Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments in this series. You can read my review of these novels by clicking the links below:

Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone | Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets | Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban | Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire | Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The fact that I’m returning to Hogwarts can only mean one thing. That’s right readers, today marks my 450th review on this blog! Thank you so much for your continuing support and recommendations. I wonder what gems we will find amongst the next 50…

Anyhow, with that out of the way, let’s continue. As always, please note that this post will undoubtably contain huge spoilers, as I do kind of expect that a lot of you are at least acquainted with the movie that is based on this book. However, in case you’re not familiar with this series, Harry Potter has been a worldwide phenomenon for over 20 years. It was written by J.K. Rowling and the main series consists of seven novels – Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone (1997), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003), Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2005) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007). This has since been supplemented by a play, a spin-off movie series and number of short-stories and reference books that further expand the world.

Unlike the previous summer, Harry has found that he has not been left to wallow in his misery. In the aftermath of the battle at the Ministry of Magic, it is not long before Dumbledore comes to Privet Drive to ask for his assistance. It soon becomes apparent that he is necessary to convince an elderly teacher by the name of Horace Slughorn to return to Hogwarts, though Harry isn’t entirely certain why this is important at all in the greater scheme of things. Every day, Voldemort’s Death Eaters seem to be becoming bolder and people who defy them are meeting unpleasant ends.

On the way back to Hogwarts, Harry becomes suspicious that Draco Malfoy may have an inside knowledge of what the Dark Lord is planning. However, no one else seems to share his concerns. They only see Malfoy as an arrogant teenage boy and just can’t accept that he would have anything to offer Voldemort. Yet Harry knows that Malfoy is hiding something and vows to keep a closer eye on his rival than ever before.

As the school year begins, Harry starts to have secret lessons with Dumbledore in which he learns more about Voldemort’s childhood. During these lessons, Dumbledore reveals the truth about Slughorn to Harry. Dumbledore believes that the professor once told a terrible secret to Voldemort and he needs Harry to discover exactly what that was. However, as Harry starts to get closer to Slughorn in his potions lessons, he stumbles across another mystery. An old potions book hidden in the classroom that has been annotated by a student who seems to know more about the subject than his teacher and has a definite malicious streak. A student that goes by the name of the Half Blood Prince…

If you read my review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, you’ll probably remember that I was a little bit disappointed by it. The book was overly long and bogged down by Harry’s soul-crushing angst. However, I am happy to say that I did enjoy reading Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince a lot more.

I was worried at first about how hard the death of Sirius would hit Harry. The young hero spent a majority of the previous book lamenting for Cedric, and the two of them hardly knew each other. Sirius, on the other hand, was Harry’s godfather. Although they only met at the end of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the two had been in regular correspondence and Harry looked up to him as a father figure. This seemed like a much worthier focus for Harry’s grief, yet mercifully was brushed away very early in the story.

Due to this, the rest of the novel had a much more optimistic feel. There was nothing quite as grim as the tyrannical rule of Dolores Umbridge and the school year ran fairly smoothly until the final battle in the astronomy tower. However, there is still a darker undercurrent to the story. Although Hogwarts is still protected, it rapidly becomes clear that outside the walls lies chaos. Every day, Harry and his friends scour the Daily Prophet to ensure that their loved ones are safe, and students are frequently whisked away from class to be told that their family members have been found dead.

Yet, despite its portentous tone, I did find that Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince was a lot easier to read than its precursor. While it is still a pretty hefty novel, it benefited from being significantly shorter than the previous book. This enabled it to find its feet a lot faster and thus had a much smoother flow. While it did seem to drag out certain plot elements more than they needed to be (for example, there is no adequate reason why Dumbledore could not just tell Harry everything in their first lesson), it did do a much better job of balancing out daily school life with Harry’s growing destiny.

In the second half of the story, the novel became very difficult to put down. As Harry learns the terrible truth about what a Horcrux is and how it is created, it soon becomes clear that the final book will focus on his mission to render Voldemort mortal (and thus killable) by hunting down all the hidden pieces of his soul. This actually amounts to some pretty satisfying character development for Harry as we see him wrestling with his destiny. Does he actually want to follow a path that will force him to battle the most terrible Dark Wizard of all time, and does he actually have a choice in the matter? After all, Voldemort’s attempt to prevent the prophecy from coming to pass is what lead to his downfall.

