The penultimate J.K. Rowling book in the Harry Potter universe is called Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The world knows Voldemort has returned and battle lines are being drawn.
This book was released on July 16th 2005 and sold 6.9 million copies in the first 24 hours in the US alone. At a selling rate of roughly 250,000 an hour, this makes it the fast selling book in history. Bookseller Barnes and Noble reported sales averaging 105 copies per second in the first hour of sales alone. I think this success is due to the fact that the Harry Potter universe was garnering a lot of attention after the release of the first film and a lot of people went to the books to see what would happen next.
The biggest difference for me with the previous books was the lack of an actual climax in the story itself. In every book so far, Rowling has worked her way up to a certain task or challenge that Harry and his friends had to overcome. In the first book it was saving the sorcerer’s stone and in the second finding and closing the Chamber of Secrets. In The Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry saved Sirius from the Dementors and in The Goblet of Fire he had to survive the Triwizard Tournament. In the fifth book, I can even identify two of these big tasks: exposing Voldemort’s return and Harry figuring out what his dreams and connection to Voldemort mean (leading to the prophecy in the Ministry of Magic). In The Half-Blood Prince, I don’t see one, except maybe for figuring out who the Half-Blood Prince was.
Therefore, I think this book is mainly about character development and a set-up for the seventh and final book. And that character development revolves mostly around Tom Riddle, or Voldemort. In my previous review, I wrote about my frustration with Harry acting like a petulant child, but that he does manage to grow up a little in the end. I think Rowling missed out on pulling that through into this book. She made a stable and unchanging character of Harry again, which is really a missed opportunity in my opinion.
However, what she did do brilliantly in this book is help us understand Tom Riddle. We learn about his history, his past and how he became to be Voldemort. This is done through memories and stories shared by Dumbledore and others. Dumbledore felt it important that Harry understand Voldemort completely to be able to destroy him once and for all (as foretold in the prophecy). It is all a little confusing however.
In this book, I differentiate between the “classic” Harry Potter story and the history of Voldemort. The first is what we’ve gotten in the previous books: Harry and his friends in school, experiencing life. This includes Harry’s love life, Ron and Hermione growing closer, Quidditch, classes and exams, and so forth. The second part of this books take place in the private lessons between Dumbledore and Harry: flashbacks and memories, excursions and a lot of talking and planning. It think it is a little confusing that these two major storylines are threaded through one another, but I also think that is necessary. This book couldn’t just contain the classic story about life at Hogwarts and about the character’s personal lives because too much has been going on with Voldemort. The history of Voldemort is paramount for our understanding of the story and certainly for the set-up towards the next book. So yes, it is a little confusing sometimes with the two intertwining storylines but they are both necessary and I think Rowling combined them wonderfully!
I pointed out some positive and negative things about this books. If you ask me what I thought of it as a reader, I will say that I loved it. Again, I absolutely LOVE this series! And since this book is a part of the series, I love it as well. I loved the fact that Rowling gives more attention to the character’s love lives and I thought it necessary to alleviate some of the tension and sense of foreboding ever-present since Voldemort’s return. These lighter notes help create a story worth reading and not just a filler to explain everything and set the story up for the next book. Personally, I also liked this set-up: I was interested in learning how Tom Riddle became Voldemort and feel like Rowling really showed her writing talents here! One final remark; just as in the previous book, you cannot read Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince on its own; it is intrinsically linked to the previous and next book. I don’t feel that is a completely good or bad thing: it just is. Since the previous book was linked into the series so much, it is only natural that this one is as well. And since this book is a set-up towards the last book, the big finale of the series, it has to be linked to the next book, obviously.
I’ll end with a quick summary of what goes on story-wise.
ATTENTION! SPOILER ALERT!
Dumbledore picks up Harry from his aunt’s and uncle’s and takes him to a retired teacher’s house to help him convince the teacher to return to Hogwarts. They succeed in this endeavour and Harry spends the rest of his holidays with the Weasleys. They return to school where the atmosphere is tense but people still feel safe and secure.
Harry becomes a lot closer to Dumbledore as he gets private lessons concerning Voldemort. The brunt of the book revolves around this: Dumbledore sharing his memories and learning of the horcruxes. Together, they start figuring out a plan to defeat Voldemort.
As usual, Draco Malfoy is up to no good. Harry believes that he has become a Death Eater and is on a secret mission for Voldemort (quite rightly so in fact) but nobody else believes him, not even Ron and Hermione, which frustrates him.
And of course, the most shocking of all: the ending. Harry and Dumbledore have only just come back from a succesful expedition to get one of the horcruxes when they are accosted by a group of Death Eaters. They were let in by Draco, who is now supposed to kill Dumbledore but he has trouble doing so. In the end, it is Snape that kills Dumbledore. Harry saw it all and runs after Snape to confront him. Snape reveals he is the Half-Blood Prince when Harry tries to use on of his spells against Snape. Snape wards off the attack and escapes with the Death Eaters.
The final chapter takes place at Dumbledore’s funeral. Harry breaks up with Ginny (who he finally got together with a few weeks earlier) to protect her from Voldemort and his followers. He then declares he’s leaving Hogwarts to finish what he and Dumbledore had started by destroying all the horcruxes in order to kill Voldemort. Ron and Hermione immediately promise to go along with him on his quest.
There, that was my review of the penultimate Harry Potter book. A lot of people called it the most boring book, others the most interesting. What do you think? And what about that ending?