The Ickabog, by J.K. Rowling

Eight stars

Whatever you think of her, J.K. Rowling is back with another story aimed at her younger readers. This is not Hogwarts and there are not Quidditch matches, but the piece works well as a fairytale, albeit slight grim (or, shall I say, Grimm) at times as well. Rowling pulls together a great story in which many children can find enjoyment (and those who are younger at heart), as it adds some of the traditional world of knights and kingdoms to a meaningful tale. Well-paced for the intended reading audience and entertaining enough for me.

Life in the Kingdom of Cornucopia is splendid for many, ruled by a happy, if not eccentric, King Fred. Many of the inhabitants are pleased and show it through their creation of lovely foods and the area’s vast riches. King Fred is pleased to see how happy everyone is and does all he can to keep his subjects pleased, which makes for peace within all the land. The king’s positive outlook is helped along by two sycophants who use flattery to ensure all flows smoothly and with ease.

However, not everything is wonderful in Cornucopia. Those who live near the northern Marshlands are very poor and have taken to concocting a story about a monster called the Ickabog. This creature apparently resides in the marshes and eats sheep, as well as the occasional person. King Fred vows to take action against this creature, which will cement his place in the history books. King Fred leads his Royal Guard along to hunt down this creature, which will end the mythical stories and ensure that Cornucopia turns to him as their fearless leader.

As a thick fog envelops them, King Fred insists to his men that the Ickabog lurks just beyond their sight. A skirmish ensues and one of the men is shot, but Fred refuses to admit that it was human error and returns to his throne with the concocted idea that the Ickabog is to blame. Fred is paralyzed with fear and grief, leaving him to hide away and let others run the kingdom.

Working on the fear of the others, one man pushes the myth to the limits and begins creating stories of Ickabog attacks, as well as pushing a new tax to ‘defend’ the kingdom, all the while pocketing much of the money for himself. This leaves the locals on edge and poor, which stirs up resentment and added worry. As the myth story grows, some locals decide to take matters into their own hands and reveal the truth behind the Ickabog once and for all. It may not be easy, but it is surely something worth exploring, if truth still matters in Cornucopia.

While some appear to have created a boycott on Rowling because of a character in one of her books, I won’t stick my head in the sand and let vapid accusations distract from the heart of the matter; I picked up this book, to read and enjoy. Like the underlying premise of the piece, there is something that people are stirring up to start a movement, but it’s surely being blown out of proportion, for those readers who seek a story to escape. Believe what you will about a character in a book, but leave your social tar and feather pots at home when reading enjoyment is the name of the game.

While the story was aimed at a younger audience, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The piece was not overly juvenile and kept me entertained throughout, offering up some great moments of intrigue and suspense. The fairytale nature of the piece gave it a mystical flavouring, with a peppering of some darker and more violent action, which parallels those tales children have had diluted to make them more palatable. Rowling does well with that and keeps the reader involved throughout.

There was most definitely a strong plot and well-paced characters in this piece. It is harder for me to properly analyze it, as I am so used to books geared towards the older crowd. Even the Potter series sought to instil a deeper storyline and meaning, though Rowling does well to keep her readers engaged. With wonderful artwork by young children, the story pops off the page and can be read repeatedly, as I am sure myths of the Ickabog were told over and over to young children.

Kudos, Madam Rowling, for a great piece. Whatever your haters say, just write and those of us who are interested in a story will be back, while people will too much time on their hands (and no enjoyment of reading) can paint placards of their own.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Tales of Beedle the Bard, by J.K. Rowling

Eight stars

To come full circle in my J.K. Rowling/Harry Potter reading adventure, I sought to look back at some of the tales that young witches and wizards might have heard in their childhood. Many of these pieces are referred to throughout the Harry Potter stories, at least in passing, though I chose to take some time to explore them a little further. With the help of Hermione Granger—who translated them from runes—and Albus Dumbledore—whose commentary provided a mere Muggle like myself with some context—I was able to make my way through these short pieces with relative ease. I can only hope others are as successful.

Beedle the Bard is a master storyteller, whose pieces serve to offer entertainment to the young reader. While some stories are delightfully fun, such as The Wizard and the Hopping Pot, others are much darker and full of spooky narrative twists. One might refer to The Tale of the Three Brothers to see something that might not be as inviting for bedtime reading. The five tales found in this collection offer not only highly imaginative stories that beg the reader/listener to conjure up images of what is being recounted, but also provide strong morals needed to shape the mind of the young. These are tales whose impact deepens the more they are read and one can hope Beedle knew this when putting quill to parchment.

As is noted in the introduction, this collection parallels what Muggles might call favoured fairy tales. Much like the tales that are told to young humans, there is a sanitised version for the younger reader, as well as the true version Beedle authored for full impact. Think of the Brothers Grimm and their gruesome depictions that are known to Muggles only when they grow up, if ever. The impact of the morals are significant to the open minded reader, as is the curiosity of those who paid close attention in all the Harry Potter stories and seek some context. Before undertaking the translation efforts, Hermione was as clueless as Harry about these pieces, having surpassed the knee height of a grasshopper outside the wizarding world. While Neo has yet to read these five tales, I will encourage him to do so and hope that he will draw from them something long-lasting. The Dumbledore commentary is essential for Muggles to better comprehend the piece and serves as a great contextual guide to obtain the full meaning. Brilliantly authored!

Kudos, Madam Rowling and Bard Beedle, for providing a lowly Muggle with some better understanding of a world I have only seen through eight Potter stories that span twenty-six glorious years!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts One and Two (Harry Potter #8), by Jack Thorne (with input from J.K. Rowling and John Tiffany)

Eight stars

Having completed the seven novels in the Harry Potter series, I sought a little extra Potter-ing. I turned to the controversial (by some) eighth story in the series, which has its beginnings in the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Some call this blasphemy and a piece of fan fiction that tries to line the pockets of a few. While I will permit those folks to suck on the lemons and lick their theatrical wounds, I dove in to see how this piece might be developed for the stage, penned by Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, with the support and guidance of J.K. Rowling. Working with a new generation of Hogwarts students and some additional drama from the past, the story seems to work well and offers Potter fans some insights into how things turned out and what struggles remain. Sit back and enjoy, though reading (or listening) to this may force the brain through some somersaults, as it is in script form. Then again, this should be easy for Potter fans, as it’s a literary format Muggles can digest with ease!

Taking place two decades after the reader last saw their favourite characters, the piece begins at King’s Cross Station. Here, the next generation of Potter, Granger, and Weasley children are headed off to Hogwarts. Albus Potter and Rose Granger-Weasley prepare for their first year, eager to see what awaits them. Albus worries about which House he will be delegated to, though others are sure that the answer is a foregone conclusion. On the ride, Albus befriends Scorpius Malfoy, the son of Draco, which proves interesting for fans of the Harry Potter series.

At the annual ceremony, Scorpius is sent Slytherin, as is Albus Potter, a shock to everyone. Rose follows the family tradition and ends up a Gryffindor, continuing the familial magical aptitude. Due to whispers of a Malfoy progenation issue, Scorpius is rumoured to be the offspring of the Dark Lord, through a mysterious time-travel capability, thus earning him unsubstantiated vilification.

Draco Malfoy is also tormented these rumors and asks Harry Potter for a statement that all time-turners have all been destroyed. Harry, holding a high bureaucratic position in the Ministry of Magic, cannot offer concrete reassurances and receives a visit by Amos Diggory and his niece Delphi. They ask Harry to use a time-turner and save Cedric, the Hogwarts student who died at the Triwizard tournament after being an innocent victim of Lord Voldemort. Again, Harry is non-committal, though the issue does pique his interest.

During a school holiday, Albus and Harry argue about former’s difficulties at school. Fuelled by a gift that Albus feels is both useless and empty, Harry admits something that is painful to the younger Potter. Soon thereafter, Harry’s scar begins to hurt for the first time since the death of the Dark Lord almost twenty years before.

Albus and Scorpius learn of the Diggory plea and agree to help them by using a time-turner. They promise to visit the Triwizard Tournament and stop Cedric from dying. After sneaking into the Ministry offices, they steal a time-turner and plan to sabotage Cedric, thereby ensuring he cannot make it to the final round.

Harry and Draco discover the boys outside Hogwarts after their first trip to the past, as the time-turner has a limited usage time. Learning of their plan, Harry senses evil around Albus and forbids him to have anything to do with the Malfoys, as it can only lead to new and horrible evils. It seems that no matter the generation, Hogwarts tends to show similarities in family trees.

After meddling with time, small changes in the present occur, from the elder generation marrying others, to different employment, and even an altered reality that sees Harry Potter having lost the battle with Voldemort. Scorpius visits Severus Snape, who is still alive in this narrative. Through use of the time-turner, Snape can rectify the changes made at the Triwizard Tournament, though new horrors occur when the Scorpius returns to the new present.

Scorpius learns his lesson and seeks to destroy the time-turner once and for all. He takes it to Delphi but her true parentage is finally revealed, which sends shockwaves through many. Another travel back to the Triwizard Tournament seeks to use Cedric to help ensure that Voldemort is able to cement his power over everyone, though something goes wrong and Delphi must make a drastic decision.

After Delphi takes the boys to an unknown time, they discover that she has plans to deal with baby Harry Potter, ensuring that he is killed alongside his parents. Worried, Albus and Scorpius send a message through time, in hopes that Harry and the others will discover it in time and can save them.

When the elders arrive back in time, they lure Delphi away from the younger boys, tricking her and forcing an admission as to her parentage, which puts the entire narrative into perspective. A powerful duel occurs and Harry is forced to battle the forces of evil once again, all to save his family and the world from another evil-doer. Will Potter have it in him again to confront those who would harm his world?

This is definitely a less intense piece, after some of the latter novels really caught me in a web of despair. While Neo and I have enjoyed all eight movies based on the novels, I was intrigued to see how this would be presented on stage (or cinematically). New characters and returning themes pepper this piece, which adds depth to an already exciting Rowling series. As I mention above, some dislike the play and seek to smear it, but it’s best to let them whinge, so they feel validated. I have tried to keep an open mind and enjoy it, which I did. It may not be as powerful as most of the Rowling novels, but one cannot live solely in black and white without expecting to keep one’s head stuck in grey clouds!

