*Or, ALL THE SPOILER WARNINGS, how to get an innocent man killed*
Hello all! It’s finally time for my most controversial Harry Potter review. Yup- we’ve made it to book 5 and I’ve so far managed to survive the wrath of fans… but I think this one might just do me in 😉 As I mentioned in my complicated relationship with Harry Potter piece, I have never been the biggest fan of this book (and for those that are gonna get offended by that statement- either muffliato a minute and hear me out or, you know, just don’t read this). Because of that, I was extremely strategic this time round and made sure to read it fresh, at least I wouldn’t in the hope I wouldn’t dislike it as much as I have in the past. And you know what? It kind of worked… kind of.
I won’t pretend this book cast a Cheering Charm over me- especially since you could reallllly feel the length of this one. More of the plotlines felt unnecessary and while I conceptually like the idea of the beginning and end centring on the Ministry, it took far too long to get to that point. It took 20% of the book, which in a book this huge is *150 pages* to get to the school and consequently the actual plot- and the fact that I spent a large amount of time calculating the pages should tell you how bored I got with it. I’m sorry to say this, but some of the fat should’ve been trimmed here.
I also spent most of the book with a mild case of irritation. Part of that came down to the repetitive and pointless conversations about the “secret weapon” that go nowhere fast. So many of the conversations about it just went in circles- which, if you compare this with conversations in the Philosopher’s Stone, where every time Flamel is brought up, we learn something new, made it all the more irksome. Just dropping in the occasional “we still don’t know what the secret weapon is…” doesn’t build the mystery in quite the same way.
Some of this can be blamed on how infuriatingly little Harry is told. For some reason, most of the adults in his life (like Molly Weasley), seem to think the most dangerous thing for a boy that’s nearly been murdered on multiple occasions is… knowledge. WHAT?! This is why I use the term “the Dumbledore” to describe the wizard who refuses to give information for *reasons*. Doofus Dumbledore (yes, I am going there… maybe I should’ve imperio’ed fans not to read this review) doesn’t seem to understand that *truth* is the most powerful weapon (which is funny, cos the whole book seems to be about the baddie *SEEKING INFORMATION, so he seems to get it). I understand that secrecy is important for plot development, but you can still have a character die without it being for reasons this dumb. One of the reasons I think this whole issue comes about is because Dumbledore just knows too much from book 1. I get that this is supposed to be because “he’s the best wizard” and all that jazz, yet it actually comes across as though he’s got far too much power in comparison to Voldemort (which definitely comes out when he whoops his ass in the last fight scene 😉 ). In fairness, a lot of this can be put down to *serious character flaws*– ie Dumbledore is too proud/stupid to tell Harry the truth and Harry is to proud/stupid to go and ask. Which don’t really excuse them- just makes sense.
Speaking of Harry’s character, this is the HELLO PUBERTY book. And the thing is, I was just coming into that magical time of hormones when I first read this book, and I’m pretty confident to say that it doesn’t get turned on and off like a faucet. Either way, I didn’t like his temper and thought he spent way too much of this book jumping down everyone’s throats. And I know some people are going to say “oh but this reflects trauma”- ermmm no, there’s more to trauma than shouting and the occasional magically induced nightmare, sorry. Also, hitting the CAPS LOCK for paragraphs on end to express anger is annoying.
And since this is a theme, I was annoyed by Ron again (I don’t know why anyone’s surprised at this point, I’ve been saying it since book 1). First of all, why is anyone surprised he gets off from weird trumped up charges at the beginning of the book? And secondly, Ron saying “you always get away with stuff” made me legit yell at the book so do you!!!! I also don’t get why he ever thought it made sense for him to be a prefect– he’s definitely got the same disobedient streak as Fred/George (just to add insult to injury in my criticism of Dumbledore, I’d have just made Neville prefect- cos, why not?)
