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Who is the Half-Blood Prince?
July 20, 2005
ALERT: This is a spoiler review. In case you don't want to know who dies, or what unusual twists are there in the latest Potter tale, please stop reading right now.
The penultimate release in a series of seven books (which seem to be getting progressively darker and gloomier among other things), Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince has lived up to the hype and razzmatazz surrounding its release.
Book Six starts at the Muggle Prime Minister's office, meanders its way through the school year full of enterprising new characters, revelations from the past, Quidditch matches, teenage jealousies and rivalries, and ends in a surprisingly treacherous death for the 'greatest wizard ever'.
As promised, the book does tie up quite a few loose ends including the mystery shrouding the continued existence of Voldemort (sorry, I mean You-Know-Who) after the spell that backfired years ago.
The book also has some of its own additions to the unknown -- the identity of RAB, for example.
Then again, the two new major characters introduced in the book seem to be much more mundane than the ones introduced in the last few (the character of Horace pales in comparison to those of Moody and Dolores Umbridge, and Rufus Scrimgeour is not even half as interesting as Fudge), but there could be much more beneath the surface.
The new Minister for Magic (whose description had been published months before the launch and was widely rumoured to be a sketch of the Half-Blood Prince) is boring at best. He neither appears to be blinded by the power of holding office like Cornelius Fudge, nor does he seem to be a 'good guy'. Like I said, there could be more to him than what meets the eye.
Horace Slughorn, the new Potions teacher, is perhaps the most intriguing of the new characters. The way in which he tries to cast his influence over the students of his 'Slug Club' makes him a person to watch out for. We also must not also forget he has been the Head of Slytherin House during his previous tenure as teacher. Overall, though, Professor Slughorn comes out as annoying and dull, with greed etched all over him, not unlike Professor Lockhart.
The private lessons Harry has with Dumbledore are far more incisive than anything else in the book. Their frequent walks down memory lane (courtesy the Pensieve) investigating Tom Riddle's past comprise what could well be the most crucial events in the lead up to the finish. These lessons are also the last moments that Harry gets to spend with the ageing Headmaster of Hogwarts.
As the title suggests, the book has much more to do with Severus Snape (as it turns out the Half-Blood Prince was his nickname) than ever before -- he finally gets the coveted Defense Against The Dark Arts appointment he has always wanted. The jinx on the job remains though -- Snape lasts just one year as the DADA teacher.
In the end, when Snape finally shows his true colours as Voldemort's henchman and backstabs Dumbledore, the readers are left bewildered. How could Dumbledore have trusted Snape so much? Harry and Ron were right all along -- Snape was not to be trusted. The voice of reason (which generally sounds like Hermione) was wrong -- all evidence of Snape's solidarity and integrity towards Dumbledore seen in previous books appears to be made up after all. Makes some readers wonder if Rowling changed the plot for this book.
True, most readers might wonder at the need to finish off one of the most pivotal characters in the story but, to me, the death of Albus Dumbledore sets up the perfect situation for a grand finale -- Harry alone on a mission with no one to pave the way for him, no guiding lights for him to follow.
This was exactly how J K Rowling must have planned it. It's finally up to Harry -- he alone will have to face the Dark Lord. As he had nervously said in the first book, it's 'just Harry' now -- just Harry against Lord Voldemort and his band of Death Eaters, bolstered by the now open support of the Half-Blood Prince.
Even though the book seems to have enough positives to gloss over the few minuses it possesses, I believe this review would be incomplete if I didn't mention them.
For one, the typical style in which Rowling generally writes seems to have tapered off a bit in this one -- the conversations and action seem to eclipse Harry's thoughts and emotions, which had always been put forward in an exceptional Rowling-ish way. Remember the way Harry's stomach would clench and unclench whenever Cho was around? With Ginny, he only associates a smell. There were no descriptions of his feelings or the sudden realisation that he likes her.
Actually, I believe it would have been better for the book to be longer, the plot remaining the same, but the story moving at a slower pace.
Also, the snogging was more than a bit excessive. Ron behaves as a complete jerk in parts of the book, though it could be said in his defense that Ginny had infuriated him. But did he have to be 'Won-Won' for so long just to prove a point? Couldn't he have gone straight to Hermione?
Also, Draco Malfoy suddenly graduating to a Death Eater at such a young age seemed way off the mark -- there was no need to deprive the readers of the usual verbal duels between Harry and Malfoy. The small skirmish right at the beginning of the school year, and the fierce battle halfway through (where Harry uses an unknown spell from the book of the Half-Blood Prince nearly killing Malfoy) are all we get.
At the fag end of the book, Rowling uses a concept that seems to have become almost a prerequisite for saving the world lately. Like in the movies involving the superheroes Spiderman and Batman, Harry tells Ginny they cannot be together anymore as Voldemort would look at her as Harry's weakness and might harm her to get to him. But surely, as Dumbledore had told Harry, love was supposed to be Harry's strength, the power which 'the Dark Lord knows not'. Hopefully it will be with the help of this power of love that Harry will conquer Voldemort in the grand finale.
When the seventh and final Potter novel finally arrives, would it be too much to hope that the hero prevails, not because he can manfully sacrifice his capacity for love, but because he can't?
Shantanu Shekhar is 17 and lives in Secunderabad.
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