The entire cast of this piece offer the reader something exciting and the opportunity to think outside the box. From the new Potter lead through to some of the melting of frigid pasts between the Potters and Malfoys, the story offers newness and some wonderful twists that series fans may not have expected. I enjoyed how this was developed, yet not completely erasing the past differences between Harry and Draco. There are many characters who return from the novels, but also a slew of new ones in which the reader can find new attachments. As mentioned before, to see how they would present themselves on the stage intrigues me even more. Heck, I would love to see more adventures from them, though the Potter traditionalists would likely have a coronary.

I enjoyed the narrative as it developed throughout this piece, able to see progress in the plot without having to suspend what I know about the Potter series too much. There were moments of intrigue, of entertainment, and even of pulling the past drama into the current era. Working with some degree of fantasy, the writers kept throwing the reader something new and exciting. I’d read more, be their stage plays, short stories, or even full novels. I enjoyed how things were balanced throughout the four acts and can only hope that Rowling would authorise it. Her current literary issues could surely use a distraction.

Kudos, Messrs. Tiffany and Thorne, for allowing me to see a new perspective of the Potter world. Don’t let the haters get to you, as they are more than likely Muggles who just don’t understand.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, by Newt Scamander (J.K. Rowling)

Eight stars

Having read the seven (formal) novels in the Harry Potter series, I decided to take a moment and peruse some of the ‘textbooks’ that are mentioned throughout the series and have been published for us Muggles to read. J.K. Rowling has done this and presented an exceptionally well-developed short piece. Mostly tongue-in-cheek, Rowling offers her readers something interesting to complement the stories in the Potter series, while also shining some light on many of the creatures who grace the various pages of the Harry Potter tomes.

Newt Scamander has penned fifty-two editions of this text for use at the various wizarding and witchcraft institutions over the years. He seeks not only to offer the reader a better understanding of what a beast might be (as opposed to a being), but also differentiate them from one another. With the largest section being dedicated to listing many of the beasts that wizards and witches might encounter, Scamander provides the reader with an understanding of their habitat, level of danger, and a brief history, wherever possible. While this is a textbook, the writing is fairly intriguing and would be of much use to those who were attentive throughout the Harry Potter novels.

Kudos, Madam Rowling, for this insightful (and humour-filled) piece. While I do not review textbooks, I could not help but add my few cents to this piece.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Harry Potter #7), by J. K. Rowling

Nine stars

As we enter the final formal novel in the series, J.K. Rowling takes readers on an adventure like no other. This is the plot line that series fans have been waiting to see play out over six previous novels. Harry Potter prepares for his final clash with Lord Voldemort, where only one can survive. Good versus Evil if ever there was a clear and symbolic interaction. Rowling develops a story unlike the previous pieces, where a scholastic year serves as the story’s undertone. Rather, this book reads more like a journey from a fantasy novel, with various creatures met along the way, precious items are discovered, and an epic battle proves to be the climatic moment in the narrative. Full of action and sorrow, Rowling does not skimp out here and keeps her fans glued to the page until the final sentence is done, but even then it lingers!

After a long time waiting, Harry can finally see the age of seventeen before him. After the numerous calamities from the end of the Sixth Year, Harry is ready to fulfil the prophecy and will begin a journey to defeat Lord Voldemort, protecting good from the clutches of his evil ways. After those troublesome Durselys reluctantly agree to go into hiding, keeping the Death Eaters from preying on them, Harry sets off with Ron and Hermione to locate some of the other horcruxes about which Dumbledore spoke before his murder. The desctruction of these horcruxes is the only way to ensure that Voldemort can be killed once and for all.

After a plan to get Harry to safety by using a number of doppelgängers goes awry, there is some doubt if it is all worth it. However, there is no second-guessing the plan and the three forge ahead. If tackling the quest were not enough, rumours about Dumbledore’s past emerge in a tell-all biography that offers more dirt than glory for Hogwarts’ former headmaster. Harry begins to wonder just how well he knew the man and whether there was a dark side to him that was shielded. There are many pitfalls and struggler that Ron, Hermione, and Harry face, which leads to struggles and painful realizations. Ron’s temper is frayed when he feels he’s been duped and he flees, returning home.

Harry and Hermione are crestfallen that their closest friend has abandoned them and seek answers in Godric’s Hollow. Voldemort almost obliterates them there, leaving the two to feel as though the Dark Lord is anticipating their every move. What’s worse, Harry’s wand is broken in the skirmish, leaving them without proper protection at the worst possible moment. There’s little left to protect these two, other than their wits, which are growing shorter by the moment.

Weeks later, another clash takes place and Harry is almost killed. His savour is none other than an apologetic Ron, who arrives just in time. Using Gryffindor’s sword, the three are able to destroy another horcrux and they become enlightened about the provenance of a mysterious trio of magical objects called the Deathly Hallows. Anyone who possesses all three items is said to ‘own’ death, which may be one way to guarantee defeating Voldemort. However, it is not as easy as it sounds, something to which Harry has become accustomed over the last while.

While Harry inches closer to an ultimate clash, he realises that he may have to sacrifice everything to save others. As heroic as it sounds, it is rare for someone of seventeen to sober to this so easily. Will Harry agree to die in order to save others? Can he stomach a life without himself around, even if it means Voldemort dies as well? Dumbledore’s prophecies all come together and Harry must soldier on, forgetting what others have said. A chance encounter with a spirit form of Dumbledore opens Harry’s mind to new truths.

The final standoff is set, with Harry and Voldemort facing off. No others can interfere and there is little that can be solved by talking. Harry has made his choice, for his friends, his family, and himself. Death no longer scares him, if it means others can rest peacefully. It’s time for a spell like no other… and perhaps some luck from Merlin’s beard!

This series definitely increased in its intensity as things progressed. J.K. Rowling offers her readers something that is less a story in this final novel, but more of an epic adventure that pushes the series into the realm of fantasy (not that it was teetering before). The complex nature of this story shows a deeper set of themes that the mature reader will readily understand. A friend of mine commented that Rowling definitely wrote these latter novels with the expectation that her reader had matured, as Harry did, and would be able to comprehend the nuances. While I am not sure Neo caught some of it, I know he appreciated the action and detail, as he spoke with me about it once I had read enough not to hush him.

Harry Potter retains the role of protagonist, but is also the ‘good’ for all that can be found within this book. With this on his shoulders, Harry must come to terms with the realization that he is the only one who can fend off Lord Voldemort. Like a teenage Jesus, Harry cannot turn away from this fate, even if he questions it from time to time. Harry has moved from being a young boy with a mysterious scar to the only thing left to save the world from the clutches of evil. As dramatic as it sounds, series fans will likely agree as they synthesise the growth Harry has made along the way. Still, there are moments of teenage ‘normalcy’ as he urns for love and acceptance, as well as wanting to turn away and let someone else handle the heavy lifting.

Rowling has developed her supporting characters throughout the series, allowing the reader to choose those they favour and hiss and the folks that are best left outside the tent. However, in an epic novel such as this, it is time to cull the herd, so to say. While Rowling injects as much magic into them as she can with her written word, she also leaves some to perish and forced the reader to process this for themselves. There are many faces who have made an impact who return, almost in a cameo manner, and Rowling flavours the narrative with their interactions. Series fans will likely revel in all that is provided here, though there will surely be some whose passing will not be readily accepted by the larger reading community.

This was a highly complex and multilayered novel, understandably so. There is a general journey theme that serves as a story arc, but also smaller revelations in each chapter. Plot lines merge or blur, depending on what Rowling wants to do, but the final goal is clear throughout. Harry’s maturation comes to a head and the final battle will surely draw clear lines.

Easily the most mentally consuming of all the novels, I could not allow myself a moment to rest as I tried to make sense of the threads that weave together. The younger reader is soon sobered to truths that things are not always going to be positive, where good is sure to triumph over evil. That being said, there is a ray of hope, albeit faint at times.

Rowling has waited until the seventh novel to really pull out all the stops. The symbolism of Good versus Evil is not lost on many, though I am sure some would have liked something a tad more nuanced. It is war and Harry must realise that Voldemort is not one to stand down, but to rectify what he family to do on Hallowe’en night 1981. Rowling dazzles with her intricate narrative that weaves together a strong story and provides countless adventures in well-developed chapters. I cannot say enough about the piece and am pleased to have undertaken this reading challenge. While the formal books and done and I have a sense of where things have gone, there’s still a stage-play, a Book 8, to conquer. I will return to audio for that, as I am not sure I could wait to find a production of it.

Kudos, Madam Rowling, for keeping me enthralled throughout. I’ve loved this journey, as it brought me closer to my son, some of my dearest friends, and helped me tap into a part of myself I never knew existed.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

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:

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Harry Potter #5), by J.K. Rowling

Nine stars

The Harry Potter experience has little time for rest and relaxation, with this fifth book in the series. Things take a significant turn towards the dark and eerie, yet the story remains captivating as magic politics takes centre stage. What began with a boy wizard has become a fight for survival with the evil Voldemort appearing in strange and mysterious ways throughout the piece, even as many deny his presence. The reader will have to pay close attention to connect with all the plotlines that J.K. Rowling offers, though the dedication does not go unrewarded. Rowling surely has outdone herself here as readers push into what might be called the ‘maturation’ of the series, no longer short books that rely solely on humour. Perfect for those who want something more adventurous and without the guarantee of a happy ending!

Harry has again been forced into a state of boredom all summer long. Still stuck living with the Dursleys, Harry must bide his time and hope the days pass quickly before it’s time to return to Hogwarts. While out one evening, Harry and his cousin, Dudley, are set upon by Dementors. Harry does the only thing he can think to do and accesses his magical capabilities, in direct violation of Ministry of Magic regulations. Harry is forced to attend a disciplinary hearing when his actions are made known, one that could cost him a spot at Hogwarts during his important Fifth Year!

