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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince    by J. K. Rowling order for
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
by J. K. Rowling
Order:  USA  Can
Raincoast, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, Audio, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

The sixth installment of the young wizard's adventures has finally arrived (is there anyone in the western hemisphere unaware of this event?), and does not disappoint. This is quite a feat, in view of the breathless anticipation of countless fans.

Yet another new teacher has joined the staff of Hogwarts. Horace Slughorn, according to Dumbledore, possesses information crucial to helping Harry survive the fate prophesied in book five; and Dumbledore himself fulfills his promise to Harry that he will share what he knows with the young wizard. Harry, who is achieving an impressive maturity, has left behind the sullen outbursts of his fifth year, although he has by no means forgiven Snape or the iniquitous Dolores Umbridge. Despite the deadly evidence of Voldemort's activities, which impinge on the Muggles' world as well, Harry and his friends are finding their sixth year at Hogwarts thoroughly engrossing. (So will the reader.) Their coursework is even more challenging. This year Harry shines in Potions class, thanks to the Half-Blood Prince. The mysterious prince was the prior owner of the second-hand book borrowed by Harry (he hadn't expected to be allowed to take Potions), and his copious notes in the margins indicate a talent for Potions that rivals the teacher's or the author's. Hermione, needless to say, is outraged by Harry's shortcuts.

One of the greatest delights of book six is Rowling's gleeful description of personal relationships. Romance is everywhere. Ron and Hermione's budding romance takes a rocky road indeed, and Harry shows truly remarkable restraint - and powers of observation as he watches their antics. The Weasley twins shone in Order of the Phoenix; Ginny takes a large role in book six, demonstrating yet again that the Weasley family is a force to be reckoned with. (Perhaps brother Percy will yet redeem himself.) In short, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a gripping story, 607 pages of testament to Rowling's imagination and skill. She steers a delicate course between the terrifying challenge facing everyone in Harry's world, and the wonderfully warm, human, funny moments that illustrate why her characters are so real and so beloved. She also slips in sly satire that will leave older readers grinning in appreciation.

However, that the coming crisis is ominous and deadly is made only too clear. Like other Potter fans, I will be awaiting book seven with anxious anticipation. (Until then, indulge yourself by re-reading all the volumes in order. I did this after Order of the Phoenix and was struck anew by Rowling's talents, as showcased in sequential development.)

2nd Review by Hilary Williamson:

My teen sons read it first and their hints left me puzzled. When I turned the last page, I understood what they were getting at, as the ending leaves readers wondering where Rowling will take Harry in her final episode of his and his friends' long marathon of opposition to He Who Must Not Be Named and his Death Eater underlings.

As others have said before me, the mood is darkening through this series, whose young heroes are beginning to put childish things behind them - indeed all that lightens this episode is a visit to Fred and George's new joke shop (which advertizes 'U-NO-POO - the Constipation Sensation That's Gripping the Nation!') and the comedy of romantic errors that bubbles through the book. The latter mainly involves Ron and Hermione, but Harry and a newly assertive Ginny get a turn or two as well. Readers also continue to enjoy sharing the author's scorn of certain aspects of the adult world, both magical and Muggle, in particular of new teacher Slughorn who collects celebrities.

Aside from the romantic mishaps, there's a little less tension between characters than usual. Harry's sojourn at Privet Drive with the Dursleys barely gets a mention this time, and for once Harry is not misunderstood in any major way, but rather is lauded as the 'Chosen One'. All this made the tale a little flatter than previous adventures. I wonder if it's suffering the episode before the last in a series syndrome - have you noticed that they're often a bit less exciting as the author sets up everything for the grand finale?

As Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince opens, the wizardly world is at war - a quiet, desperate conflict that the good guys seem to be losing - and deaths and disappearances spill over to the Mugggles world. Dumbledore (the wizard whose talents Voldemort fears most) has been mysteriously wounded. At Hogwarts, Harry is convinced that Malfoy is up to no good and of course he's right, though it's hard not to feel a little sorry for Draco this time round and to wonder if there's any chance he might be redeemable. Several students miss death by inches. Harry takes 'special lessons' with Dumbledore that serve to fill him (and the reader) in on You-Know-Who's backstory. And, amazingly, he aces potions.

The story builds to the expected crescendo of action and tragedy, one that Harry is helpless to prevent. I have my suspicions about the ending as I'm sure others do - but we'll just have to wait a while to see if we're right, won't we?

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