Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Yes, I finally completed the series. I'm all Pottered out, so to speak... but it's been an enjoyable couple of weeks, or however long it's taken me to read all six of the books.

JK Rowling excels herself in this, the penultimate of her series. It's not as long as the fourth or fifth books, and I felt it was much better edited. Harry seems believable again - angry when anger is appropriate, but otherwise back to character. And once again there are amazing plot twists and turns. Of course Harry begins at the Dursleys at the end of the Summer holidays, but we don't actually see him until chapter three: this time he's visited by Professor Dumbledore himself, the old and wise headmaster of Hogwarts. What an enjoyable scene that is, as Dumbledore gently but firmly tries to teach the Dursleys some manners, and takes Harry away with him.

But the book starts with quite a different scene: the UK Prime Minister having a conference with the Minister of Magic. Apparently JK Rowling had wanted to use a variation of this for a couple of the previous books but it had never seemed quite right. However it worked extremely well in this book, giving a sense of urgency and also cleverly explaining a little of the major plots of previous books from a point of view that didn't seem tedious.

Almost immediately we switch to a very dramatic chapter featuring some rather dubious characters, and a plot twist which Harry and Dumbledore know nothing about. Could it be a bluff? I did wonder vaguely. But no, I figured this was where we, the readers, learned something we had suspected for a while. This knowledge heightens the suspense in the rest of the book - and yes, it's very dramatic, with plenty of action and suspense.

I had heard that there was 'lots of teenage hormonal stuff' in this particular book, and wasn't entirely sure what to expect. It turned out to be a great deal of kissing and a fair amount of talking about who was going out with whom. But really nothing unsuitable for young children. Indeed, those under about the age of twelve would probably find that section rather boring and want to move on rapidly.

Much of the book involves Harry learning - at last - about his destiny, and also about Voldemort's childhood. It was done very cleverly, literally showing not telling as Harry and Dumbledore enter the Pensieve which takes them back into somebody's memory. And these episodes do fill in a lot of gaps.

The ending is thrilling - unputdownable! - as we've come to expect. And it leaves the way wide open for book seven... which I hope won't take as long to complete as this one did!

Is it a Christian apocalptic series? I'm still in two minds. There's a lot of Christian symbolism, and the values honoured are certainly Christian ones. The plot developments in this book certainly fit right in with what might be expected in a series giving the same kind of loose analogies as the Narnia books, or Lord of the Rings. It remains to be seen how the last book will finish, but I'm more confident that Harry will emerge the winner, even if he loses much along the way. I wasn't so sure after the rather dark book four.

I don't think this book stands alone very well. It would be extremely confusing for someone who had not read any of the previous books (or perhaps seen the movies). I think I'd have found it pretty confusing, for that matter, if I hadn't re-read all the others immediately beforehand. There's a pretty large cast, and if I didn't already know most of them from the earlier books, I would have got immensely muddled. I also wouldn't have appreciated the various subplots properly.

I also think it's really a book for older children and teenagers. Some of the concepts could be a bit frightening or puzzling for a child of six or seven. But no doubt it will be read by (or read to) children of all ages - it's already one of the fastest-selling novels of all time.

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