Saturday, 26 October 2013

Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Harry Potter re-read continues.)

I mentioned in my review of the last book that, even though it was long, it didn't drag. This one does, a bit. It becomes especially noticeable when you hit the 30 or so pages near the end that are actually exciting and gripping, and realise that the preceding 500-odd felt a bit over-padded, thick with teen relationship angst, arguments about a potions book, detentions, and Quidditch (including an off-screen Quidditch triumph that is, therefore, not exciting). It's a commonly-made joke that Voldemort is considerate enough to only spring his serious stuff at the end of the school year, obviously respecting the educational process, and never was it more obvious than here. The fact that, after the climax, there's a long denouement doesn't help, either.

The plot also seems a bit strained. There's a massive lampshade hung on the fact that it's only by good luck that Harry is able to carry out an important mission, and his friends are able to avoid being killed. All the worldbuilding is whimsical, which means that it's hard to ask the question "How would that even work?", but... lucky potion?

And speaking of being killed, authors are a bit like dogs. Once they get a taste for killing, they'll do it over and over, and escalate. The first three books (if I remember rightly) had no on-screen deaths, though death was certainly hanging about in the backstory and being narrowly and luckily avoided. Then a secondary character we'd not seen in previous books went down. Then a secondary character that we'd seen in a couple of previous books went down. Now a major character who has been in all the books goes down, and we're set for the final book's total bloodbath, beloved characters dropping left and right, George R.R. Martin style. I mean, I understand that stakes have to get higher as the series progresses, but I don't know that this is the only way.

Rowling is interested in writing female characters, of all kinds (there's a YouTube video about it that's worth watching), and in this and the previous book we finally get Strong!Ginny. Ginny starts out whiny and tearful and characterless, progresses through "helpless victim to be rescued", and finally, in Order of the Phoenix, grows some ovaries and starts to be interesting. We don't really see how she makes the transition, unfortunately; she just gets a sudden personality transplant. And then at the end of this book Harry makes the "we can't be together because it's too dangerous for you" speech, and she takes it equably and without arguing, which I found surprising. Anyway, she had some good moments for a while there.

Second-to-last books are like second books, hard to make strong, and this one isn't strong, by the standards of the series. I know I saw the movie in the theatre, because my wife complained bitterly all the way home about the scene where everyone lights up their wands like cigarette lighters at a rock concert, but to be honest I can't remember any other scenes from it apart from that one. I can't even remember what Horace Slughorn, a reasonably major character, looked like. Was it (as we thought at the time) because it was a bad movie, or is this part of the story just unmemorable? I'm starting to think the latter.

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