Rowling also does a really decent job of tying up some loose ends in the series that I did not even realise where there. Through the plot device of the pensieve, we finally get a glimpse of what Voldemort was like at key moments of his life. These reveal things like the identity of his parents, the moment that he discovered that he was a wizard and, interestingly, the time he tried to get a teaching position at Hogwarts. Through these scenes, we slowly see what shaped him into the monster that he became. While it does not make him sympathetic, it does start to create a bigger picture that makes his motivation understandable and reveals that clues as to how he achieved immortality were laced through earlier instalments of the series.

Yet, while this plot device was very effective, others were less so. Felix Felicis – the liquid luck potion – is right up there with inconsistent nature of portkeys on the list of things that I have a real issue with in this series. It isn’t really luck, more liquid plot convenience. The fact that this exists at all is really problematic in this universe. What’s to stop the Death Eaters from brewing up a vast supply to ensure that all their crimes go unpunished? Yes, it’s difficult to make and has side effects but would that honestly stop Voldemort? The Death Eaters could all drink it and then try to apparate into Hogwarts. Victory!

The climax of the novel is fast-paced and as abruptly brutal as that of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It marks both the bleakest ending to one of the novels so far, and the most open. While it does, as always, bring to close the school year and reveal the slightly unsurprising identity of the Half Blood Prince, it is also somewhat open-ended as it breaks off as Harry fully accepts his destiny and sets off to finish what Dumbledore began. Yet, as dramatic as this is, there were still some elements of the final chapters that I found to be heavy-handed. Harry does not witness a lot of the climatic battle that occurs between the Order and the Death Eaters as, after Dumbledore’s death, he immediately chases after Snape. Due to this, the chapter in which the Weasleys, Lupin and Hermione relate this back to him was a little too repetitive and full of exposition.

In terms of character, the novel was as strong as always. Harry, Ron and Hermione all feel as though they are starting to come of age at last and therefore are paying a lot more attention to members of the opposite sex, which forms a lot of the plot between Harry’s lessons with Dumbledore. While Harry’s sudden attraction to Ginny seems to come largely out of left field, the evolution of Hermione and Ron’s relationship feels very natural. The only real shock that their budding romance holds in this novel is the love triangle with Lavender Brown. The length of time that Ron remains this limpet is truly horrifying.

I also very much liked the addition of Horace Slughorn to the cast of teachers, as he shows a very different side to the Slytherin house. While the Slytherins that we have met to date have been, generally, elitist fascists, Slughorn represents another aspect that ambition can take. He is the kind of person who likes to feel important by association, believing that he has been instrumental in famous people getting to where they are in life and that they still revere him because of this. However, it is clear to the reader that he is really only deluding himself as he is unable to perceive the fact that he is a lonely old man. Although he is a deeply flawed character, he is very easy to sympathise with and thus is oddly likeable.

Malfoy also gains a great deal of development in this story, as he drastically changes over the course of the novel. Initially, he brags to his friends about the fact that he is now a Death Eater but it’s clear that the enormity of the task that he has been set is gradually destroying him. By the end of the story, he has become a shadow of his former self – cowed, stressed and constantly afraid. Although Voldemort never appears in person in the novel, this is one of the best examples of the terrible power that he has over his followers.

The only character that I still find to be detestable is Dumbledore. It is clear in this story that he has his own agenda and his inability to share anything of value with Harry is incredibly frustrating. The fact that he is grooming a teenage boy to do battle against a sub-human monster is horrifying, and his constant manipulation still makes me wonder why he seems to be so revered within the wizarding world. At his funeral, even Harry is gobsmacked by how many minor characters from the previous books turn up to show their respect. Given how much casual disregard this man seems to have for Harry’s life, it’s a wonder that Hogwarts does not have more fatalities.

Anyhow, this review is now getting incredibly long so I think I’d better wrap it up. My issues with this novel are pretty minor and I was pleased to find that it was actually one of the stronger instalments of the series so far. The lines have now been drawn for the final battle and we will return to Hogwarts in about six months when the time comes to post my 500th review!

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook & Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

3 Comments (+add yours?)

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