Harry Potter is due to start his fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. His best friends Ron and Hermione have been very secretive all summer and he is desperate to get back to school and find out what has been going on. However, what Harry discovers is far more devastating than he could ever have expected…
Seriously, don’t read this review if you haven’t read the books.
The biggest compliment I can think to give an 870 page book is that I wish it had been longer. I wish this had been longer.
This book has always been my favorite in the series. Up until it, Harry’s story had been filled with light. Yes, yes, there were some tough parts, yes, yes, some darkness tinged the edges of the previous one, but honestly, that was a pretty happy book compared to this. Good still triumphed over evil, our hero surmounted impossible odds in the Triwizard Tournament, and then he managed to escape Voldemort, yet again, and warn the wizarding world of his return.
And the BAM! The beginning of this book hits you in the face. Where you expect Harry to be in the know, he’s in the dark, where you expect The Daily Prophet to be filled with stories about the ministry pursuing Voldemort, there’s only silence, where you expect excitement about returning to Hogwarts there is only frustration and angst. And you know what? You get it, you frigging get it, man.
Because you were with Harry when he faced Voldemort and his Death Eaters alone, you stood beside him as the shades of his parents appeared from the tip of his enemy’s wand and helped save his life. And when he made it back to safety, you were just as dumbfounded as he was when the minister of magic refused to believe him, refused to believe Dumbledore.
So how dare they? How dare they let him rot, alone, in a house full of people that hate and ridicule him, while the murderer of his parents begins to rebuild his army? How dare they feed him snippets like “We can’t tell you anything about what we’ve been doing, and we’ve been doing A LOT. But don’t worry, we’ll see you soon, we just can’t tell you when”? As if he hasn’t been through enough. If anyone has the right to know what’s going on, it’s Harry. Doesn’t anyone KNOW him like we do? Or do they just think that they know what’s best for him better than he does?
And that’s part of the genius of this installment. This book grows up. Where the previous four could be labeled as children’s stories, this one cannot. There are so many hard lessons and difficult themes in this, ones that a child’s mind cannot fully grasp. Gone are the heroes, gone are the happy endings. This book teaches you that adults aren’t the perfect protectors you thought they were. Sirius isn’t infallible. James Potter isn’t infallible. Albus frigging Dumbledore isn’t infallible. None of them are. None of them are even fully good. And come to find out, those you thought were fully evil might not be either. This book introduces you to shades of grey and each revelation seems to hit you harder than the last.
Normally, I hate angst. This is mostly because I find the vast majority of what I see these days to be a sorry excuse to lengthen a story or a shoddy attempt to distract a reader from glaring issues. Trying to cover up weak characterization? Add some angst! Want to hide those holes in your plot? Add some angst!
The only type of angst I can stand, is believable angst. Rowling delivers on this. And that’s one of the many reasons that I love this book. There are a lot of other reasons, Fred and George’s badassery, Ginny Weasley finding her voice and becoming a character in her own right, the undiluted rage that coursed through my body every time I read a scene that included Delores Umbridge, the incredible courage and honesty of Hermione Granger, the loyalty of Ron Weasley, Neville Longbottom coming into his own, the failed Occlumency lessons (I WILL ALWAYS HATE SNAPE) and the way the entire school ended up doing exactly what the sorting hat suggested at the beginning of the year and banded together as one against the ministry’s interference.
I even loved the ending. YES, I SAID IT! And do you know why? Because life isn’t sunshine and roses and you don’t always get to say goodbye to those you love. You don’t get the sense that Sirius’s death was a righteous one. You don’t get resolution. He didn’t make some grand sacrifice to save the lives of many others. He died taunting the bad guys, smiling at them, egging them on as though he was still that ego-inflated teenager you glimpsed through the pensieve. And then you find out that it was all for nothing. That there were so many ways that it could have been avoided. How do you deal with that? The best you can, I guess.
So while I don’t necessarily “enjoy” this book as much as I do the others, it remains my favorite in the series for the reasons I listed above.