Book Review: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
Harry Potter isn't as whiny and full of adolescent self-pity as he was in the last book. However, he is still in the running for the title of the most self-absorbed and egocentric hero ever. One example: Katie Bell, the Gryffindor chaser, makes a big thing of trying out for her position on the team again. Does Harry follow her example and compete with Ginny Weasley for the seeker position. No, of course not! Does he even consider the idea? Nope! Mind you, Ginny still plays seeker for one match and wins, whereas Harry goofs off in both matches that he plays, nearly losing one and actually losing the other!
Ginny becomes more interesting with each book. She excels, whether its replacing Harry as seeker, or flicking mashed parsnip at arsehole brother Percy, snogging Dean Thomas (or even The Chosen One himself!) or counselling the dangers of weird magical books. As for her brothers, only Fred and George play much of a part, enlivening some of the early chapters. Whereas brother Ron is a frequent embarrassment. lately, he's Gryffindor's answer to Crabbe and Goyle, the guy Harry keeps around to make himself look more intelligent.
It seems like every character from all the past books makes an appearance. A few of them actually even do something. The constant parade of characters and references to the other books grows truly tiresome, as it is handled with far less subtlety than in the last book and, crucially, there is very little that is new in this book. The main innovation is he horcruxes but there's none of the deft extra touches like in the last book when Harry was suddenly able to see the invisible horses that pull the Hogswatch coaches. I also miss the stark sadism of the scene when Harry carves "I must not tell lies" into his flesh. Okay, Dumbledore drinks poison but it isn't the same.
Instead, we have a lot about love. The kind of love that causes Harry's parents to sacrifice themselves. The kind of love that comes from a witches cauldron in the form of a love potion. But mostly, adolescent, embarrassing sixteen year old love, that has Ron and Lavender groping at each other and Hermione not speaking to them. It is in the portrayal of the awkward and forgettable that the genius of the author's star shines brightest. That Harry knows love (for himself, mostly) is what distinguishes him from Voldemort. It's not much to hang your hat on.
This is not to say that the book is not a potboiler. Once again I found myself irresistibly turning the pages. But it lacks the structure and drama of the last book and is downright flabby compared with the first three books. The big mysteries are all too easily solved by the reader long in advance of the characters. The climax was nowhere near as exciting. And altogether too much has been left for the next book, which is going to either be very crowded or very disappointing.