Book Review: Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince
Warning: This contains spoilers. You have been warned.
So book 6 of Harry Potter came out today and of course I read it at the bookstore as soon as I could. My initial reaction? Well, color me underwhelmed. Verily. I've never seen so many words devoted to so little substance. Let's start by getting the bombshells out of the way so we're all on the same page before I get to the analysis:
Snape is the "Half-Blood Prince" referred to in the title, a play on the surname of his mother and the fact that his father was apparently muggle. Of course, that fact is also one of the biggest red herrings of the book, since it's almost completely irrelevant to the plot. Basically, Harry found an old copy of that year's potion's textbook at school belonging to said "Prince", which was completely marked over with hints and answers and cheats that someone much more competent in potions had scribbled in the margins. And of course he uses this shamelessly to cheat his way through a whole year's worth of potions (Snape being the DADA professor this year and thus not able to catch him at it).
This year, Draco was also given a job to do by Voldemort - a task so impossible for anyone, much less a child, to do that even the Death Eaters speculate that it's probably just Voldie's excuse to punish Lucius for his failure through his son. Of course, Narcissa goes crying to Snape, and despite Bellatrix's sceptism, Snape at least proves himself in the fact that he swears an Unbreakable Oath to Narcissa that he would watch over and protect Draco, even to the extent of carrying out Draco's task for him if the boy couldn't in the end.
The task turns out to be to find a way to get the Death Eaters into Hogwarts, and to kill Dumbledore. The first part Draco managed to accomplish himself. The second part he was quailing at, having never killed anyone before, and was nearly talked down by Dumbledore (who for plot device purposes was caught in a moment of weakness at the time), while having the other DE's breathing down his neck to finish his job. So in the end, Snape fulfilled his oath and Avada Kedavra'ed Dumbledore.
Yeah, so Dumbledore's actually dead and I'm sure there are many people claiming vindication over Snape's EEEEvilness now out there. But color me unimpressed. If Rowling thought this death was supposed to shock us... well, after book 5, it wasn't.
And the only other plot-pertinent fact we learn this volume? That Voldemort survived "death" by splitting his soul into pieces (presumably 7 of 'em) and infusing them into objects and hiding them. One of these was the Diary that possessed Ginny in book 2, and that was destroyed. Another was a signet ring (an heirloom of Slytherin) that Dumbledore decursed. A third was retrieved by Dumbledore and Harry (the adventure accounting for Dumbledore's moment of weakness), but it turned out that some third party had gotten to it first.
...And that was about all that was important out of that hefty volume of text. I can't say how much I'm underwhelmed by it all.
The first chapter especially. Oh how I despise that first chapter. It's like Rowling just wanted to shove down all of our throats how much she doesn't know what she's talking about regarding real life issues... like, oh, science and technology and mass media and politics and security... well. Stick to writing about kids and magicland, JKR.
Then there was the badly fumbled attempts at romance throughout the story. Good freaky gah, that was bad. Badfic kind of bad. I can probably find fics about Ryoma and Sakuno that are more functional and more mature than what I read in the book. Hell, I could probably find better written Mary Sue fics out there. Of course, the fact that it eventually became Harry/Ginny and Ron/Hermione also makes me wonder if JKR is trying to cash in with those fandoms, espeically with the first one. It is (one of?) the most prevalent het pairings out there, after all.
But the thing that made me the most disgusted about the book? NONE of the characters have grown from the previous book, not even the slightest. Especially Harry, who doesn't seem to have learned ANYTHING from his mistakes the year previous. He still spends his time neglecting the important things Dumbledore asks him to do, as well as basically neglecting any kind of preparation for the upcoming fight with Voldemort that he knows is inevitable... and anything plotwise that *does* get accomplished by him, it's because he stumbles through via sheer dumb luck. It's absolutely INFURIATING, I tell you, that everything just falls into his lap without having to be worked for. (At least Draco worked his ass off to work a way to get the DE's into Hogwarts, evil deed aside. *grumble*grumble* And he only had his and his family's life threatened only in recent times, unlike Harry who has much more cause to worry about his and his friends' lives.)
In the end, we find that Harry's decided to ditch school next year and go hunting down Voldie's little soul-holders and destroying them, and then killing Voldie himself. Ron and Hermione decide to join him.
So what message are kids supposed to learn from this, exactly? That vengeance is peachy dandy? That it's okay to drop out of school? That school's not really important and it's okay to cheat in class if you can get your hands on a teacher's edition text?