Here's the multi-million dollar question:
Why the hell am I reviewing this now?
And here's the 2 cent answer:
Because I had planned on reviewing it for the last Cannonball, but my sister ended up taking the books with her to college and I was too cheap to buy a new copy.
So what does one say about an immensely popular book that came out in 2005 (holy crap, really? I feel so old) and that everyone and their sister has read?
Well, I really liked it. After the giant wad of nothingness that was Order of the Phoenix, this one was a lot meatier and a lot less infuriating. There were some fantastic scenes peppered in, a lot of sweet little moments and a lot of making fun of how lame Ron is, which is always rewarding. It's also even darker and more mature than any of the other books in the series, and by now I think everyone knows about the incredibly depressing ending.
The basic plot (yeah, don't even pretend like you don't know) has Harry in his 6th year at Hogwarts, with Voldemort finally back in power and starting to do some nasty things. Mysterious things happen at the school, there's a lot of Quidditch and teenage relationship problems, he has some interesting meetings with Dumbledore and there's a big battle at the end. You know, like with every other book in the series.
The overarching mystery this time is unfortunately rather pathetic. Harry suspects that Draco Malfoy is up to some shenanigans, and he spends the entire book trying to find out what it is while nobody listens to him (because, fuck, after 6 books of being right, why should anyone listen to Harry?). There's also the matter of who the Half-Blood Prince is, because...well, actually, no one really cares and that whole plot is a big dud. Basically, Harry gets a used Potions book with some mysterious annotations, and suddenly he's a genius at Potions. OH HOW MYSTERIOUS AND EXCITING. Let us spend 500 pages in trying to find out what some snotty little asshole is doing in secret and trying to figure out who was the little shit who vandalized a schoolbook. THE FIEND.
Luckily, it's not just Harry Potter and the Mystery of Draco's Night-Time Wanderings (He Probably Just Wanted Some PRIVACY, Potter), though there's entirely too much time devoted to that.
Oh, alright, the Draco thing is actually pretty cool in the end. And in between that and the MYSTERIOUS MYSTERY OF THE TEXTBOOK VANDALIZER, there's some rather cool stuff. Specifically, Harry starts meeting up with Dumbledore so that they can find out about what Voldemort was like in his youth. While there's a bigger purpose to that, the scenes dealing with the meetings themselves (which include diving into people's memories as has been seen before in the series) are really well done. Turns out that Voldemort was an evil little weirdo from the start, and the big revelation at the end is actually quite shocking, and nicely sets up the final book in the series. It's a nice departure from the usual deal where Dumbledore never tells Harry anything until the final scenes; which, incidentally, always made me think that Dumbledore was kind of a dick.
Rowling is admittedly formulaic, and the book suffers from the usual problems of the other series: namely, that we pretty much know exactly how the book is going to go (Harry goes to school, everything is swell until a mystery shows up, the kids try to figure it out on their own until the end when there's a big battle that Harry survives and then Dumbledore explains everything at the end). To Rowling's credit, however, it's still an exciting read. She knows her characters, and sometimes it's just fun to sit back and read about the relationship problems of three teenagers who can do magic but are still kinda dumb about such bizarre things as dating and (*gasp*) kissing. She's great at going from moments of total silliness to some pretty serious and dark events, and the world of the book (which completely falls apart if you even begin to think about it too much) is entertaining enough that you never really get bored in the non-action scenes.
On a tangent, it's a shame that the movie adaptation for this book wasn't better. The problem with the movies has always been that they're just a reel of highlights from the books, and sure it's nice to see good moments if you've read the books, but if you aren't a fan you'll just be incredibly confused. And you'll miss out on some great moments like finding out about Voldemort's past in favor of some of the more lighthearted stuff like "ooh! kids are kissing!". You can't really do justice to so much material in the course of an hour and a half, though I wish they had tried a little harder.
So, after that entirely too-long diatribe, I can just tell you that this is a pretty great book, and one of the best in the series. It would be silly to read it without going through the other five, so don't try that, you shameless cheater. I'd highly recommend reading it before watching the final movies, because otherwise you'll probably be very confused.
Now you'll have to wait a bit for my review of the final book in the series (I know you're all at the edges of your seats), because I don't have a copy, I can't get a library card yet and I can't decide if I should re-read it first or after I watch the final movie. FIGGY POTTER AND THE INCREDIBLY HARD DECISION PLUS THE LIBRARY CARD ADVENTURE! now in stores!
Now clickey here.