by J. K. Rowling
Just as we did with the last book, we read this one out loud. (Well, Lisa read it out loud. I listened.) I think we both enjoyed the story more this way, as we could stop along the way to discuss plot points, make conjectures, and generally savor the story.
Warning: spoilers ahead. If you don’t want to know anything about what happens in book six, stop reading this now. I talk about what happened, what I think about it, and I also speculate about book seven.
While book six raises more questions than it answers, I didn’t find it irritating at all. (Many things about book five irritated me. Harry being such an ass, while true to form for a fifteen year old boy, was still highly annoying for one thing, and the Privet Drive routine felt very “been there, done that.”)
Well, one minor point was close to irritating: for the love of God, why didn’t we see Ron and Hermione kiss? The whole how-they-feel-about-each-other thing was so well done and so real, I suppose the fact we don’t actually see it happen here is forgivable. And the really big kiss in the story (Harry and Ginny’s) is simply brilliant.
Previously, Rowling made it clear that things in the wizarding world are not simply black or white. (Think of how the wizards have treated other magical and non-magical creatures; how the Weasley’s are a good family with a beloved but bad son in Percy; how bloodlines matter so much to some, and not at all to others; how things are not always how the seem.) Here, the questions about right and wrong become even more complex: Is Snape really a double agent? Whose side is he really on? Is Draco Malfoy really a bad person, or a victim of his circumstances and his parents’ beliefs? Are intentions more important than actions or consequences?
Rowling is clearly setting the stage for the big confrontation between Voldemort and Harry in the seventh book. (The whole cycle of seven books, presumably ending with a Last Battle does remind me of the Chronicles of Narnia.) She isn’t just moving the plot along, though. She invests energy here in making more characters fully human.
They are more human because they are more complicated. Draco is charged with making it possible for the Death Eathers to breach Hogwarts, and with killing Dumbledore. Harry knows he is up to something dreadful — yet he feels compassion for Draco, and when he uses the “for enemies” spell against him, he is truly horrified when he sees all that blood and realizes what he has done. Harry uses the Half-Blood Prince’s notes to succeed in Potions and comes to rely on the Prince, only to discover that the Prince is Snape. As for Snape — he vows to finish Draco’s task for him, and kills Dumbledore. He also doesn’t injure any students on his flight from Hogwarts with the Death Eaters. (I think Dumbledore’s “please, Severus” was about asking Snape to follow through with what they had discussed earlier when they fought; he wasn’t begging for mercy. I also think the reason Snape wasn’t given the Dark Arts job until this year was because Dumbledore knew the job was cursed.)
With the horcruxes, Rowling makes the coming battles of the good (the Order of the Phoenix folks) and the evil (Voldemort’s followers) quite literally about souls — or at least pieces of them. I found the idea that Voldemort’s seeming immortality and not-quite-humanness have the same root cause — his soul has been ripped willingly into pieces — fascinating. This alone made book six work for me.
Here’s what I hope is coming in book seven:
- More backstory on Snape (and that my belief he isn’t on the wrong side is proven true)
- Harry quickly gets past his go-it-alone approach
- Dumbledore’s portrait wakes up (but isn’t a magical cure-all plot device)
- Hermione and Ron stay together
- More McGonagall!
- We find out the real deal with Harry’s Aunt
- R. A. B. turns out to be Sirius’s brother
Reading the books, and even getting swept up in the publishing phenomenom (we bought it the first day it was out; it raked in more money than the top two movies that weekend) is great entertainment. Of course I can’t wait for book seven.