I know it seems almost like cheating to start a new year with I book I already read and reviewed in 2005; yet, I found myself picking up Half-Blood Prince as a sort of intellectual sorbet, to cleanse my palette before I begin some of the weightier, new material I already have queued up for the year. Also, now that the seventh and final book in the series has been named (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) and rumors are flying like spells (e.g. Harry qua horcrux), I felt it would be interesting to reread #6 and see what other clues I could pick up.
As I said before, I find that Rowling used book six as little more than a vehicle to get to book seven—there is nothing of any particular interest until the very end, when Rowling drops a bombshell big enough to make up for the Doldrums, and which left many hardcore fans howling with rage. Not only are there no major confrontations in the style of the previous five books (that is, Harry usually faces some incarnation of Voldemort), but much of the book is filled with ridiculous minutiæ like who is currently crushing on whom. I understand that Rowling is trying to right characters with whom her readers can relate, but I thought we’d left the pubescent angst in books two, three, and four, thank you very much: given the tenor of book five, I’m surprised that she resorts to such devices to advance the plot.
In fact, if you strip out some of the rote characterization, you’d have a book considerably shorter than Half-Blood Prince‘s 650+ pages—the only thing of interest to fans who don’t want to have Harry’s babies would be his adventures with Dumbledore… the only plot device, in fact, that advances the series-long plot.
At the same time, however, I would not be surprised if Rowling launched this kind of irritating chaff on purpose, writing a deliberately vague book meant to stir up more questions than it answers. Certainly, the clamor for Deathly Hallows will obliterate any and all records for first-weekend sales. Barnes & Noble and Waldenbooks employees will be fending off rabid, robe-clad readers with sticks. In that respect, anyway, Rowling has delivered a roaring success of a book. I think she of all people realized that by this point, she can phone it, so long as she ends it in a way that doesn’t crush the fantasies of the housewives and kindergarteners across that globe that have been preoccupied for the last two years by such vexing questions as Severus Snape’s loyalty, or the location of Voldemort’s horcruxes.