have moved on from the magical basics into more complicated studies, preparing for their after-school careers. But it's not just the work that's gotten more complicated, it's everything. Friendships change, love arrives (this, thank goodness, should finally end all those Internet fan-site arguments about who is going to hook up with whom EDITOR’S NOTE: AS IF THERE WERE EVER ANY DOUBT. I MEAN…DUH.) and Harry learns a lot about his enemy — about his past, and about a potential weakness.

We also learn about Harry, about the man he is turning into, his character and his strength of will.

But it wouldn't be Hogwarts without strangeness and mystery. Harry has his suspicions about who's trying to do what, and it all erupts in the end. Rowling shows off her mastery, leading us down a path with certain clues and still managing to blindside us about who turns on whom.
And, yes, there is another major death. Seriously major. Break out the tissues. No matter how well you think you know these books, don't assume you really know who anyone is, or what they are and aren't capable of.

This is a powerful, unforgettable setup for the finale. The hardest thing about "Half-Blood Prince" is where it leaves us — in mourning for who has been lost, anxious to learn how Rowling will wrap up a saga that millions wish would go on and on. EDITOR’S NOTE: AND HOW MANY YEARS MUST WE WAIT FOR BOOK 7? HURRY, DARNIT!
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

LA TIMES
BOOK REVIEW
Harry and his readers must be brave
The latest installment is not a book for babies. Children of mettle will be rewarded richly.
By Emily GreenTimes Staff WriterJuly 16, 2005

'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' J.K. Rowling

Harry who?

The rest of the world may have been following Harry Potter's progress since owls began flying by day in the first Harry Potter novel in 1997, but at least one person in the book-buying world resisted the bespectacled little wizard.

Me.

Granted, even here in L.A., 6,000 miles from its original setting in Privet Lane, (EDITOR’S NOTE: UMMM…PRIVET DRIVE, DEAR). the hype generated by the books, and then movies of the books, tapes of the books, books about the books, was unavoidable.

For the last seven years, TV networks have insisted on showing us footage of books from Britain being unloaded from planes onto trucks, from trucks into shops, then from shops being stuffed into the hot little hands of children.

Yes, the hype is a bit much, concede the fans, who then invariably proceed to mount an earnest lecture about how the Potter books and their author, J.K. Rowling, introduced a generation of children to the joy of reading.

One of our book editors even gave it a historical wash. Isn't it remarkable, he noted, that when Harry Potter books are released, American children still line up at midnight outside bookstores for first copies, much like the followers of Alexandre Dumas thronged squares in France for the latest installments of "The Three Musketeers" and "The Count of Monte Cristo" more than a century ago."

Let them watch TV," I thought.

As if in a cosmic gesture to slay the last living skeptic, I was asked to review the sixth and supposedly penultimate book: "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.""Whatever," I said.

Colleagues whose children were reverently reading volumes one through five to prepare for the new book made jokes that I might be an agent of someone called Lord Voldemort. From their tone, one could surmise that he was not the hero.

I was given primers about the moral codes of Harry Potter.

If memory serves, there were two books, one written by Professor Too Much Time on His Hands and a second by Professor Way Too Much Time on His Hands.

A neighbor decided a cold start on volume six wouldn't do. Her 10-year-old son could lend me his collection: "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" and "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix."

Each book was thicker than the last.

I managed only enough of the first story to become pixillated by Rowling's magical scene-setting: cats who read maps and showers of shooting stars from London to Dundee. Then the emails from the mothers of Potter devotees started:"Are you reading any H. Potter? Do you know what you're in for? ... You may find yourself surrounded by dementors (a reference to Book 3) and no amount of chocolate will help you. No patronus, no avada kedavra (Book 4) — even your quidditch skills won't help you — you'll be petrified, literally by a basilisk (Book 2) and then not even a mandrake (Book 2) can save you. GET READING!!!"

When the highly coveted (and tightly guarded) review copy for volume six arrived a mere 24 hours before deadline, I started smugly enough. Oh, yes, here was a witty little hybrid of a parliamentary farce and Arthurian legend, I thought.

By Chapter 2, however, fireside goblin play gave way to chill foreboding and a scene in which pale women rush by night through an industrial wasteland in order to forge a deadly pact.

By the end of the 652 pages, I was exhausted.

Were children up to this kind of high drama? Could all those millions of copies be put back in those boxes, back on those trucks, back on those planes?

No. No, they can't.

As the sun rises this very morning, our children have this book already, and they will have to be brave.

This much can be said about "Half-Blood Prince" without spoiling the plot. Once Harry was 10 and stars rained down on England to augur his arrival. Now he is 16, and as the book opens, bridges are collapsing. Wizards from the Ministry of Magic are popping out of the Prime Minister's fireplace to explain that the cause is not bad construction. It's evil. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is back.In what even a newcomer can detect as an alarming cabinet reshuffle, the charming EDITOR’S NOTE: CHARMING? POLITICAL AND SELF-SERVING AND SHALLOW. (IF THAT IS WHAT YOU CALL ‘CHARMING’, WELL THEN ALRIGHT) Cornelius Fudge has been replaced as Minister of Magic by the shrewd Rufus Scrimgeour.

Harder times demand harder characters.

Relief comes in the form of well-observed personality quirks and some first-class toilet humor. Bored figures in paintings are not above picking their ears. Amid the potions in Fred and George's magic store, there is a sign that reads "Why are you Worrying about You-Know-Who? You should be worrying about U-No-Poo — the constipation sensation that's gripping the nation."

Then there's the romance. Yes, yuck, love — which turns out to be a liability when fighting evil. The days are too dangerous to become bogged down by sentiment. There is simply too much treachery afoot in the Hogwarts School of Witchraft and Wizardy, unsecured portals, secret enemies.

As Harry accompanies Professor Dumbledore into the heart of darkness, tolls are not money, but blood. Corpses line lake bottoms, not kelp. His ability to obey his mentor is pushed to the limit.

The good news is that Harry is courageous and true.

The bad news is that Voldemort's agents have more than Peruvian Vanishing Powder on their side.

This is a book for children of mettle. It will reward them richly, but they must not whine, they must be sunny and true and above all brave.

The ending is almost too much to bear. I haven't cried so hard since Charlotte the Spider died. EDITOR’S NOTE: CHARLOTTE IS DEAD?!!!!

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
BOOK REVIEW 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' - David Kipen, Chronicle Book CriticSunday, July 17, 2005
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
A major character dies by the end of the latest Harry Potter book; readers who bore easily may feel a bit done in themselves.

It's not that "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" is dull, exactly. In places, it rises to a pitch resembling suspense, or at least a passing curiosity about what might happen next.

No, the main problem is that J.K. Rowling has now written six of these bricks. Even if they were getting better, they're certainly not getting any fresher. EDITOR’S NOTE: I AM SO GLAD I HAVE NO PRESSURE ON ME TO BE SLICK OR SOPHISTICATED OR ‘OVER IT ALL’. (FOR ONE THING, I HAVE NOTHING TO WEAR THAT GOES WITH TERMINAL ENNUI).

To enlighten folks who haven't already been reading themselves cross-eyed since midnight Friday, the new book typically finds Harry afflicted with crises both magical and mundane. On the one hand, intimations abound of impending Armageddon -- as you might expect for a series supposedly one book shy of the ultimate confrontation between good and evil. But Rowling also finds time for all her customary wizard-school shenanigans, and Harry puts in long hours mediating between Ron and Hermione, his hopelessly lovesick friends.

The book begins at the notably unmagical address of 10 Downing St., where a nameless British prime minister is coping with a mysterious onslaught of bad news. Trouble has spilled over from Harry's world into ours. Matters deteriorate so far that, by book's end, a prolonged battle will leave the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry half in ruins. Like all the best writers for young people, Rowling knows that kids can take a lot more reality than they usually get credit for. Without it, in fact, they start to suspect they're being patronized, or conned.

Close readers and other killjoys will see all this darkness as a sign of our paranoid times, and it would be a hard point to argue. Students pass through sensors on their way into and out of Hogwarts. A security curfew appears in effect for much of the book, and reference is made to some kind of invasive search that Rowling rather cleverly calls a "Probity Probe." There's even a minor character named Shunpike, never seen but only talked about, who functions solely as a martyr to Guantanamo-style preventive detention. (Clearly, Rowling's unobtrusive liberalism doesn't stop with Hogwarts' exemplary racial pluralism.) EDITOR’S NOTE: BLAH BLAH BLAH.

Alongside all these doomy portents, of course, we also get the usual complement of wizarding lessons and Quidditch matches. Harry has a new teacher in his Potions class, Horace Slughorn -- an annoying and altogether credible social climber who sucks up to his own students, provided they come from influential enough families. Helping Harry in Slughorn's class is an old textbook annotated by someone calling himself the "half-blood prince," though he winds up more of a quarter-blood instead.

All this Buffy-style combining of kid's stuff and saving the world is, of course, part of Harry Potter's tremendous appeal. It usually builds to some apocalyptic showdown that leaves our heroes wounded but determined, and the forces of darkness routed but regrouping -- and everything else pretty much back where it started.

Until now. As everybody and his Aunt Lillian must already know, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" is the penultimate EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS APPEARS TO BE THE ‘IT’ WORD TODAY. book in the series. To tide us over, this one often plays like a mere overture to the finale to come -- a finale that, if Rowling has been working toward it all these years, might ideally feel less like an undercard , and more like the main event.

If only Rowling didn't so often fall back on repetitive magical shootouts. A sentence like "He put his head down and sprinted forward, narrowly avoiding a blast that erupted over his head" is flat and familiar, regardless of whether that blast comes from a magic wand or an M-16.
And now, a word about love. Much has been made of Rowling's attempts over the last couple of books to tell the hormonal truth about what it's really like for a group of friends to go from 11 years old, in the first book, to roughly 16. To her credit, at least within the constraints of a book suitable for children, she hasn't ignored the plangent crushes and unbearable jealousies that not only teenagers are heir to. Maddeningly, though, the novel ends with Harry telling his new ladylove, "I can't be involved with you anymore. We've got to stop seeing each other. We can't be together ... I've got things to do alone now."

This might have passed without comment if monkishness hadn't become almost a prerequisite for saving the world lately. Not just Harry but recent film incarnations of Batman and Superman have all included scenes where the hero piously accepts that fighting evil and having a girlfriend just don't mix. But why? Why, in a culture otherwise fascinated with the sex lives of total strangers -- at least so long as they're halfway famous -- have we become so puritanical about characters we actually like? EDITOR’S NOTE: THE MONKEY TYPES SHAKESPEARE. GOOD QUESTION.

In the new book's best scene, Harry's mentor Dumbledore solemnly tells him that, "You are protected by your ability to love." In other words, the only thing that distinguishes Harry from his evil adversary is the simple capacity for human tenderness. And yet for Harry, as for the new breed of movie loner-superhero, to express love is finally seen as a distraction or, worse, a weakness. When the seventh and final Potter novel finally arrives, would it be too much to hope that the hero prevails, not because he can manfully sacrifice his capacity for love, but because he can't? EDITOR’S NOTE: HE ISN’T THINKING HE HAS TO SACRIFICE LOVE BECAUSE IT IS A WEAKNESS; HE IS TRYING TO PROTECT THE GIRL IN QUESTION.

'Harry' magical once again
BY CHAUNCEY MABESOUTH
FLORIDA SUN-SENTINELJuly 16, 2005

Forget everything you thought you knew about the Harry Potter saga. Who the good guys are. Who the bad guys are. Who lives and who dies -- and why.

Oh, and who among the teen characters might be in love with one of the others.

Yes, someone important dies in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the sixth installment of the projected seven-novel series about a teenage wizard trying to save the world while attending a magical boarding school.

Indeed, adolescent tears -- and probably some adult ones -- will be flowing freely by early this morning, as the book's first readers reach its thrilling but grim climax.

From the very first lines of this long, immensely intricate and accomplished young adult novel, J.K. Rowling's skill for combining fantasy, humor, soap opera and even politics pushes full throttle.

The novel opens in the chamber of the British prime minister -- the Muggle prime minister, that is. His counterpart from the wizard world has come to explain that recent seemingly natural disasters were really part of a war in the magical world -- terrorism, in other words.

Adults will find humor at the thought of Tony Blair entertaining a real wizard ambassador. But with publication of the book falling only a week after the London bombings, the scene is also strikingly prescient and establishes a somber tone for an increasingly dark and rich portrayal of good resisting overmastering evil.

Meanwhile, 16-year-old Harry and his friends go about their business, doing what they can to fight Lord Voldemort while struggling for better grades, grieving for lost friends and desperately trying to work out their feelings for the opposite sex. There's also a good bit of carping about security measures that inconvenience magical citizens while doing nothing to make them safer.

The major storyline follows Harry and Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore, the most powerful mage on the side of good, as they conjure bottled memories from various sources to trace the development of Voldemort from his beginnings as a half-wizard orphan to his emergence as the Dark Lord, the greatest force for evil the world has ever seen.

All the staples that kids and adults have come to love about the series are still present -- Quidditch, Hogwarts, the kindly Weasley family -- though some previously key characters take on decidedly reduced roles, Prof. Lupin and Hagrid among them.

But it is impossible to fault Rowling for any decision she has made.

It could be said that Rowling's one serious shortcoming lies with her pedestrian prose style. She lacks the lyrical grace of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis or Frances Hodgson Burnett, or the literary discipline of Madeleine L'Engle or Ursula K. LeGuin, all authors of bona fide modern children's fantasy classics. But she makes up for it with a genuine sense of humanity and a narrative drive that manages to be simultaneously highly textured and furiously paced.EDITOR’S NOTE: IMHO…AND I REALIZE IT IS QUITE HUMBLE….JKR’S PROSE STYLE IS PART OF WHAT WORKS FOR THE SAGA. IT ISN’T FLORID. IT’S MATTER-OF-FACT AND DECEPTIVELY SIMPLE. IT LETS THE CHARACTERS SHINE THRU AND DOESN’T GET IN THE WAY OF CONNECTING TO THEM.

Rowling's skill -- genius is not too strong a description -- is illustrated by the surprises in this book.

No matter how closely you may have read the preceding books, it is unlikely you'll be able to foresee the inventive and entirely convincing twists and turns Rowling has layered into the latest story.

Right up until the last few scenes, for example, after a few mild red herrings, readers will think they've figured out the identity of the Half-Blood Prince.

Almost certainly, they will be wrong.

And it's this revelation, more than the expected death of a major character (though the two are linked) that is the story's most explosive.If anyone still labored under the illusion that the Potter series was a light fantasy for children, "Half-Blood Prince" should dispel it once and for all. This is serious literature, written by an author holding nothing in reserve.

Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.

Our (GLOBE AND MAIL)Harry Potter review
Sandra Martin reviews The Half-Blood Prince and finds 'timeless and universal' themes
By SANDRA MARTIN
Saturday, July 16, 2005 Updated at 10:44 AM EDT
Globe and Mail Update

Call out the grief counsellors.

If you had trouble coping with the murder of Harry Potter's godfather, Sirius Black, in The Order of the Phoenix , volume five of J.K. Rowling's bestselling series, brace yourself. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which went on sale in bookstores around the world just after midnight, ends with a shocker.

A very significant character is brutally killed leaving Harry, the orphaned teenage wizard, more alone than ever in his struggle against the forces of Lord Voldemort. Death and mourning, beginning with the murder of Harry's parents when he was a baby, are recurring themes in Ms. Rowling's books. Rather than overtly moral tales about right versus wrong, the Harry Potter series has always been a battle between hope and despair and the power of love against the chilly blackness of hate. The Half-Blood Prince, which is leaner and more tautly written than its flabby predecessor, is no exception.

Coincidentally, considering the bombings last week in London, the new book opens in the office of the very beleaguered and frightened Prime Minister of Britain. A major bridge has mysteriously collapsed, two government officials have been murdered, a freak hurricane has devastated the countryside and a dank mist has blotted out the summer sunshine. This scene was not written post 9/11 according to Ms. Rowling. She says it has been "brewing" for 13 years and has been successively cut from at least three books until she found the proper place for it in the Half-Blood Prince.

All of these vile deed and environmental catastrophes are linked, of course, to rampaging Lord Voldemort and his followers. The Dementors have deserted Azkaban prison and the Death Eaters have invaded England, creating panic and destruction while enlisting the cowardly and the weak to their dire cause.

Meanwhile, Harry has just finished his fifth year at Hogwarts, the boarding school in the English countryside which trains wizards and witches to develop and control their magic skills. Summer vacation has exiled Harry from school, his spiritual home, separated him from his dear friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger and forced him to endure the abuse of his Muggle (ordinary human) relatives, the beastly Dursleys, in their odious suburban home.

There is a reprieve however. Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster at Hogwarts who first gave Harry to the Dursleys hoping they would raise him as their own son, takes him on an anti-terrorist adventure before dropping him off to stay with the Weasleys until school starts again.
This book marks a significant shift in the relationship between teacher and pupil. Dumbledore, the only wizard that Lord Voldemort fears, has always been an aloof, but kindly figure. In the past, though, Harry has resented the way Dumbledore has kept him at a distance and refused to share details and strategies about the deadly danger he faces. Now that Harry is on the verge of manhood--wizards come of age at 17-- his headmaster starts treating him more like a colleague in arms.

So Dumbledore, a collector and a retriever of memories, begins sharing his treasures and some of his fears with Harry as together they try to create a psychological profile of Lord Voldemort. This is one of the more interesting parts of the novel as Ms. Rowling digs into the family history of the villain who was known as Tom Riddle when he was a student at Hogwarts. By putting some biographical flesh on Lord Voldemort, she makes him into a much rounder and psychological more interesting character.

The thing about Harry is that he has always been a boy, albeit one with special powers and challenges, rather than a super-hero or a messiah. Kids who began reading when the first Harry Potter book was published have had a chance to grow up with him. That identification, along with the humour, pacing, and colourful imagery of Ms. Rowling's writing has accounted for much of the popularity of the series.

In the Half-Blood Prince we see him tangle with typical teenage emotions: jealousy, unrequited love and rebellion. Harry falls in love and his passion is returned. His old foe Draco Malfoy is more malevolent than ever and Severus Snape, the sinister master of Potions, is even more ambivalent and dangerous. And as for the identity of the Half-Blood Prince, that is a mystery I won't spoil. Suffice it to say that past traumas and prejudices are huge motivating forces in present day crimes.

As Harry returns to Hogwarts, everybody seems to want a part of him. He's a cult figure, partly because his escapades have been publicized in the press and partly because he is captain of the Quidditch team (a game similar to polo that is played on flying brooms). Dumbledore enlists his help, Draco Malfoy plots against him, a new teacher named Horace Slughorn wants his favour and, most of all, Lord Voldemort wants to kill him because of the prophecy --"neither can live while the other survives"--that was revealed in Order of the Phoenix. The Ministry of Magic, which wants to use him as a poster boy in their struggle against Lord Voldemort, has taken to calling him The Chosen One, a label that Harry abhors. Harry's lesson this time is learning how to lead and to cope with fame.

Ms. Rowling is a highly visual writer, who averages about two crises a chapter. Her books are real page turners, although there are a few slow patches where she seems to be laying the foundation for the next book, rather than advancing the plot of this one. EDITOR’S NOTE: HARDLY TO BE FAULTED AS SHE SEES THIS….JUST AS DOES UNCLE GEORGE WITH HIS SIX-INSTALLMENTS/ONE TALE….AS ONLY ONE STORY, NOT 7. This time she seems to be paying more attention to delivering her message than dazzling readers with pyrotechnics. That is not to suggest a paucity of ghastly smells, revolting creatures, and horrific encounters. But it does remind us that Ms. Rowling was a teacher and an impoverished single mother who suffered from depression before she imagined the world of Harry Potter and became a bestselling author almost ten years ago with her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

Since then she has remarried (an Edinburgh doctor) and had two more children. She has dedicated The Half Blood Prince to her daughter Mackenzie who was born in January, calling the book her baby's "ink and paper twin." That sentimental linkage between creating a book and a baby shines through much of the novel. For all its mayhem and gore, this novel is really about the importance of loving and protecting children and overcoming prejudices based on blood and religion--themes that are both timeless and universal. And those are the qualities that lift the book and the series above mere kidlit.

When Harry Met OsamaTerrorism comes to Hogwarts.

By Julia TurnerPosted Wednesday, July 20, 2005, at 7:32 PM PT

In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Voldemort takes up terrorism. The Dark Lord and his Death Eaters—who had gained strength in the earlier installments and have finally arrived in force—use their newfound power to spread fear in familiar ways. They destroy bridges. They murder innocents. They compel children to kill their elders. (They're also behind a magical and destructive hurricane. Does J.K. Rowling know something we don't?)

The response of the wizarding world also rings a few bells. The Ministry of Magic issues pamphlets on "Protecting Your Home and Family Against Dark Forces." Fred and George Weasley's shop makes a mint selling Shield Cloaks, which protect their wearers from harm. The new Minister of Magic jails an innocent man, hoping to stave off panic and create the impression that he's taking action. And Harry, Hermione, and Ron greet the morning paper with a familiar sense of dread: "Anyone we know dead?"

