Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling. Reread: 154/652.
AH, HALF-BLOOD PRINCE. In this book, a Harry Potter miracle occurs. I understand that people….do not like it???? Because it is too much like fanfiction????? WHAT KIND OF COMPLAINT IS THIS? What it actually means, as far as I can tell, is that for once in the series, JKR treats her characters like actual, full-fledged people. It was that one book where you thought that maybe even if they were doing bad things, Slytherins might not be unilaterally useless. It is a great Draco book, even if the movie messes up the one line they needed to get right to understand his character.
It’s also just a lot of fun. Suddenly half way through the series Rowling picked up some ideas on building tension and excitement, and they were pretty good in OotP, but here everything rollicks along. It takes a relatively brief six chapters to get them on their way to Hogwarts. Everything in the lead up is interesting. A LOT happens. There is no quidditch. There IS a hint (LATER RUINED, BUT THIS IS NOW) that Snape will be an interesting, decent, complex human being! Draco gets to look a little small and stupid in front of his friends in a quiet, realistic, upsetting, DEEPLY SATISFYING way, and then immediately be the only one smart enough to notice Harry in their carriage on the train and step on his face in familial vengeance. JKR hates on all politicians. She even acknowledges more of the nasty parts of early books as nasty, including the Dursley’s treatment of both their children.
There’s the unfortunate choice to dangle young Harry as literal bait in front of offputting Promising Youth collector Horace Slughorn. Dumbledore does tell it as it is–he says he’s using Harry as an incentive. But I feel like maybe, maybe, this is only partly because JKR had entered the zone of Last Chance To Acknowledge That Dumbledore Is Kind Of Usey And Terrible. Maybe it is also partly that she at no point stood in front of a mirror and said “I’m going to dangle you in front of an old man who obsesses over fresh young things” to see how that might come across to anyone else.
There is also–UGH! There is also the first episode of Tonks being horribly depressed for the eventual reason of thwarted heterosexuality. HONESTLY, TONKS? IF YOU’D LIKE A LITTLE INPUT? IF IT IS THIS HARD ON YOU, MAYBE IT’S JUST THE WRONG PATH TO BE GOING DOWN. I MEAN I AM NOT SAYING YOU’RE CODED, BUT YES I AM, YOU ARE, MAYBE OLD SAD MEN ARE NOT YOUR ULTIMATE FATE. IT WOULD NOT KILL YOU TO TRY SOMETHING ELSE, and nor would it kill JKR not to furiously inscribe straightness into every single one of her characters who isn’t old/dead/boundary issues/boyfriend to wizard Hitler Dumbledore.
Two complaints so far, though. TWO COMPLAINTS IN 150 PAGES AND IT IS SO DARN FUN! Very little withery Dumbles yet, or moralistically horrifying Tom Riddle backstory, and I am savoring every moment apart.
ULTIMATE HARRY POTTER QUESTION, THOUGH: WHY DOES NEVILLE NOT JUST GET TREVOR A CAGE?