After an intense process, Harry is exonerated, but not before he learns of a secret society, the Order of the Phoenix. Created by his headmaster, Dumbledore, the Order is currently housed in the home of Sirius Black, who remains wanted by the Ministry. Harry’s eyes are opened to the inner workings of wizardry and the politics that keeps the Ministry of Magic at arm’s length.

Harry’s return to Hogwarts brings a great deal of change. Not only is it Fifth Year, but the OWL exams await students, a set of tests that help streamline further educational and career aspirations. Plus, a new professor has joined the faculty, Delores Umbridge, who has strong ties to the Ministry. While Ron and Hermione are eager to see what the year brings, an ominous cloud hangs over Harry, not to mention the constant ache of his forehead scar.

While Harry tells anyone who will listen that he had a run-in with Voldemort, many follow the Ministry line and deny that it happened, choosing to consider that Harry and Dumbledore are mad and seeking to steal the limelight. Leading the denials is Delores Umbridge, who does all in her power to break Harry down in secretive and destructive ways. The reader discovers the pains Harry must endure at the hands of Umbridge, who appears to be power hungry herself.

As the Ministry of Magic seeks to put Hogwarts in its place, they nominate Professor Umbridge as High Inquisitor, allowing her to vet and remove any on the teaching faculty deemed out of line. Umbridge is also given the iron fist to bring the students in line, putting Harry in her crosshairs from Day One. Harry and Umbridge clash repeatedly, which eventually leads to a monumental decision that could ruin Fifth Year.

Through a series of secret communications, Harry tries to explain himself to Sirius, who offers support but cannot come to the aid of his godson as effectively as he would like. Harry does the only thing he can do, rallying students who feel the squeeze of the High Inquisitor. The creation of Dumbledore’s Army is a protest movement that will pit Harry against the Ministry in a standoff like no other. Things go so far that one senior member of Hogwarts will have to pay the price.

As the OWLs approach, Harry must juggle his studies, his ongoing romantic interest in one of his fellow students, and a series of dark dreams that he cannot fully comprehend. He receives help from a completely unexpected source to help block his mind from the powers that Voldemort appears to be trying to push. The scar aches repeatedly, which can only mean that evil awaits, though no one is entirely sure when or how!

As Umbridge takes further control at Hogwarts, it is an epic battle over the future of the institution, as well as a clash of good versus evil. Harry and Voldemort are destined to collide, which could end badly for everyone. With Hogwarts in shambles, Harry can only hope that he will be able to wrest control back to the good side, or face likely expulsion for good. Then again, if he’s dead, school won’t matter at all!

J.K. Rowling offers her readers, young and old alike, a story full of excitement and thrills on every page. As usual, there are nuances that appeal to various reading levels, making the story highly intriguing.

Harry Potter retains the protagonist role, always maturing and finding new way to show this to the attentive reader. There are moments of significant backstory to offer, should the reader be paying close attention between the action-filled narrative in the present. Rowling again addresses the scar and its symbolism, providing more for the reader who has surely come with more questions. The reader gets another look at the personal side of Harry’s life, talking about his romantic interests as a more regular concern. Balancing that with an important school year provides needed depth for Harry’s character. With added struggles related to Voldemort, Harry proves to be one character who refuses to turn stagnant. The reader also sees the morose side of Harry Potter, especially in the final section of the novel.

Rowling continues providing strong supporting characters for her readers, both individuals present throughout the entire series and those whose one-off status was specifically designed for this novel. The ever-evolving aspect of the story permits Rowling to add new perspectives to Hogwarts and focus on an ever-growing group of humans and creatures alike. There is some development in a handful of the characters, which helps contrast alongside the advancements that Harry makes and permits readers to see growth in their favourites.

This was another of the ‘truly complex novels’, books that exceed the basics of what I would expect Neo might want to handle. However, he has been devouring them with relative ease. This was the longer of all the books, but it needed every pages to hash out some of the more complicated plot lines that could not have effectively been divided over a few novels. I can only hope that this does/did not scare some readers away, as there is such an attachment to a number of the characters that can develop for the dedicated and attentive reader.

The book uses a strong narrative to push it along and leaves the reader wanting more with every chapter. Much is revealed in relation of the Ministry of Magic and some of its more nefarious plans, as well as the darker side of the Potter-Voldemort clashes. Both of these appear to be essential to understanding the larger story arc that Rowling injects into the narrative. I can see many of the truths unveiled in this book are to be important parts as the series progresses, so I am trying to stay alert. Longer chapters help build a deeper story and entertaining the eager reader. I cannot wait to see what awaits me in the final few novels, as Harry surely is not done learning about himself, his family, and his role in the larger Hogwarts/Ministry struggles.

Kudos, Madam Rowling, another stellar piece of writing. I cannot wait to see what else you have for your reading fans.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter #4), by J. K. Rowling

Nine stars

The Potter adventures continue in a series that keeps outdoing itself with each novel I read. What began as an interesting story about a boy wizard has me completely hooked and demanding more as I delve deeper into the darker side of magic. J. K. Rowling does a masterful job at penning a story that has something for everyone, in her first story that really expands on the foundation she has laid and develops things into a much more thorough storytelling adventure that will test the determination of any reader, young or old. Some have said it is the best of the series. Based on the novels I have read to date, I must concur. Newer fans of the Harry Potter series, I can only hope you are ready for an adventure of a lifetime, as Rowling pushes you headlong into an abyss you will enjoy exploring.

