Books : reviews

J. K. Rowling.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.
Bloomsbury. 1997

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 5 October 1999

Well, there's been a lot of hype about the Harry Potter series, so I thought I'd take a look and see what all the fuss was about. What's that? You're complaining that I'm wasting my time on a children's book? Well, yes, technically it is, but then... Hang on just a second there -- aren't you the same one who complains that all this science fiction I read is just "kid's stuff"? Heh -- so you can tell the difference, after all!

As I was saying before I digressed, HPatPS may be a children's book, but as far as I'm concerned, all that it means is that it is cheaper that it would be if published as a "grown up" book. [Amusingly, it seems the books are so popular with adults they are being reprinted in "grown up" editions, with a more sober cover, and costing £2 more!] This is one of that excellent sub genre of children's and young adult's books that can be read and enjoyed by adults, too.

All his life, Harry Potter has been a very unwanted guest of his mean Aunt and Uncle, and their disgustingly spoiled son. Then, on his 11th birthday, he discovers that he is actually the son of powerful Wizard parents, who were killed when he was a baby, and that he is to go to Hogwarts School to learn to be a wizard himself. Coming to terms with the newly-discovered world of magic, and having to fit in at a new school, he soon discovers that something bad is going on, and it's up to him and his friends to save the day.

Some have complained that HPatPS is just a rip-off of Diane Duane's excellent YA Oath of Wizardry series. It's not, though they both owe allegiance to the same genre. If anything, it bears more resemblance to an Enid Blyton-esque boarding school story, crossed with an "ugly ducking child discovers they are actually a Really Important Person" story (such as Francis Hodgson Burnett's Lost Prince), crossed with all the "learning to be a witch or wizard" stories.

This is fun. It does use loads of the classic children's story tropes, but it uses them in fun ways. It has interesting characters, lots of great subplots (I particularly like the game of Quidditch, which sounds quite interesting), unexpected plot twists, and a good finale. I'll be reading the next one, too (but no longer just because I want to find out what the hype is all about).

J. K. Rowling.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
Bloomsbury. 1998

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 17 June 2000

After spending an awful summer with his dreadful Muggle relations, Harry Potter is desperate to get back to Hogwarts School for his second year. But everything, from his arrival onwards, goes wrong. The Heir of Slytherin has opened the Chamber of Secrets, letting lose a monster that is attacking the students -- and everyone seems to think Harry is the evil Heir!

This is faster paced than the previous story -- less time building up background, more time getting on with the adventure using the background already present. It still has great plotting and unexpected twists, and delicious little throw-away details -- I particularly like the lifecycle of the Mandrakes -- and this time the plot feels more under control. HP is a good series that is getting better.

J. K. Rowling.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
Bloomsbury. 1999

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 6 May 2003

Harry Potter's third year at Hogwarts gets off to a grim start -- the dangerous criminal Sirius Black, the man who betrayed his parents to Voldemort, has escaped from Azkaban, and has been seen in the vicinity of Hogwarts. Despite this danger, Harry has to continue with his lessons, and win the latest Quidditch match. He also learns a lot more about how his parents died, and why Snape hates him so much.

This continues with all the fun little details of the previous books -- like the various magical sweets, and the discussion of the Divination teacher's skills -- whilst adding further depth and complexity to the overall plot. Several plot strands come together for a quite gripping, and unexpected, finale, with a nice little bit of foreshadowing, too.

J. K. Rowling.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Bloomsbury. 2000

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 7 May 2006

Harry Potter's fourth year at Hogwarts gets off to a great start. He gets to accompany the Weasleys to the Quidditch World Cup Final (Ireland v Bulgaria) -- and it's a marvellous game. But immediately afterwards, things start to spiral down into their usual grim danger. As usual, Harry ends up in mortal peril from You-Know-Who, with the same lack of support from those who should be in authority, not helped by a falling out with Ron, and there is a truly dark climax. The climax isn't quite at the end, because then we get a couple of chapters explaining exactly what's been going on, who did what to whom, and why. Which is actually a great help.

At over 630 pages, this is quite a doorstop, but it doesn't feel long -- the actions rips along at a breathless rate, and there's very little padding. Good closure (although it seems wizardly society has exactly the same trouble with boneheaded senior administrators as does Starfleet an its ilk), but a clear setup for even more momentous events to come.

J. K. Rowling.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Bloomsbury. 2003

J. K. Rowling.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Bloomsbury. 2005

J. K. Rowling.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Bloomsbury. 2007