Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Weekly Book Review: Harry Potter (Full Series)

Harry Potter and the Blankety Blank by J.K. Rowling
Genre: Fantasy
Released: 1997-2007

To make up for missing last week's Weekly Book Review, I present you with mini-reviews for every single Harry Potter book. These reviews are arranged in order of preference, from my favorite at the top to my least-loved at the bottom. I should clarify, before we begin, that while I have many complaints about those books near the bottom of this list, I still loved reading each and every one of them. The series as a whole gets an A+ from me, and only His Dark Materials comes close to the sheer number of rereads I've done over the years. Harry Potter lies close to my heart. I criticize it out of love.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Released: July 8th, 1999


Harry Potter is lucky to reach the age of thirteen, since he has already survived the murderous attacks of the feared Dark Lord on more than one occasion. But his hopes for a quiet term concentrating on Quidditch are dashed when a maniacal mass-murderer escapes from Azkaban, pursued by the soul-sucking Dementors who guard the prison. It's assumed that Hogwarts is the safest place for Harry to be. But is it a coincidence that he can feel eyes watching him in the dark, and should he be taking Professor Trelawney's ghoulish predictions seriously?

[From Goodreads.]


My love for Prisoner of Azkaban starred in a blog post back in mid-May. Check out that post for a refresher.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Released: July 16th, 2005


The war against Voldemort is not going well; even the Muggle governments are noticing. Ron scans the obituary pages of the Daily Prophet, looking for familiar names. Dumbledore is absent from Hogwarts for long stretches of time, and the Order of the Phoenix has already suffered losses.

And yet, as with all wars, life goes on. Sixth-year students learn to Apparate—and lose a few eyebrows in the process. Teenagers flirt and fight and fall in love. Classes are never straightforward, though Harry receives some extraordinary help from the mysterious Half-Blood Prince.

So it's the home front that takes center stage in the multilayered sixth installment of the story of Harry Potter. Here at Hogwarts, Harry will search for the full and complex story of the boy who became Lord Voldemort—and thereby find what may be his only vulnerability.

[From Goodreads.]


Half-Blood Prince plays on the strengths of its immediate predecessor, Order of the Phoenix while learning from its failures. Harry has largely calmed down despite the terrible things that happened in the last book. His angst-meter readings are low. The stakes are high, but the book still manages to be fun, with a number of light-hearted moments amidst the growing gloom. This is also the first book to show that the series' resident bully, Draco Malfoy, might be an actual person with actual feelings, loyalties, and fears. Deathly Hallows might not go as far with this plot thread as I'd have liked, but its beginning is rife with pathos.

Half-Blood Prince also adds a human element to both Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Things remain as black and white as ever, but at least we gain an understanding of what made Voldemort the noseless wonder he is today.

It's strange. This is exactly how Voldemort was described in the books,
but it's nothing like the Voldemort in my head.

I am, perhaps, a little biased toward this book due to its increased focus on my absolute favorite character. From Harry Potters' beginning, Snape has evolved in complexity and relatability, culminating in a man whose many layers provide some of the best moments in the series. Half-Blood Prince is as much Snape's show as it is Harry's, and, for me at least, it was his I most wanted to hear.

Snape > everyone else

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Released: July 8th, 2000


The summer holidays are dragging on and Harry Potter can't wait for the start of the school year. It is his fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and there are spells to be learnt, potions to be brewed and Divination lessons (sigh) to be attended. Harry is expecting these: however, other quite unexpected events are already on the march ...

[From Goodreads.]


The Tri-Wizard Tournament, the Quidditch World Cup (and seeing different wizarding nationalities for the first time), the Yule Ball, Viktor Krum, Mad-Eye Moody, the introduction of the pensieve . . . I loved almost everything about this book. This was the first book I had to wait for (Prisoner of Azkaban was already out when I started reading the series at the tender age of 10), and it didn't disappoint. It's fun, it's funny, and it takes place before Harry's reached peak angst mode. What's not to like?

Well, there are a few things. Chief among them, at least in my opinion, is Harry and Ron's overlong fight in the middle of the book. It's so pointless and so strangely virulent for a fight among friends that the whole situation made me dislike Ron as a character. Sorry, Ron fans.

Oddly, I don't hate Rupert Grint's interpretation of Ron at all. For all the complaints I have about the movies ditching important plot points while emphasizing those that needn't be, they did fix a few of my problems with the originals, and Ron is probably the best example. Good job, filmmakers. Good job, Rupert Grint.

We cool, Roonil Wazlib?

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Released: July 8th, 2000


The Dursleys were so mean and hideous that summer that all Harry Potter wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. But just as he's packing his bags, Harry receives a warning from a strange, impish creature named Dobby who says that if Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts, disaster will strike.

And strike it does. For in Harry's second year at Hogwarts, fresh torments and horrors arise, including an outrageously stuck-up new professor, Gilderoy Lockheart, a spirit named Moaning Myrtle who haunts the girls' bathroom, and the unwanted attentions of Ron Weasley's younger sister, Ginny.

But each of these seem minor annoyances when the real trouble begins, and someone—or something—starts turning Hogwarts students to stone. Could it be Draco Malfoy, a more poisonous rival than ever? Could it possibly be Hagrid, whose mysterious past is finally told? Or could it be the one everyone at Hogwarts most suspects...Harry Potter himself.

[From Goodreads.]


Chamber of Secrets is a decidedly middling book (relative to the rest of the series), but it boasts a number of great scenes and one of the best villain confrontations in the series. Oddly, this book, despite being one of the more juvenile, is also the closest the series comes to horror. Chamber of Secrets is a tightly plotted book that introduces some interesting new concepts that will end up being quite important by the series' end.

The weak point of this book is that it requires a good deal of plot-stupidity from Harry and a whole lot of coincidence in preserving the villain's victims. Coincidence is fine when used sparingly, but making it the backbone of your novel's structure can lead to suspicion and disbelief on the part of the reader. It required a certain amount of deus ex machina, and for some readers that may be enough to ruin the whole.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Released: July 8th, 2000


Harry Potter is due to start his fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. His best friends Ron and Hermione have been very secretive all summer and he is desperate to get back to school and find out what has been going on. However, what Harry discovers is far more devastating than he could ever have expected...

[From Goodreads.]


I doubt this book is this far down on many fans' lists. In truth, Order of the Phoenix probably deserves to be higher. This book has possibly the best villain in the series, the too-familiar Dolores Umbridge, whose faux sweetness and rigidly traditional teaching methods have been known to inspire more hatred than Voldemort himself. It is also the book that introduced fan-favorite Luna Lovegood, and for that it can be justly applauded.

My biggest problem with this book is Harry himself. His angst, his penchant for SHOUTING IN ALL CAPS AT VARIOUS PEOPLE, INCLUDING PEOPLE WHO HAVEN'T WRONGED HIM IN ANY WAY, and his incredible plot-necessitated stupidity, the result of which is one of the most gut-wrenching scenes in the series, make this a deeply unpleasant book. In Harry's defense, it is a turbulent year, and he suffers greatly throughout. Unfortunately, that doesn't make it any more fun to read.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Released: January 1st 1997


Harry Potter has never played a sport while flying on a broomstick. He's never worn a Cloak of Invisibility, befriended a giant, or helped hatch a dragon. All Harry knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley. Harry's room is a tiny cupboard under the stairs, and he hasn't had a birthday party in ten years.

But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to a wonderful place he never dreamed existed. There he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic around every corner, but a great destiny that's been waiting for him... if Harry can survive the encounter.


This book suffers from having been the first in the series, written well before Rowling found her footing in regards to both story and prose. It's innocent, charming, and fun, but it lacks the emotional depth of the series' later entries. Many of its beloved characters (Snape, Neville) are nothing more than empty stereotypes at this point in time, and though that is understandable given how little page space is devoted to each, their depth is sorely missed.

Despite its faults, Sorcerer's Stone is a worthy introduction to the series. It ensnares readers with whimsical glimpses of the wizarding world through the eyes of a not-yet jaded Harry and sets up the overarching plot without sacrificing the novel's strength as a standalone. This isn't one of the books most will look back on as a particular favorite, but I'd be surprised if there were any readers who left it at the bottom of their list.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Released: July 21st, 2007


Harry is waiting in Privet Drive. The Order of the Phoenix is coming to escort him safely away without Voldemort and his supporters knowing - if they can. But what will Harry do then? How can he fulfill the momentous and seemingly impossible task that Professor Dumbledore has left him?

[From Goodreads.]


This is the only Harry Potter book that breaks away from the this-year-at-Hogwarts story structure, and it suffers for it. Deathly Hallows begins on a high note that lets its readers know exactly what they're in for. Shortly after, it grounds itself in a particularly boring and overly long travel narrative. I hope you like forests and a lot of childish sniping, because that's what you get for many long pages.

Another of Deathly Hallows' missteps is that its plot revolves around three MacGuffins, two of which were never mentioned prior to this book and one of which was retconned into something more important and rare than it was initially presented as. With five horcruxes yet to be found, the Deathly Hallows add nothing but bloat to an already overinflated quest. Had they been introduced earlier in the series, and had they a greater role in the conclusion, I might have been willing to give them a pass. As it is, the best thing to come from the Deathly Hallows is that really cool animated sequence from the first of the two Deathly Hallows movies.

And another thing: Deathly Hallows got two movies? Really? Not Order of the Phoenix, longer and more plot-heavy than its younger brother? Not Goblet of Fire, whose film adaptation deprived us of almost all of the Quidditch World Cup, the entirety of the Winky sideplot, Blast-Ended Skrewts, and a much cooler interpretation of the final game of the Tri-Wizard Tournament? We really needed a movie composed mostly of "hiding in a forest" book-ended by two more interesting scenarios?

Deathly Hallows Part 2 was pretty good, though. It did Snape justice, which was my primary concern. Good job, filmmakers. Good job, Alan Rickman.

All the points to Slytherin. All of them.

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