It’s the summer before Fourth Year and Harry has been counting down the days until he can leaver the Dursley house and return to Hogwarts. However, his friends, the Weasleys, have a surprise for him before he hits the books. Mr. Weasley has secured a handful of tickets to the finals of the Quidditch World Cup. This means an early departure from his family who hate him and the chance to see the best athletes in the Quidditch world.

While the game is all that Harry and the many other fans could have hoped it would be, Voldemort and his Death Eaters make an appearance, causing havoc to everyone in attendance. Harry grows quite concerned and his ever-present scar aches, perhaps a sign that evil is on its way.

The return to school provides Harry, Ron, and Hermione with a new surprise when they learn that Hogwarts will be hosting the Triwizard Tournament; a competition between the three top wizarding schools across Europe: Hogwarts, Durmstrang, and Beauxbatons. Difficult challenges that promise to test the skill and daring of a ‘school champion’ from each scholastic establishment will provide some camaraderie, but also could prove deadly, if past tournaments are any indication.

Students from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons arrive at the end of October, at which time eligible competitors place their name in the Goblet of Fire, hoping to be selected their school’s champion in a magical ceremony. While the three names chosen are strong students, the Goblet offers some suspense when Harry’s name is chosen as a fourth competitor, even though he is not of age. However, one cannot defy the Goblet of Fire and so he is permitted to compete. Who could have done this, and for what reason?

Ron is convinced Harry seeks praise and glory, sure that he’s tossed his name into the mix. This leads the best friends to stop speaking, putting Hermione in an awkward position as she tries to focus her attention on her school work and a new social movement involving House Trolls. Never one to shy away from controversy, Hermione pushes for their betterment, going against the grain of what much of wizardry has long accepted.

The Triwizard tournament’s first task requires champions to fight dragons, something that Harry discovers he can do with some ease. It would seem his Quidditch skills prove helpful in his success. The danger factor seems high enough that Ron realises that Harry would not have put himself in harm’s way voluntarily. The boys are now convinced someone added the name to the Goblet to harm Harry.

Between competitions, the school year progresses and Harry finds himself in the middle of numerous headaches. A silver tongued (and quilled) journalist, Rita Skeeter, publishes gossipy articles about Harry and others that have many ramifications and cause a great deal of emotional pain to those who are outed. Harry can only hope that things will settle, though it would seem no one is off limits when it comes to smearing them and being fodder for whispered conversations.

The second task of the tournament is more daunting than the first. It involves collecting something from a lake filled with mer-people. Harry’s choice to be helpful almost costs him everything, though the judges see through his tardiness and award him high marks for his bravery. It would seem that Harry is well suited for the Triwizard Tournament, though there are still grumbles from other schools about his being an illegal competitor.

Sirius Black returns in secret to help protect his godson. This elates Harry, but only adds more pressure and concern, as Hogwarts could soon be the location of a deadly strike. It completely clear now that there is someone who wants Harry dead, but no one can yet identify the culprit.

It’s all down to the final task of the tournament, the most difficult of all the challenges. Harry is ready, but cannot have guessed who or what awaits him. A death shocks everyone who watches the tournament and Voldemort makes an appearance, hoping to regain much of the power he lost those years ago. Harry is vulnerable and this could mean the end to his time at Hogwarts, or worse… Mobilisation to combat the evil wizardry may be the only solution!

J.K. Rowling has done it again, offering her readers a highly entertaining story that is sure to keep readers of all ages talking long after they finish the book. The story is full of nuances that will appeal to different reading levels, making the story ‘pop’ no matter how much the reader understands of her hidden meanings.

Harry Potter reclaims the undisputed protagonist role in this story, maturing alongside his friends and fellow wizards as he tries to succeed during his fourth year of studies. While there is little backstory to offer, Harry’s past does become a part of his present and future, as Rowling addresses the scar and its symbolism a little more. The reader also gets to see a personal side of Harry, as romantic interests begin to play into his daily thoughts, while school is sometimes secondary or tertiary in importance. Perhaps teenage Harry will begin to emerge and offer a new flavouring for the upcoming novels, depending on how he is able to handle the struggles that Voldemort brings to the table.

Rowling continues to offer strong supporting characters for readers, from the key individuals who have been present throughout the series, to new or minor characters claiming some of the spotlight. The constant evolution of the story permits Rowling to expand the wizard world and keep her readers from getting bored. As someone told me when they heard I was beginning this book, “you’ll soon see that Hogwarts is only the tip of the wizarding iceberg”. How true that has come to be.

This was the first of the ‘truly complex novels’ in the series, books that exceed what I would expect Neo might want to handle. However, he devoured them with relative ease (thank goodness for audiobooks) and I can see Rowling needed every page to hash out some of the complex stories that bind this piece together. I am eager to see how things will keep progressing, as things are definitely getting more intricate and darker, which is sure to make for exciting reading.

