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Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The Xposé review…
The followers of Voldemort are carrying out atrocities in his name. The Ministry of Magic are releasing advisory leaflets on how to cope with the threat, and detaining anyone who looks suspicious on the flimsiest of evidence. Despite this, the villains continue to work to undermine magical society from within. No-one is safe, and by the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince nothing will ever be the same again…
It’s pretty clear that author JK Rowling’s writing has been informed by the ongoing War on Terror, though how much of this is genuinely a response to recent events, and how much of it is down to the ongoing ‘darkening’ of the series, is open to debate – certainly, there are a few sly digs at the paranoia of These Difficult Times, notably the Ministry of Magic’s arrest of hapless bus conductor Stan Shunpike. Mercifully, she doesn’t let these thematic devices overwhelm the story, which remains, as always, a magical mystery tour of the Wizarding World.
In some ways, The Half-Blood Prince feels like an exercise in setting the scene for the final book in the series, clearing the decks and, in the proper Joseph Campbell tradition, removing the hero’s mentors from the scene so that he alone can confront Voldemort in the final battle. To this end, much of the book is spent tying up loose ends; most of the middle act is made up of a series of flashbacks to Voldemort’s early life, fleshing out the villain’s character. About 50 pages from the end, the plot – finally! – kicks into gear, as the villainous Death Eaters launch a full-scale invasion of Hogwarts. Rowling seeds a few of her trademark mysteries throughout the book, principally concerning Draco Malfoy and the identity of the mysterious Half-Blood Prince.
The first of these is dealt with quite effectively, with Malfoy receiving some much-needed character development. The second is less successful; with speculation as to the Prince’s identity rampant before publication, and Rowling’s fans combing through the books for the slightest clue to the mystery, she seems to have responded by abandoning carefully-laid clues altogether. The mystery’s solved out of the blue; with no clues to pick up on, there’s no sense of satisfaction for the reader in learning who the mystery man is. Entertainingly, at the book’s close, she introduces yet another mystery, neatly leaving the reader in suspense for the final volume in the series, as if the anticipation wasn’t high enough already.
Although Rowling’s come in for – not entirely unwarranted – criticism of her prose style, she has a light touch that’s well-suited to the story she’s telling. There’s even evidence of some experimentation; the opening chapter’s rendered in a quite different style to those of the previous books in the series. It’s unfortunate, however, that she doesn’t develop the ideas from the first chapter any further; it would’ve been nice to see some more of the book’s events unfold from a Muggle’s perspective.
Still, overall, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is another successful addition to the series, even if it doesn’t quite achieve the heady heights of The Prisoner of Azkaban. It achieves what it sets out to do, build up the anticipation for the final Harry Potter to fever pitch. With a lengthy wait for the last book, it’s just as well that there’s the Goblet of Fire movie to whet fans’ appetites…
by Stephen Graves
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