With the fifth book in the series J. K. Rowling takes a step backwards. While the first book was very simple with extremely flat characters, she has added depth with each successive book. In this one we return to characters who are so clueless and/or so evil that it simply isn’t believable. At the end of the fourth book Harry Potter tells the world that the leader of evil, Lord Voldemort, has returned to power. Rather than raise any alarms he is ridiculed as a liar by both the governing Ministry of Magic and the wizard media.
Meanwhile, Voldemort’s top lieutenants who have never done anything but evil, are still respected members of society and even send their children to the same school as Harry, the same school whose headmaster believes everything Harry is saying. Don’t you think the headmaster of school would kick out the child of evil incarnate? Instead they make him a prefect so that he can continue to antagonize Harry and his friends.
The Ministry of Magic is unbelievably stupid and destructive. They take over Hogwarts assigning a top crony of the Minister to the school and giving her vast powers where she quickly goes to work punishing Harry while rewarding the evil children of the Voldemort’s supporters. At a school for magic she refuses to actually teach magic. Meanwhile she works constantly to undermine Dumbledore who inexplicably allows all of this to happen. With the end of the world hanging in the balance, Rowling expects the reader to be upset that the sport Quidditch has been banned this year and an incredibly obtuse Harry has a hard time with his romantic life.
I know these are children’s books but they are so completely lacking in subtlety that it is hard to excuse. And while the plot is simple enough for the smallest kids there is still plenty of violent imagery that borders on inappropriate. With the third and fourth books, we started to see some depth in Harry and his friends as they argued amongst one another and even started to date. Here Harry is just a whiner (with some justification given the level of mistreatment he receives from all sides). Ron is a bumbling idiot. And Hermione continues to be far more talented than any of them and gets no respect for it.
The adults have always been flat and remain so. Hagrid is dangerously stupid but contributes nothing to the plot. Snape is completely consumed with hatred for Harry and yet continues to be his greatest ally behind the scenes. I just don’t buy that Harry and Snape could be working towards the same goal and despise each other so deeply. Dumbledore takes a back seat most of the time. Though he is regarded as the greatest wizard alive and understands the danger of Voldemort’s rise to power, he does almost nothing while his school and the rest of the world come crashing down around him.
One flaw in the entire series of books is that they must stretch out over an entire year. This fifth book covers Harry’s fifth year of school. Predicatably it starts in the summer with Harry miserable at his aunt and uncle’s house. The plot centers around a recurring dream Harry has of exploring some secrets in the basement of the Ministry of Magic. Meanwhile Voldemort has seized great power and yet takes the entire school year to break into this area of the Ministry eventually working his way in during, of course, final exams. The book should have taken place over about a two-week period instead of entire year.
One thing I will give the author is she continues to flesh out the world of wizards with all kinds of creatures, spells, and paraphernalia. Ron’s brothers come up with some interesting practical jokes. We are introduced to Thestrals which unlike the Griffins, Dragons, Centaurs, and Unicorns of earlier books seem to be completely made up. We learn some about giants as well. Also we are exposed more to how wizards can fight using spells and jinxes against one another as well as trips to new locations The Ministry of Magic and a wizard hospital. Those incidental items make the book worth reading but it is a shame they don’t support a better plot.
I’ll give this a C+.