The book relies on a strong narrative to push it along and peppers curiously interesting characters to leave the reader wanting to know more. Much is revealed in things as simple as dialogue exchanges, but it requires attention and dedication. I can only surmise that some of the breadcrumbs will be important as the series progresses, so I am trying to stay on top of all aspects of the piece, even if they seem trivial. Longer chapters prove necessary to jam-pack all the story without losing the theme that each presents to the eager reader. There are only a few moments when I was left scratching my head, minute details that readers who binge-read the series will likely notice over those who space out the book experience. I’ll see if it continues.

Kudos, Madam Rowling, another winner. I cannot wait to see what you have planned next and I want to get to it ASAP.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter #3), by J.K. Rowling

Eight stars

I’ll be the first to admit that I have caught Harry Potter Fever. It may not require isolation, but it sure does cause the reader to get the shakes when not able to read about Hogwarts and a cough develops when forced to talk about all things Muggles. Thankfully, I have many doses of needed medication to keep me going for the foreseeable future. I must thank Neo for this, as he keeps me occupied and points to the books when I begin to stray.

It will soon be time to get back to Hogwarts for Harry’s Third Year. However, first he must again suffer the trials and tribulations of time with his adoptive family, the Dursleys, who seek to shun him to no end. When his Aunt Marge is visiting and offers up another of her insults towards his family, Harry cannot hold back and some magic seeps out. Marge finds herself blown up and Harry flees in horror. He’s surely done it now.

As he makes his way out onto the streets alone, Harry is sure an expulsion awaits him when he arrives at school. He is met with something altogether more baffling, when a secret bus emerges on the road, one for wizards to use whenever they need. Harry discovers that he may have a way to get to Hogwarts and away from his ‘family’, if only long enough to plead his case. When news arrives that his antics with Aunt Marge will be forgiven by the Minister of Magic, Harry cannot believe his ears. He also learns that there is a mass murderer looking for him, one Sirius Black. It would seem that Black was a prisoner at the wizard’s penitentiary, Azkaban, but has been able to escape, the first to ever do so. Now Harry’s a little on edge and cannot believe what’s about to happen to him. All in a day’s work, he supposes!

When Harry arrives at school, sitting on the knowledge that he is in danger, he cannot help but share it with his friends, Ron and Hermione. Any chance of that being a secret is dashed when the school grounds are soon surrounded by Dementors, evil creatures that are more than happy to suck out your soul. Their sole purpose is to protect the students from Sirius Black, who could emerge at any time. Harry finds it particularly difficult to have the Dementors around, attributed to the violent past involving his parents, and promises that he will do whatever he can to protect himself. Aid comes in the form of a new professor, Lupin, who begins teaching Harry all about the Patronus Charm, a spell that will keep the Demetors at bay, at least for the time being.

When a focus on school and the mountains of homework assigned to them, Harry and Ron are baffled as to how Hermione is handling the pressure, especially with her burdensome courses and scheduling nightmare. To add to the stress, she and Ron are soon at odds when their respective pets begin fighting. This could cost Ron and Hermione their friendship, something Harry refuses to accept.

Armed with the Patronus Charm, Harry makes his way through the school year and is able to dodge many of Black’s attempts on his life. However, it is only when Harry discovers some sobering truths about those around him that the pieces of his past begin to fall into place. Ron’s trusty rat sidekick holds a secret power that no one saw coming, one that could put the Potter past into better perspective. Lord Voldemort and his evil ways come to the surface once again, putting Harry in the crosshairs and forced to come to terms with the fact that his parents suffered a horrible death.

This series is surely growing on me, as I seek to learn more with each book and share my findings with an eager Neo! It would seem that J.K. Rowling is able to craft a piece that has readers, young and old alike, pulling things out of the narrative and plots to entertain them. I just hope that this continues, as it has made for some wonderful conversations around the dinner table with my young Ravenclaw Ginger son!

Harry Potter remains central to the story, though he does not leave his best friends in the dust. Much is revealed about Harry and his past in this piece, as well as some needed development throughout his third year at Hogwarts. The attentive reader will continue to amass knowledge about the bespectacled Harry, as well as many of the new and exciting aspects of wizardry that await him. As with any strong series, Harry’s personality broadens as the chapters advance, hinting at more to come with the subsequent novels in the series.

Rowling offers strong supporting characters for all, including new aspects of Hermione’s studiousness and Ron’s ability to find trouble around every corner.

The central trio are joined by many returning pupils, with new faces to add more to the story for all to enjoy (or despise). Complex magic and unknown creatures emerge, giving the reader more to discover and will likely force them to keep a notepad at hand to keep everything straight (if others are anything like me!). I am left to wonder who amongst the new names will be one-off characters and which folks might make a permanent mark on Hogwarts as the series advances.

On the surface, the novels might seem geared towards the younger reader. However, J.K. Rowling writes so effectively and allows tidbits for everyone to feed their own enjoyment. Neo and I have already discussed various aspects of the book and found some unique perspectives that can be shared, adding to the enjoyment of the overall experience.

The story worked well for me yet again, leaving me wondering where the time went (a pun here, for those who have read this book). Rowling develops a strong narrative and interesting characters to keep me turning pages well into the night. The conversation topics might be geared towards the younger reader, but I have no complaints there whatsoever, as there are nuggets that I found humorous as well. The series seems to be moving into darker stories, which will surely add another layer to the experience. I just hope my House at Hogwarts is ready for the shift… any guesses which that might be?!

