Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (by JK Rowling)

It's not many authors who can hold my attention for more than a couple of books at a time, but JK Rowling seems to have the secret. Yesterday and today I read the third Harry Potter book - for the third time - and found it as gripping as ever. Even though I knew what was coming, and understood the things that mystified the children earlier in the book, I could still barely put it down.

The basic outline plot is much like the first two: Harry has a bad time with his horrible relatives, gets to Hogwarts School, and has an exciting adventure. But this time the book is overshadowed by Sirius Black, an escaped convict who appears to be after Harry. Reading three books in a row I can see the progression of darkness beginning to close in on Harry and his friends, as the evil Lord Voldemort begins to make his comeback.

I think this is probably my favourite of all the books so far. It's fast-paced and exciting, with some good character development with Harry and his friends now 13. Professor Dumbledore, the headmaster, remains as the most important force for good, Professor Snape seems even more unpleasant than before, and Professor Lupin, the new teacher, is a bit of a mystery. Once again there are surprises for first-time readers as they discover exactly who in the school is 'bad' - I certainly didn't figure it out the first time I read the book, although I was watching carefully and thought I'd picked up on the clues.

Harry once again shows extreme loyalty, courage and nobility in the face of danger, but is not too-good-to-be-true since as ever he indulges in a bit of ordinary rule-breaking. In that sense the books very much reflect 1950s school stories such as those by Angela Brazil or Enid Blyton: it's quite acceptable for pupils to have occasional midnight feasts, or play tricks on teachers, or indeed to break almost any school rule if the motivation is something positive. But the main characters must be honest at their core, and must also be brave, loyal, and stand up for those who are weaker.

Highly recommended, even as a standalone, but definitely better for having read the first two previously.

(You can also read my previous review of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban from just two years ago)

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