Next up is Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Voldemort, the most evil wizard ever, has returned and Harry and his friends need to convince the rest of the world that the danger is real. It was published in June 2003 in hardback and in July 2004 in paperback. It is the longest book in the series and broke the records set by Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as the fastest selling book in history.
I know these Harry Potter reviews contain a lot of spoilers, though I try not to get into specifics. I think a good review should look at the story itself, at the good and bad sides and not just the overall style and structure. Also, if you haven’t read Harry Potter by now … Well … You deserve these spoilers ruining your reading experience! (Well almost anyway. So future readers who have been in a coma for the last few years and have therefore been unable to read these books, you are forgiven. And you are also warned: stop reading right now if you don’t want any spoilers!)
First, a quick recap: the previous book ends with Voldemort returning to life (or more specifically: to human form) and Dumbledore announcing this to the school. However, nobody wants to believe him (mostly because they don’t want to have to acknowledge that the worst has happened and that Voldemort has indeed returned). So, for the most of this book, the return of Voldemort is ignored and not believed. The Ministry and the papers deny Voldemort’s return and make up the craziest excuses when things start going wrong until, in the end, they are forced to face the inevitable and admit Voldemort’s return.
Harry’s summer is quite awful: he knows of Voldemort’s return, yet he is stuck with his family and nobody will tell him anything. His friends are acting strangely (they know more than they are allowed to say) and he feels very left out. After a run-in with a Dementor, he is brought back to the magical world by a group of Aurors sent to protect him. Harry is brought to the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix and learns (in broad terms) what’s been going on. He is frustrated because they won’t go into details about what’s being done against Voldemort and he’s frustrated because they won’t take action openly.
When they finally arrive at Hogwarts, it becomes clear that the worst is yet to come. The Ministry is taking charge at the school to make sure that nobody believes that Voldemort has returned and Dumbledore is very limited (and eventually fired). The ministry has installed a teacher at Hogwarts who is fully loyal to the Minister and very hard on Harry. She uses all kinds of punishment and isn’t afraid of using horrible (even illegal) tactics to do so.
Because Voldemort’s return is being so openly ignored and refuted, Harry’s friends convince him to start an underground organisation where students can learn Defense Against The Dark Arts from Harry. A group of students take part in it and try their hardest to stay hidden from Dolores and the Ministry.
In this book, Harry’s connection to Voldemort is made more clear. When Voldemort is experiencing big emotions, Harry also feels them and he gets a view into Voldemort’s thoughts and feelings. This really scares him and he has nobody to talk about it with because Dumbledore is keeping his distance (he’s afraid that Harry is being possessed by Voldemort). To prevent Voldemort discovering and (ab)using this link, Harry is forced to take lessons from Snape to learn how to shield his mind from Voldemort. However, Voldemort does find out and uses the link to lure Harry Potter and his friends to the Department of Mysteries to save Sirius (or so Harry thinks). Voldemort actually lured him there to the Department of Mysteries to retrieve a prophecy that was made about the two of them since only the subjects of the prophecy can collect it and Voldemort doesn’t want to risk exposure.
Death Eaters were sent to the Ministry as well to steal the prophecy from Harry and an enormous fight ensues. Harry and his friends get reinforcements from the members of the Order of the Phoenix and they manage to harm and kill a few of the Death Eaters and escape. However, in that fight, Sirius dies. This leaves Harry completely devastated because he feels like he lost his family again (after only finding Sirius 2 years earlier). This battle is also important since it forces the news of Voldemort’s return out in the open. The battle took place all over the Ministry after all, and in the end even the Minister of Magic witnesses the Death Eaters. The next day, the Daily Prophet (the magical newspaper) and the Ministry both admit to having been wrong and warn the public that Voldemort has indeed returned. This sets the tone for the next few books with wizards turning on each other and trusting no one (since you never know who is conspiring with Voldemort or who is under a spell to do so), and everybody offering advice on how to deal with it all.
For me, this book was the most frustrating of the series. Harry is acting like a petulant child, demanding to be clued into everything that is going on and learn of all the plans Dumbledore and the order have made. And I was constantly thinking: you’re a 15-year old child, you have no business being involved in the order’s business. It is very dangerous and they are fighting a dangerous enemy. Yes, you have had more to do with that enemy than anyone else, but that doesn’t give you the right to expect to be in the know. YOU ARE STILL A CHILD! You definitely act like on throughout the book and therefore it’s no more than normal they treat you as one. In the end, he does realize how ridiculous he’s been acting and he (finally!) grows up a little. That in itself is quite a redemption, and took a lot of my frustrations away (though I must admit I’m still very frustrated with Harry’s behaviour when rereading this book).
Okay, now that I got that off my chest, I do like this book. There is a lot going on and Rowling really shows (the evolution of) her writing skills. People have complained about the enormity of the book and its many (many, many, many!) subplots but I disagree with those critiques. I don’t think Rowling could have left much (if anything) out because it would negatively affect the flow of the story (especially if viewed over the 7 books). If we take the storyline with Hagrid and his baby-brother Grawp for example. I think it is important to show that Hagrid is occupied with Grawp because he is one of Harry’s confidants and Harry often relies on him to tell him what’s going on if nobody else will. Now, because Hagrid is occupied, Harry cannot turn to him. That is important to the story because Harry is feeling left-out and ignored and like nobody trusts him and he has no friends left. He feels very alienated and a lot of the subplot storylines are necessary to show what his friends are doing and why they won’t or can’t speak to him about everything that’s going on. Of course, his friends and confidants being unavailable is not the only thing contributing to his alienation and general petulance – his nightmares play a very important role there too. And the most obvious reason: Lord Voldemort’s return and Harry watching Pettigrew (Voldemort’s follower) killing Cedric (another Hogwarts’ student) right in front of him.
Something that has also changed completely is the fact that this book cannot be read as a stand-alone story when the four previous books can. The previous stories refer to one another as well of course, but you can understand it if you just read one. This book cannot be enjoyed in and of itself, I think. It is also not really an enjoyable book: a lot of people die, Harry doesn’t get to save the world and make everything right again (nor does anybody else for that matter) and the ending is just … there are no words!
All that doesn’t mean that I didn’t like this book. Not at all! I love the series and, as a part of the series, this is a great book! Like I said, Rowling is really finding her voice and the book is very well put together. This is definitely a book you cannot miss or skip in the series. The darker trend, that started in The Prisoner of Azkaban and came to climax with Voldemort’s return in The Goblet of Fire, really comes to its own in The Order of the Phoenix. I would even go so far as to say that darkness and suspense can be seen as major themes in the book. I describe this book as the beginning of the end and also the book where Harry is forced to grow up (even though he REALLY doesn’t want to or do so until the end of the story).
This is quite a long review, which is only fitting since it is also quite a long book :). It wasn’t easy writing this review because you can’t really leave out much of the book if you want to understand the overall story lines. Anyway, what do you think? Loved the book, or hated it? Let me know in the comments!