Kudos, Madam Rowling, for a great series that has me completely enthralled.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter #2), by J.K. Rowling

Eight stars

Returning for more fun, I am back to see what Harry and his friends have to offer in this second novel of the series. Still fairly light and entertaining, J.K. Rowling keeps the story on track, while tossing the odd flying broom, swooping owl, and Quidditch match to keep me on my toes.

After a long summer with his family, Harry Potter is eager to return to Hogwarts for Second Year. While the excitement builds amongst others as well, Harry receives an ominous visitor on his birthday. This elfin visitor hints strongly that Harry ought not return to school. A warning that Harry does not wish to ignore, but his excitement supersedes all else.

When Harry refuses to heed the warning, he finds himself in a great deal of trouble with his aunt and uncle, who lock him away for his attitude. Fearing the warning may indeed keep him back, Harry wonders how he will be able to escape without using the small amount of magic he knows, forbidden from using it away from Hogwarts. Before he can get too upset, his best friend, Ron Weasley, arrives with some help to get him out. Harry spends the rest of his summer break living with the Weasleys, learning what it is like to live amongst those who understand and practice magic.

Once school begins, Harry must cope with piles of new homework and some professors who are anything but engaging with their students. Seeing Ron and Hermione help lessen the pain, but it is still a hard push through. When Harry begins hearing a mysterious voice, he wonders if this is a game someone is playing, though the voice does not dissipate and has a message for him.

As well as ominous warnings, there are attacks on members of the student body that cannot be explained. Harry begins to worry and wonders if the voice may be a part of the violence. Harry also discovers the power of being a Parslemouth—able to speak to snakes—which only adds to the suspicion that he could hold some dark magic powers. These powers include coming from a lineage able to open a mysterious ‘Chamber of Secrets’ and unleash the monster that lives within.

Baffled about all of this, Harry vows to discover who is behind the attacks on the students. With the help of Ron and Hermione, Harry goes undercover and targets the most likely suspect, Draco Malfoy, hoping that he will reveal himself. Things take a turn when they cannot nail Draco for the attacks and Hermione finds herself being the latest victim.

While Ron and Harry continue their quest, the former’s younger sister, Ginny, is taken and dragged to the Chamber of Secrets, upping the ante to solve the case. With the help of a key clue Hermione left the boys, they inch closer to learning the truth and revealing all.

Harry finds himself facing much danger on his own and must clash with the person who has been unleashing all the violence throughout Hogwarts. He will be surprised to see the truth and wonders if the warning to stay away all those months ago might have been a wonderful decision after all. Harry will need some outside help from a trusted ally and some new faces, but there comes a time where dark magic might be too much for even Harry to handle. The pressure mounts and young Harry is forced to make a decision he hopes not to regret! A chilling follow-up book that is perfect for those seeking to get hooked on Potter and all his world.

I admit, the series has me curious and I am wanting to know more with each chapter. I wish I had heeded the request of Neo and others to start this sooner, though there is no time like the present, as the world could use a little magic, what with the dark forces that emerge south of the Canadian border. J.K. Rowling lays the story out masterfully and develops strong characters to support her plot lines. This looks to be a wonderful reading experience for all, with different people taking something away from the story for themselves.

Harry Potter remains central to the story, but, as mentioned before, is more a part of a trio of protagonists. The reader learns more about Harry and perhaps some of his backstory, while also being immersed into some of the Ron story, through tie spent with his family. While Hermione’s past is not as developed as the boys, she comes into herself and readers can easily sense a connection to her. While not a damsel in distress, she has fallen into the stereotype of being ‘in need of saving’ to this point, a mantle I am sure she wishes it dispel soon.

Rowling offers more strong supporting characters for the reader, with new forms of magic and creatures who are just now scurrying from the shadows. This is sure to be an evolving list, perhaps adding to what will be a chaotic and action-packed series as things continue. This cross-section of characters will take some concentration to keep straight, as names fly by with each passing chapter. Still, it is exciting to see how things will progress and who returns to the fold as the novels continue .

While the theme of the story is definitely geared towards the younger reader, Rowling writes with an inclusive pen and allows everyone to take something away for their own entertainment. I can see that I may find nuggets that Neo missed and vice versa. That is truly the sign of a wonderful book, allowing out conversations on the various plots and character developments to remain rich and wholesome.

The story flows really well, so much so that I find myself getting lost in the story and losing track of time. A well-paced narrative keeps me wanting to learn more, with strong characters to keep me interested. Rowling does keep the conversation at a level that the banter is understood and geared towards the younger reader, but I have no complaints there whatsoever. While I am told these early novels are lighter and happier, I am eager to see how things progress into a darker presentation and what Rowling will do to add depth to the stories, while still understanding her intended reading audience. Until then, Muggles can stand aside, as I need to get back and see how my House is doing. Any guesses which might be mine?

Kudos, Madam Rowling, for a great continuation of the series. I am eager to see where things progress from here.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: