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

This book is the third in JK Rowling’s best-selling series about the teenage wizard Harry Potter. I first read it soon after it was published in the late 1990s. I re-read it in 2003 and then again in 2005, before publication of the seventh and final book. At the time, it ranked as my favourite of the series.

Ten years later, after re-reading ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ a few weeks ago, and then ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’, it didn’t take me long to pull this one out of my shelves, wondering if I would enjoy it as much as I did the first few times.

‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ takes a rather darker turn than the first two books, paving the way for the gradual return to power of the evil Lord Voldemort. The book starts with Harry, once again, spending the summer with his unpleasant relatives who won’t allow him to do his homework, and don’t even acknowledge his birthday. He’s determined not to get in trouble, because he wants his uncle to sign an important permission form.

However, Harry loses his temper, and disaster starts to ensure around him, meaning he is forced to leave home, where he’s picked up by the oddly surreal ‘Knight Bus’.

Meanwhile, the TV news has been reporting an escaped convict, Sirius Black. Once Harry is back in the wizarding world, we discover that Black has been in Azkaban, the wizarding prison; moreover, it seems that he’s after Harry. Security is high when he returns to Hogwarts, and he meets, for the first time, the appalling ‘dementors’, the guards who suck every bit of happiness from a person’s soul.

Life isn’t easy back at school, either. Hermione has a new cat, Crookshanks, who seems determined to catch and eat Ron’s rat Scabbers. Work is getting harder now they’re third years, and Hermione’s schedule, in particular, seems to be impossible. Harry’s the only person in his year who can’t go out to the local village of Hogsmeade at weekends, and he overhears more and more terrible things about his parents, and also about the escaped Sirius Black…

There are many threads in this book, some of which I had forgotten. JK Rowling weaves them together expertly, building character and tension while telling a very exciting story which, I can now see with the benefit of hindsight, foreshadows the eventual climax in the final book.

As with the first two, the context is that of a school story. So there’s plenty of insight into the third years’ school days, including some thrilling Quidditch matches, some unpleasant Potions lessons with the unpleasant Professor Snape, and the introduction of Professor Lupin, who teaches some excellent ‘Defence of the Dark Arts’ lessons, and gives Harry a bit of private coaching too.

Of course, I knew the outline of the plot: who would be revealed as the ‘bad guy’ and what the result of the complicated climactic scenes would be. That didn’t stop my heart from beating a little faster as I reached the denouement; I had to put the book down, a couple of times, to reduce the tension for a few minutes, before I read on.

The concluding scenes are thrilling, and also ingenious, leaving the way wide open for the next book, which I’m sure I will be re-reading soon.

Very highly recommended; this is a powerful book about the force of good over evil, about believing in oneself and the power of love; about nobility and courage… and about the need, sometimes, to break ‘rules’ for a much greater good.

We saw the related film of 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban' in 2012 and thought it well done but with rather too much action; the book has a lot more in it, and I like it considerably better.

Review copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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