All hands point to 'Mortal Peril'
in the darkest chapter yet
of Rowling's amazing Potter epic

''Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince''
By J.K. Rowling
(Scholastic Press, 652 pages, $29.99)

Buy at Amazon for a discount price

Reviewed by John Orr
July 2005

HP & the Halfblood Prince
``Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince'' ends at the horrid, darkest hour before what we can only hope will be the happy dawn of J.K. Rowling's seventh and final book in her brilliant epic about ``The boy who lived.''

This can be no surprise to any of Rowling's millions of fans. This installment -- Book Six -- while still salted with patches of humor and romance, is the most harrowing yet in the long tale, which has evolved in true epic form: A journey that tests the courage and ability of all, in which some beloved heroes must die, to be replaced by younger heroes -- if, indeed, any survive.

We've known that Harry Potter -- now called in the magical newspapers ``The Chosen One,'' because it is believed that he must be the one to eventually kill the evil Lord Voldemort -- is our key young hero.

We've already lost many older heroes in this series -- including Harry's parents, who died at the beginning of the first book, and his godfather, Sirius Black. The key death of ``The Half-Blood Prince'' will put sufficient tears in the eyes of Potter fans worldwide to affect global humidity.

This book, while retaining many of the charms of the first five -- notably the powerful emotional ties among Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione, and the fascinating ideas about magic -- departs from the series in certain key ways.

For instance, most of the first five books ended with Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore explaining some part of Harry's odd fate to him, usually withholding some key facts.

In this book, Dumbledore begins the explanations early -- in fact, when we first see Harry this time, he is waiting for Dumbledore himself to come to the Dursley's house to pick him up. It is Dumbledore's first known appearance at that house since the first chapter of book one, ``Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.'' And Dumbledore is soon to begin teaching Harry, personally, and to involve him in adventures.

Always a paragon of gentility, Dumbledore gives a lesson in manners to Harry's Uncle Vernon (amusingly, toward the end of the book, he will give another such lesson to a group of evil Death Eaters):

`` `I don't mean to be rude,' [Uncle Vernon] began in a tone that threatened rudeness in every syllable.

`` `-- yet, sadly, accidental rudeness occurs alarmingly often,' Dumbledore finished the sentence gravely. `Best to say nothing at all, my dear man. . . . Shall we assume that you have invited me into your sitting room?' ''

Dumbledore is initially there to enlist Harry's help in convincing a teacher to return to Hogwarts. Potter fans all know that Defense Against Dark Arts teachers haven't lasted longer than a year each in the job, and Harry assumes that Dumbledore wants Horace Slughorn to take that position.

But there is a surprise regarding who teaches what this year at Hogwarts, and Dumbledore's real reason for needing Harry's help with Slughorn isn't just to get him back at school.

Dumbledore, rather than keeping Harry at a distance as he did in ``The Order of the Phoenix,'' involves Harry deeply in trying to divine the puzzle that is Lord Voldemort. Over the course of the year, Dumbledore, using his powerful Pensieve (a magical device that can record and play back memories), shows Harry clues he has collected over the years about Voldemort. Slughorn -- who'd been one of the young Voldemort's teachers -- holds a key piece of that puzzle. Dumbledore assigns Harry the task of getting that piece. Together, Dumbledore and Harry seek the means to defeat Voldemort.

Meanwhile, Harry is now 16, as are his closest friends, and among them a great deal of snogging (Brit-speak for necking) takes place, with a certain amount of changing partners, broken hearts and sneaky attempts at using love potions. Harry -- for all his intelligence and great courage -- has always been a bit thick about some thing or the other, and in this book his lack of acuity regards Ginny Weasley.

When he realizes that -- Hey! -- he kind of likes her, he worries that her big brother Ron, his best friend, might not approve. Having forgotten, apparently, how Ron has been trying to get Harry and Ginny together for years.

Ron is still an idiot regarding Hermione.

Professor Snape is very much a factor in this book, and indeed, we see him before we see Harry -- another change from the other books. He is conspiring with evil witches and we are left wondering -- again -- why Dumbledore trusts him. And that question is not answered by the end of ``The Half-Blood Prince,'' though its importance has risen enormously.

Potter fans all remember the Weasley family's excellent clock, with nine hands that all point toward the condition of each member of the family. ``At school,'' ``At work,'' ``Traveling,'' and so forth.

At the beginning of this book, all hands are pointing toward ``Mortal peril,'' and that is where they remain throughout. Undoubtedly, that is where they will continue pointing until the resolution of the final book in this remarkable series.


Peter Lambert wrote an amusing review of this book for the Times (of London) Literary Supplement.
Read it.