Okay, I have sat on this book review for a couple of days because this book has made me think long and hard. I am reading it with an eye to whether it is appropriate for my kids, not for whether it was entertaining or engaging. It was definitely entertaining as an adult reader, and if you like fantasy books then this series is a good one.
But is it good for kids?
This book follow’s Harry’s sixth year at Hogwarts; a good plot synopsis, as always, may be found at Wikipedia. At over 650 pages this book is no small read, but it definitely had me turning pages throughout.
For a short-short-short plot synopsis (spoilers in this paragraph!), Harry once again tries to get through a year at Hogwarts. Snape has taken over the job of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, and Harry gets lucky to be given an old copy of his potions book written in by an anonymous former student called “the half-blood Prince” (hence the name of the book), with whose help Harry becomes quite adept at potion-making. During this book, Dumbledore finally lets Harry in on Voldemort’s past through several memories they get to see, and Harry finds out that Voldemort has tried to attain immortality by ripping his soul into pieces and putting it within magical devices known as Horcruxes. Dumbledore takes Harry along to find a Horcrux, where Dumbledore is weakened considerably getting to it. He and Harry hurry back to Hogwarts, only to find that Draco Malfoy has let Death Eaters into Hogwarts. Upon finding Dumbledore, Malfoy is tempted to kill him but Dumbledore almost succeeds in convincing him to switch sides. Right at the last moment, Severus Snape steps in and kills Dumbledore with the Avada Kedavra curse, and then tells Harry that he is the half-blood prince. At Dumbledore’s funeral, Harry tells his best friends that he is not coming back to Hogwarts for his seventh year, but will instead seek out Voldemort to kill him.
Again, this book has a lot going for it. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and it was a real page turner. Adults who enjoy fantasy will enjoy it immensely.
The whole theme of the book revolves around Voldemort tearing his soul apart by killing others (never in gruesome ways, but he definitely does it) in an attempt to safekeep it in magical devices. There is a clear lesson in this story, in that murder is irreparably harmful not only on the victim, but also on the perpetrator. (Genesis 5, anyone?)
Voldemort’s quest for immortality is also an EASY play for parents to talk to their kids about death and life after death. While Voldemort seeks immortality by evil, God says that it is only by faith alone in Christ alone that we can have eternal life. (Eph 2:8-9 among the many)
Professor Slughorn is a good character in the book. Well, he is not good, but a good opportunity to look at the pitfalls of seeking popularity. He is so obsessed with knowing important people and being a bit of a “king maker” that he inadvertently gives Voldemort critical knowledge that allows him to shred his soul in his quest for immortality.
Harry’s character growth in this book is good. He is growing up and must begin to make the transition from boy to man. In Harry’s case, that means that he must accept his place as “the Chosen One” who must fight Voldemort and has a good chance to defeat him. This is, naturally, not an easy thing for Harry to accept! But he has to choose between easy and right, and in the end he realizes that it is his sense of right and wrong, of loyalty and love for his friends, that sets him apart from Voldemort. That is an important story line.
I also think that Harry’s love interest is a good story here. He has feelings for Ginny Weasley, but his friendship with Ron makes him very hesitant to say anything. That is a clear indication that Harry understands Man Law, which is important for any man, teenaged or otherwise. He finally dates Ginny with Ron’s consent.
I love the free enterprise in this book! Fred and George have a raving success with Weasley’s Wizard Weezes, and they profit handsomely from their entrepreneurial spirit! That’s a good lesson for kids, that it is not necessarily the most highly educated who are financially successful. (and, with that lesson, it is not always financial success that indicates true success)
There is a strong undercurrent in the books that love is greater than hate and greater than lust for power. This is not absolute in the books, but the love of the characters in the book for one another (not just romantic love, though that is there in an innocent manner) is good and right.
The bad here is not great. Voldemort’s power is rising, the dementors are working for him, and he has a lot of access to Hogwarts through Draco Malfoy. (and perhaps through Snape as well)
There are several deaths in this book. None of them are gruesome, though all of them involve magic and they are murders plain and simple. Voldemort kills several people, and at the very end of the book Snape kills Dumbledore. The lone slightly gruesome aspect of this is that Dumbledore falls from the tower at Hogwarts and is of course battered by the fall. Though it is not described in detail, it is clear that his body is quite broken.
Dumbledore’s death is shocking and earth-shattering to Harry. Dumbledore has functioned in the series to this point as a surrogate father figure to Harry, almost a God figure in the books. He has been a guide, a mentor, and a protector, and while he has not been perfect in any of these roles he has provided Harry with a sense of security and protection that is shattered at the end of this book. Dumbledore’s death, especially coming at the hands of a man that he defended as worthy of his trust again and again and again to many who doubted him, is hard to stomach in the series.
Snape is outed at the end as a Death Eater in his murder of Dumbledore. That is bad, but just as bad is Harry’s reaction. He seems to want vengeance even more than he wants justice. He hates Snape, and hates Voldemort, because they have taken people from him that he loves. He loves, they hate and have killed those he loves, and so he is going to go get them. This kind of vigilantism is not acceptable and should be addressed by parents.
I had to take a few days to really think about this book. Dumbledore’s death is earth-shaking to the series, and while it is so, it appears that Harry uses this to accept his role and take on the mantle of a grown man.
That said, the book is intense at the end and a bit shocking. I am going to rate this one PG-13SGDRF. (not recommended for kids under 13, and only for those kids who have a Strong Grasp of the Difference between Reality and Fantasy) For those who meet these guidelines, it will be a book you can’t put down and that makes you IMMEDIATELY reach for book 7.