Thursday, 17 October 2013

Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(The Harry Potter series re-read continues.)

After a slightly disappointing second book, the third book in the series comes back much stronger, with more action and tension, sustained well throughout. Admittedly, the author tries a little too hard for a little too long to keep us believing the wrong thing about the eponymous prisoner, but when the switch is finally flipped, we get to learn a bit more about Harry's father and his days at Hogwarts, casting an important sidelight on Harry himself.

I agree with Snape that Harry is incredibly irresponsible in his choices, something which is a problem for the series overall. Because he's the Chosen One, he gets away with being stupid, stubborn, pouty, dramatic and undisciplined for far too long (well into Book 5 or 6, if I recall correctly), and while it ramps up the tension, it reduces both his believability and likeability. Snape is the designated lampshade hanger/frustrated-audience mouthpiece for this annoyance.

(A minor odd thing while I think of it: If Lupin had only just been appointed as DADA teacher, why did his case say "Professor" in peeling letters?)

I don't think I'd reread this since I saw the film, and I was struck by how much the film version differed. No Quidditch, and the whole time-turner sequence was notably different. Film Hermione is much stronger than Book Hermione, not least because she gets one of Book Ron's brave lines about having to go through him/her to get to Harry. Book Hermione is a bit wimpy and panicky, in fact, which is a pity.

The series arc, the return of the Dark Lord, isn't advanced much in this book (the next more than makes up for that, of course), and yet it manages to be suspenseful and exciting anyway - partly through the phantom menace of crazy Sirius Black, but there's also the real menace of the Dementors. This book also introduces the theme, which grows much stronger later in the series, especially in Order of the Phoenix, of corrupt and incompetent government endangering and harming those it claims to protect. Well done, Ms Rowling, especially as this book came out in 2000, at least a year before the big-time security theatre really got started. The best bits of this series are like thrillers, and political thrillers at that, cleverly disguised as fantasy books for kids.

The next book's the first of the chihuahua-crushers. Now we're getting serious. There are still some lovely touches of humour here, though, for example when Snape pulls a Christmas cracker and gets a hat like the one that Neville's grandmother wears. Humour, snark, and practical jokes abound in these books, even among the very dark moments, and they're all the better for it.

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