Okay, you may not think I’m justified in my dislike for Ron, but I think we can all agree that Umbridge is the MOST LOATHSOME Harry Potter character. I HATE Umbridge. I have to say her characterisation, from that early “silvery laugh” is magnificent. But again, it makes me seriously scratch my head at Harry’s actions. I genuinely can’t decide if I admire Harry’s restraint for not cursing Umbridge or wanting to throttle him for not standing up to her more (I probably lean towards the latter, though I understand why people feel the former). At least have the good sense to go to another teacher! I can’t believe that most of them would have stood for it and there were so many ways to catch her out. Evidently, Dumbledore stopped her shaking Marietta- so why assume that they’d let her basically stab children in the hand. McGonagall would have probably stabbed her with the quill if she’d have known.
Incidentally, I’ve been remiss in not mentioning Minerva thus far. She’s one of the few sensible adults in Harry’s life and I just love her “Have a biscuit, Potter” line. Though she’s not the only adult looking out for Harry. For all his rashness, Sirius definitely has Harry’s best interests and *has the most logical views*. There is an ongoing theme in the book of Sirius comparing Harry to James- what’s infuriating in the film adaptation is that he mistakes Harry for his father in his final moments. Which, not only takes the sting out of his death, but also ignores the fact that book-Sirius grows into his godfather role and ends up coming to his rescue in a fatherly fashion. The film version is also poor on multiple accounts, as it ignores the fact that Sirius is basically right the whole book- you’ve got to learn to defend yourself with a sociopathic cult leader on the loose.
And I know that I shouldn’t have liked it, but I always have fun with the Snape vs Sirius rivalry- honestly, anything that gets us closer to a Marauder’s story makes me happy. Speaking of which, Snape’s memories are *traumatic*- yet again, I don’t like the film’s version, because to my mind neither is the good party- especially in the larger context of them both antagonising each other. Still, even if you want to go with the view that James was the bully… Snape’s basically the equivalent of a racist here, so…
Anyway, this is part of one of the *many* aforementioned subplots. It makes some sense to me that Harry isn’t keen on the Occulemency lessons- given the poor choice of teacher- yet even when he’s given the reasons why, he still has little interest in learning (cos of course Harry knows best…). Honestly, I get the feeling that a longer book just gave Harry more opportunities to be an idiot. And to sulk- exemplified by the fact Ginny has to tell him “hey, no, you’re not possessed” because he won’t leave his room.
What saved the book for me was how much the book picks up from the point when Fred and George stage their epic exit. While I don’t like how we got to the end point and got irked with Dumbledore, I can’t deny that “he’s got style”. I actually liked the addition of Grawp and some of the imagery that came with it. And finally, finally, Hermione gets to play the hero in getting rid of Umbridge!
I have been neglecting Hermione this review, because I’ve been saving this point for the end: Hermione is right- about everything! Well, more specifically that Harry has a saving people thing. Indeed, his hero complex is KILLER- because, frankly, I genuinely believe they all got Sirius killed. And no, I don’t blame him for being rash and going to the ministry to save a bunch of kids- that’s the time to be rash. Not, say, when you’re an arrogant teen that thinks your high school club can save the day without knowing what’s going on. I mean *prepare for some heavy sarcasm* don’t assume that the Order member is putting on an act for Umbridge’s benefit and wait for him to come back. And of course, why don’t you grab that big juicy prophecy while you’re at it?
Nonetheless, I can’t entirely blame Harry for feeling like he’s got no one to help him when all the adults in his life are useless – which is why I say they *all* got Sirius killed. And yeah I view Sirius as a martyr to their stupidity. His death is devastating, not just because he’s a great character, but because, my goodness, Rowling does his death well. He gets his hero’s death, protective to the last, and the grief pours in waves from that point. Other than a brief interlude of CAPS ruining the moment, I’d say this ending is done perfectly. Seeing other people’s reactions and the gradual overbearing weight of it gives the death the space it needs. Indeed, the subject of grief is handled beautifully for much of the series.
There was as usual a lot of set up for later books- especially with the prophecy. I can be iffy about such things, however it was sufficiently vague enough for me to not mind it *too much*. Although perhaps this was down to knowing how things turned out, because in the past that was another sticking point for me. Overall though, based on my enjoyment this time round, I gave it:
Rating: 3½/5 bananas
Phew- I know I probably pissed a lot of people off with this, but that felt like expunging a fifteen year old wound. How do you feel about book 5? Let me know in the comments!