NUMBER 6 – The ALMOST WORST OF THE WORST! – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Won Won. Does the Half-Blood Prince matter? Private lessons only in the Pensieve? COMEON!

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The Plus

+ Harry shamelessly trumping Hermione at Potions and her reaction to this undeserved glory is an awesome plotline!

+ Ron finally gets his time to shine!

+ Horace Slughorn! Collector of personalities, highly competent potion-maker, awesome dude who knows how to appreciate the finesses of life. The fact that he replaces Snape as the Potions-teacher shakes things up nicely. His cowardly streak is completely redeemed when he personally duels Voldemort at the Battle of Hogwarts.

+ Cormac McLaggen – we all know the type! The name alone is genius.

+ Harry being Quidditch captain serves us several very nice comic scenes, including the unforgettable tryouts for the House team.

+ Harry gets to be popular for a change.

The Minus

– The love plots don’t really work for me. Especially Harry’s sudden awakening to the allures of Ginny seems … well, sudden.

– The revelation of Snape as the Half-Blood Prince is a little anticlimactic, even though it occurs at a climactic moment of the plot.

– Was anyone else disappointed that Dumbledore didn’t teach Harry at least one powerful offensive spell during their private lessons?

Explain Yourself!

Half-Blood and Order were actually close contenders for no. 6. I gave it to Half-Blood even though it’s a book I enjoyed tremendously, because there’s just so much going on in Order, it would feel almost unfair to put it in sixth place. While I’m not happy with Half-Blood there either, I can live with that. That’s what you have to deal with when making a list.

For many, Order is the most frustrating HP book because of Umbridge and Harry’s fits of anger. I get that, though it doesn’t necessarily make it a bad book. The nice thing about Half-Blood is that it soothes many of the tensions that darkened the skies of Order. Harry is popular and admired now, he is captain of the Quidditch team, doesn’t have to study as much and doesn’t suffer from visions. Even Potions has become a pleasant experience!

Much emphasis is placed on the social life of the students, but while this is entertaining, I found the Ron-Lavender-Hermione triangle a little forced. The Ron-Hermione relationship is something that even Rowling has shown doubts about. The tension between Ginny and Harry is much more credible, also that it arrives very suddenly, as these things are wont to at that age.

Another light-hearted vein of the book is Harry’s tenure as Quidditch captain, an experience mingled with light and shadow. Insufferable Cormac McLaggen has my vote for best late addition to the Potterverse.

All these elements can’t disguise, though, that Half-Blood is at least as sinister as Order. Voldemort is out in the open now and the wizarding world is in a state of emergency and war. Murder and kidnapping occurs daily, and the fight between Death Eaters and the resistance even spills into school life. The series-long rivalry between Malfoy and Harry reaches a fitting climax here, culminating in the infamous chapter The Lightning-Struck Tower. (A chapter that totally vindicates Trelawney!)

Ultimately, Half-Blood is about Snape without being about Snape. Here is where I locate the decisive weakness of the volume. More could have been made of Harry’s relationship with his unknown teacher, more insight into Snape’s actual character gained, which to me always remained a bit unclear and blurred (I really didn’t like the Snape-Lily thing and am probably the only one in the world there). After being told by Snape who is the Half-Blood Prince, he doesn’t reflect on it anymore. Sure, there are other things on his mind, but it made this central plotline suddenly irrelevant, a mere gimmick not really essential to a book otherwise dominated by the Horcruxes.