Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Harry Potter #6). By J.K. Rowling

Nine stars

The Harry Potter experience has definitely taken a darker turn in this penultimate official book, as Harry is laying the groundwork for his final clash with Lord Voldemort. If ever there was a need, the reader ought to pay close attention to comprehend all the plotlines that J.K. Rowling offers, as things inch towards something truly chilling. Rowling continues to outdo herself, as readers push into the climactic point of the entire series. Perfect for those who have waited for major development and sinister happenings, with no happy ending in sight!

Harry’s preparation for Sixth Year is overshadowed by the death of Sirius Black, which has left him feeling morose and completely lost. Between bouts of sadness and anger, Harry vows to destroy Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Harry is again able to leave the confines of the Dursley household early when Dumbledore arrives to take him on an adventure that includes persuading former professor, Horace Slughorn, to come out of retirement and return to Hogwarts.

Harry’s return to school includes news that he is the Quidditch Team Captain, which comes with significant responsibility. While engaging with friends and faculty, Harry, Ron, and Hermione discover that Professor Snape is no longer teaching Potions, but has finally been offered Defense Against the Dark Arts, ready to bury his senior students at the NEWT level. If there is a silver lining, Harry is also offered private tutelage by Dumbledore to help explore all aspects related to Voldemort’s past. Dumbledore hopes that this may offer Harry an advantage in his upcoming clash with the Dark Lord.

Unprepared to have been allowed to take NEWT level Potions, Harry does not have the text. He’s given a mysterious book previously owned by the Half-Blood Prince, one that has alternative and advanced means to create powerful elixirs. While many are impressed with Harry’s abilities, he grows highly dependent on the information in the book and finds himself using his new knowledge on school grounds, to the dismay of some.

Draco Malfoy has become even more reclusive, something that Harry does not fail to notice. Harry is sure Draco has replaced his father as part of the dark side, keeping a close eye him and his antics. Harry surmises Malfoy is helping Voldemort in his preparations, but can prove little. These speculations do little to help Harry’s cause, though others have noticed that Draco seems even more suspicious.

Harry and Ron are both struck with the love bug (with the help of some potions), though the former’s choice is surely a girl who is off-limits. How will Harry explain to Ron that younger sister, Ginny is the apple of his eye? To distract himself, Harry turns to his lessons with Dumbledore, which includes a mission to obliterate a horcrux, which contains a part of Voldemort’s soul and will surely weaken the Dark Lord, in the coming final clash.

The latter portion of the novel brings much to the table, especially after Harry departs with Dumbledore. Malfoy’s dark plot finally comes to fruition and Hogwarts is pushed to a state of panic. The Order of the Phoenix enlists the help of some students to push back against the unwanted attackers, with no clear understanding of who will come out victorious. Even when Harry and Dumbledore return, all is not entirely safe, as the dark plot has gained momentum and the two strongest wizards find themselves trapped at the hands of a Voldemort supporter. There is much yet to come and the book teeters on the understanding that good versus evil doesn’t always yield a positive outcome, though Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s friendship may be the strongest bond left at Hogwarts!

This series continues to get better, as J.K. Rowling offers her readers more complex stories that have deeper undertones. While things have moved away from the humerous, there is still a great deal for the attentive and patient reader to enjoy, given the time and effort. Some have said these books are “fit for kids”, but it is truly the closed-minded individual who dishes that out without getting deep into the series to see for themselves. I was once in that camp, but have seen the light.

Harry Potter’s role as protagonist is but one of the hats he is forced to wear. With the weight of goodness on his shoulders, Harry must also be the hero who fends off Lord Voldemort as they prepare to battle one final time. Harry cannot turn away from this, but tries his best to also be the teenager he is, finding ways not to do homework and to feel the impact of love. Harry has moved from being a scarred, young boy to a figure that holds the future in the palm of his hand, something that Rowling surely meant all along. Series fans with see the growth, as well as some of the stumbles along the way. Harry’s passion has matured, as has his depth, though there is still a naïveté that cannot be discounted by attentive readers. What awaits the reader (and Harry) in the final formal novel is sure to be impactful and troubling at the same time.

Rowling develops her supporting characters in such a way that some who were in the background have risen to more prominent roles. Series fans who have chosen their favourites may see some added depth to those names that are peppered throughout the series, as well as some new faces crafted just for this book. Rowling never skimps on strong development and the story permits many characters to add their own spin on the narrative, which surely adds depth when needed to push the story along.

This was the most complex of all the novels to date, understandably so. Thre is so much going on over each chapter and the plots get slightly convoluted, even with the end goal being quite clear. Harry has matured to the point that he must ‘sink or swim’ as the saying goes, while others around him show true colours and sentiments. While not the longest of the novels, it is surely the most mentally consuming, in my humble opinion. I could not allow myself a moment to rest as I tried to make sense of the threads left in one part of the novel that needed tying off later. This is the sign of a strong author, who leaves it all out there and hopes the reader can compute and discern some of the narrative nuances.

It would seem that since the Ministry of Magic has been handled, it is time to focus on the true good versus evil, that being Potter vs. Voldemort. Many of the series’ themes lead up to this clash, forcing the reader to use their memories and refer to past comments, as well as a handful of clues. Now, it is time to prep for war, as it were, while getting some insight into how both ‘men’ got to this point. Some will be triumphant and others will fall to the wayside. Soldiers on both sides of battle are revealed, some of whom may surprise the reader. In the end, this novel lays the final bit of foundation before it all comes to a dazzling and disastrous conclusion. I cannot wait to see who’s left when I turn that final page!

Kudos, Madam Rowling, for keeping me enthralled throughout. This is how a series should build and take readers through a literary (and literal) maturation!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons