Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince

by J.K. Rowling, 2005

For the first time in the Harry Potter series the new book isn’t longer than its predecessor. Up until now Rowling has added a couple of hundred pages to each new book, but this time she does the opposite and subtracts about 200 pages. Still it boasts almost 800 pages.

Usually the Harry Potter books open with a couple of chapters concerning Harry’s life at the Dursleys; his most unpleasant uncle, aunt and cousin. But not this time. First we have to get through chapters about the British Prime Minister and Snape’s home, getting us 50 pages into the book before Harry even turns up. And then we have to endure another 20 explanatory pages and a visit to the new Professor Slughorn, before the story picks up when Harry reaches The Burrow, the home of the wizard family, the Weasleys. It is plain to see that the delightful intro of HP5 was only a detour and that Rowling is now back to her old, long-winded formula of exposition, exposition, Dursleys and then The Burrow.

As in the early Harry Potter books we are more than 200 pages into HP6 before the two main plots of the story emerge. One plot is about the identity of the mysterious Half-Blood Prince, whose potion book Harry finds very helpful. The other is the background of Lord Voldemort as shown to Harry by Professor Dumbledore in a pensive. The story of Lord Voldemort goes all the way back to his grandparents and the very long background chapters are spread throughout the book, making up a story of their own, but destroying the continuity of the first layer of narrative. It doesn’t move along the plot at all and is ever so boring.

Besides the two major plots there are a string of sub-plots and in Rowling’s defence it has to be said that these are more to the point than previous sub-plots have been. One is about Draco Malfoy and whether or not he has become a Death Eater (supporter of Lord Voldemort). The other is about the rather sudden romances between Ron and Hermione and Harry and Ginny.

Finally we get back to the main plot of the series, the story about good vs. evil when we learn that Lord Voldemort has created Horcruxes. A Horcrux is an object in which a person is able to conceal part of his soul in order to gain immortality, so Harry -along with Professor Dumbledore- sets out to retrieve the Horcruxes.

"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" is mostly there to explain the background of Lord Voldemort and as such it doesn’t move Harry’s story along, but it does have a rather surprising ending because one of the main protagonists dies in chapter 27, "The Lightning-Struck Tower". The tower is most likely modelled on The Tower, a Tarot card that means death.

The chapter is, however, one of the most boring in the book as the long explanatory dialogue between Dumbledore and Draco Malfoy kills whatever excitement there could have been. On the other hand the following chapter 28, "Flight of the Prince", is probably the best chapter Rowling has written so far. It’s exciting and intriguing with only a little of Rowling’s usual digression and long-winded explanations. I wish the entire series was like that.

Although this sixth volume of the Harry Potter series is all about Lord Voldemort, the dark lord himself only appears in the book in other people’s memories. He never shows himself in the present, so instead the showdown in the book is a battle with his Death Eaters.

It is still quite amusing how Voldemort & Co. always pick the end of a school year to come forth. They must have really loved the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry since they lie low the entire year, making it possible for the students to attend lessons and indulge in Quidditch and trips to the wizard village Hogsmead, not staging their fights until the end of term.

Present-day Lord Voldemort is not the only one missed in the book, by the way. Other familiar faces we only hear about sporadically and here I mostly miss Neville, Luna and the Weasley twins, Fred and George. The twins have now moved to London where they live together in a flat above their joke shop Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes in Diagon Alley. They have turned into highly successful businessmen, inventing and selling jokes and tricks as well as a serious line of Defence Against Dark Arts-products. Pretty interesting, but we only hear very little about them. Neville and Luna on the other hand are still at Hogwarts, but they are more or less invisible as well. Only because of their loyalty to Harry and Dumbledore’s Army do they pop up from time to time.

Rowling is still a very uneven storyteller and one thing that really annoys me is that she doesn’t pay attention to detail. This time it says that the potion book of The Half-Blood Prince was published 50 years ago, so the book couldn’t have belonged to Harry’s father who was a lot younger. But when we finally learn the identity of The Half-Blood Prince, it turns out that he’s the same age as Harry’s dad! That doesn’t make sense.

And as usual the last 50 pages of the book are explanatory. It has been so ever since HP1 and Rowling seems intent on sticking to that formula although it’s a very clumsy, tedious way to end a book. Unless you are Poirot explaining a murder, there is something seriously wrong when in each volume the author needs at least 50 pages to explain what you have just read. It is not a very satisfying way to end a story.

There’s a lot of great stuff in "Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince", but also a lot of stuff not so great and adding it all up, I can only give the book three out of five stars: ***

@ Lise Lyng Falkenberg, 2005