What is J.K. Rowling up to here? Is she criticizing the War on Terror or simply using it as a plot device? In some scenes, she does take jabs at the Bush and Blair administrations. The Ministry of Magic's security pamphlet, for example, recalls the much-scorned TIPS program: "Should you feel that a family member, colleague, friend or neighbor is acting in a strange manner, contact the Magical Law Enforcement Squad at once." And Harry has a telling confrontation with the Minister of Magic, who thinks that in the battle against Voldemort, perceptions matter most. "If you were to be seen popping in and out of the Ministry from time to time," he tells Harry, "that would give the right impression. ... It would give everyone a lift to think you were more involved." Harry refuses. He doesn't want to endorse the ministry when it's sending innocent men to Azkaban—the wizard penitentiary that becomes, in this installment, a stand-in for Gitmo. "It's your duty to check that people really are Death Eaters before you chuck them in prison," Harry says.

These moments elicit grim smiles of recognition and have led some bloggers to label Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince an anti-American screed. But close reading of the book suggests that Rowling's motives are more authorial than political. She's not using Harry to make points about terrorism. She's using terrorism to make points about Harry. Rowling culls the scariest elements of modern life and uses them as a kind of shorthand, a quick way to instill fear. EDITOR’S NOTE: MISGUIDED ANALYSIS FOR THE SUMMER OF 2005, PART TWO. UNCLE G HAS BEEN WORKING ON THE FALL AND REDEMPTION OF ANAKIN SKYWALKER FOR MORE THAN 20 YEARS. JKR HAS BEEN WORKING ON THE BATTLE FOR THE SOUL OF THE WIZARDING WORLD FOR AT LEAST 13. BUT SOMEHOW, THE SHALLOWER PUNDITS ALL THINK THESE TWO CREATIVE WUNDERKINDS CAME UP WITH THEIR RESPECTIVE BATTLE PLANS BY WATCHING FOX NEWS JUST LAST NIGHT. MAYBE WHAT’S GOING ON IN OUR MUGGLE WORLD TODAY IS PART OF A BIG PICTURE THAT IS MORE UNIVERSAL AND….UNFORTUNATELY OR FORTUNATELY…..HORRIBLY MUNDANE AND COMMONPLACE THAN WE WANT TO ACKNOWLEDGE?

In many ways, this strategy makes sense.

Half-Blood Prince is 200 pages shorter than the installment that preceded it, in part because Rowling does not spend as much time inventing bogeymen and describing how they frighten us. Instead she uses small touches here and there—the dismal tidings in The Daily Prophet, the escalating instances of parental panic—to evoke a fear that her readers have already felt. This new approach is powerful. In 1998, when the first Harry Potter book came out, Voldemort was a fantastical villain, a symbol of evil in the abstract. Today, however, as we substitute for our abstract fear of Voldemort the very real fear we've felt in our own immolated cities, the new book resonates in ways that the old ones have not.

It is hard not to wonder, though, whether making the books more timely will make them less timeless.EDITOR’S NOTE: GRRR…..SEE SCREED, ABOVE. Critics have been atwitter about Harry Potter lately. Some believe the books belong alongside the classics of children's literature. Others scoff that Hogwarts is no Narnia—that the world Rowling has imagined is narrowly conceived and filled with too many cheap references to our own. Reading the Half-Blood Prince today, Rowling's references to terrorism don't feel cheap. They feel terrifying. But how will they read in 50 years?

In the long run, Rowling may wish she hadn't relied so much on current events. EDITOR’S NOTE: SHE DIDN’T, YOU TWIT. Because the book plays on a very particular set of fears, it may begin to seem dated as time goes by. Which is a shame, because Rowling is more than capable of creating enduring villains. Her best are the soul-sucking dementors that first appear in The Prisoner of Azkaban. These ghouls are vividly drawn and very scary. "Get too near a dementor," she writes, "and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. ... You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life." With the dementor, Rowling managed to make a convincing thug out of depression itself.

It is inspired creations like these that win readers over and make books last. Let's hope—for Rowling's sake, if not for Harry's—that it is she, and not Osama Bin Laden, who scares our pants off in the final installment.

Julia Turner is a Slate associate editor.

T-SHIRT HELL

Who would be evil enough to wear this shirt? (EDITOR'S NOTE: BESIDES ODDBOB)?

It says who dies in books six...and on what page! (different versions for each side of 'the pond')









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