In the sixth of her seven-book Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling brings her long
story toward its close, piecing together clues from all the earlier books. Young
wizard Harry, who has survived so many plots by the vicious Lord Voldemort, has
grown into a young man forced to live up to a legend he never wanted, indomitable
in his essential kindness and cheerfulness (well, most of the time) but strengthened
by grief and the unshakeable loyalty of his friends.
Rowling draws you into her world, so colorful and so terrifying, with a brilliantly
steady hand. It opens with two introductory scenes — one entertainingly showing
the Minister of Magic talking to the Prime Minister of muggle England, the other
featuring Professor Snape, Harry's nemesis and unhappy ally. Picking up early in the summer, it takes a while to get
to the meat of the story, even to the first days of the school
year. But once it does the story moves as fast as ever.
As the wizard world copes with the increasingly brazen terrorism of Voldemort
and his Death Eaters, Harry and his friends receive the all-important results
from last year’s exams, which dictate what advanced courses they can take
and what careers will be open to them. (Thankfully Harry avoided scoring “Troll”
on any of his tests.) Facing harder challenges than ever in school, he finds unexpected
help in an old textbook filled with useful notes from a student calling himself
only “the Half-Blood Prince.”
Meanwhile Harry spies on the ever-suspicious Draco Malfoy, whose father was revealed
as one of Voldemort’s loyal followers, and studies with his mentor Professor
Dumbledore the nature of Voldemort’s heritage and power. And he must slowly
come to grips with the prophecy that says it’s his destiny, 16-year-old
Harry Potter, to either kill the greatest Dark Wizard in the world — or
be killed by him.
Naturally Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione spend more and more time pursuing the opposite
sex, flirting and kissing and pining away. It’s all quite innocent in
comparison with real-world teens (this is meant to be a kids’ book, after all)
but downright racy compared to Harry’s earlier tales. For his part, Harry
slowly sees one of his best friends in a new light, realizes she means much, much more to him than
he thought — and wonders if his friendship with Ron can stand the strain.
Rowling deftly leavens her mystery with humor, especially in the
family of Harry’s friends, the Weasleys. Ron’s brothers, twins Fred
and George, defiantly spread cheer in the face of terror in their new shop for
magical tricks and pranks. (“Why are you worrying about You-Know-Who? You should be worrying about U-No-Poo — The
Constipation Sensation That’s Sweeping the Nation!”) Ron’s younger
sister Ginny, the lone girl in a house full of trick-playing boys, has grown ferocious
when her brothers step on her toes. The locator “clock” at the Weasley
home, which once showed each family member’s location — “work,”
“traveling,” “school” — now shows the same thing
for all: “mortal peril.”
For all the whimsy of the wizarding world, its darkness is deeper than ever. With
Voldemort and his Death Eaters murdering enemies left and right, the wizard community
is gripped by fear. Arthur Weasley insists that his wife demand a password before
letting him the front door. Wary of dark magic, school caretaker Filch scans students
leaving and returning to Hogwarts with a Secrecy Sensor. It’s a tribute
to Rowling’s skill that the parallels to the real world are obvious but
never gimmicky; the real terror we face in the news every day informs her story
The last few chapters of Half-Blood Prince become increasingly grim,
in places horrific. At the end we leave Harry poised to set off on the last
quest to vanquish Lord Voldemort, thrilled with his courage and the strength
of those still around him but heartbroken by betrayal and loss. Harry Potter
and the Half-Blood Prince leaves you emotionally spent — and desperate
for the next installment in the tale.
As if her staggering popularity left any doubt, J.K. Rowling is a masterful storyteller.
When the seventh and final book comes I’ll hate the thought that Harry’s
stories are at an end. But what an end it will be!