29 December 2007

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix With a newly resurgent Voldemort on the loose, Harry is in more danger than ever - a fact brought home when a pair of Dementors attack him and Dudley during the summer holidays. More trouble follows when he’s summoned by the authorities for using magic outside of school. This, coupled with weeks of uninformative messages from his friends, means that Harry is in a foul mood by the time he’s brought to number 12, Grimmauld Place - the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. These assorted witches and wizards are the Death Eaters’ opposite numbers, a group dedicated to bringing Voldemort down.

Easy to say, but harder to do. The resident house elf, Kreacher, shows no desire to help the family’s black sheep (or should that be white sheep?), and the adults aren’t keen to share their plans. Even Dumbledore won’t say much - just farms Harry out to Snape for Occlumency lessons - and the lack of information is driving Harry nuts. Worst of all, Voldemort turns out to be no more of a threat than the ones from within their own side. The Minister for Magic has a major case of denial, and knows just the person to prove that it’s Harry and Dumbledore who are the real danger. And Harry has developed a frightening new ability: catching glimpses into Voldemort’s mind. Or has Voldemort developed the ability to manipulate Harry?

After a thrilling start with the Dementors, the pace slowed and got bogged down in endless arguments. Yes, not knowing must have been immensely frustrating, and yes, he’s a teenager, but it still got tiring. Enough with the bickering! (Although apparently it improves on second reading.) I also thought Harry a bit of a fool for not keeping his mouth shut around Dolores Umbridge. She’s one of those characters you loathe twice over: once for being such a twisted bitch, and again for being all but unassailable. But that very quality meant a good deal of fun watching the underground and passive-aggressive resistance spring up - and the flamboyant antics of the Weasley twins, who will surely go down in Hogwarts legend. Her presence, and the Minister’s claims, also meant that things were very much against Harry, which was something of a nice change. It made him seem more ordinary, in spite of being a wizard, and forced him to learn how to lead. And it was wonderful to see some of the limelight fall on Ron.

The other major character introduced is as wonderful as Umbridge is vile: Luna Lovegood. Scatty yet insightful and with an eccentric taste in accessories; I adored her, and hoped to see more of her in the remaining books. Hermione is her usual book- and timetable-obsessed self, particularly with O.W.L.s looming, except for one uncharacteristically foolish move. Harry learns more about his nemesis when Dumbledore finally decides to be forthcoming, after the first major battle (and tragedy), and one of the series’s most fundamental questions is answered. While there was a lot to like, the arguments - which resumed before the end - dragged it down. I know he’d had a wretched year, but still ... I do hope Tanabata’s right.

Rating: B+

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776