Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – book review – No Spoilers

Okay, I finished reading Harry Potter, Year 5, about a week after it became available and I’ve been itching to post something about it. There will shortly be a MEVBC review of it; I know Zoe and myself read it straight away, and there are a couple of other people who have expressed interest in joining that discussion, so the meeting is temporarily in a holding pattern. The MEVBC discussion is sure to be chock-full of spoilers, by the way.

So, here we go.

As you already know, even if you don’t read the Harry Potter books yet, Harry Potter is a boy wizard, and the book series chronicles his adventures as he attends wizarding school. The wizarding school Harry attends is called Hogwarts, and students attend for seven years. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was the first book in the series, and chronicled Harry’s first year at Hogwarts. It began in the summer before his first year and ended at the end of term. Every single book in the series, including the current one, Year 5, have followed this pattern. The author, J.K. Rowling, has stated matter-of-factly that there will be precisely seven books, and she has also claimed to have known when she wrote year one what the entire storyline and the outcome through year seven would be. This establishes that there are known, planned story arcs that cover all seven books, comprising a single story about this boy, Harry Potter.

So, without giving anything away, even to people who have not read the first four books, I will say that the author does not appear to be using any standard story structure that I am aware of for the overarching story of all seven years. Though the first year did effectively introduce readers to the world and the characters and specific settings and interactions, there was effectively no rising action nor important story development in the second year. The third year begins to provide important background information, character development and introductions to some of the players in the later years, but the primary conflict between Harry Potter and the magnificent villian Voldemort is not played out here at all. By the fourth year, Harry as a character is really coming into his own, his schoolmates are also developing in meaningful ways, and they are showing some signs that they are actual 14-year-olds, though not too much. The bulk of the fourth year deals with the details of a series of challenges Harry must face which are seemingly unrelated to the major storyarc of the set, but even from the beginning there is a significant amount of rising action as well as people and events and magics coming together to set the stage for the magnificent villian to come onto the scene with a fury not seen in the earlier years. The rising action in the fourth year again feels a year behind; the fourth year is the mid-point in the set of years, but when considering the dramatic finish to the year it seems to be setting up for more story than could fit in the remaining three books.

Which brings us to the current book, detailing year five. When you look at this tome beside the others that came before it, you can see that the author must have realised that she has set up more than could have fit in three more volumes the size of the other books. Year five is 870 pages long. The total number of pages if you add the first four books together is only 752 pages. Seriously, this book is long. Well, compared to the other Harry Potter books, and any ‘childrens book’ I’ve ever heard of.

Anyway, this huge tome promised (based on the end of year four) to be chock full of action relating to the primary conflict in the series, between Harry and Voldemort, and certainly had plenty of space to do it in. And yet it failed. Sure, there was some excellent character development and interaction and the fifteen-year-olds certainly acted like fifteen-year-olds, but where was the war we were promised? The battle so epic it made these increasingly large books worth reading? The David and Goliath story of the little boy defeating the great and powerful dark wizard against all odds, with the entire wizarding community taking sides? Not in year five, alas. Most of year five is spent studying for tests, not understanding girls, and working around a beauracracy hell-bent on enforcing it’s own version of the truth, no matter how wrong it is. I’m not saying it isn’t a good read, or that lots of interesting things don’t happen, I’m just saying that the main story of the series, the story that draws us from one book to the next, is still only a sub-plot until around seven hundred and fifty pages in.

And then after an overly complicated adventure through and around features of the magical world that are under-explained, everything that happened in the book effectively gets cancelled out, putting it back the way it was at the beginning. Oh. Except that the beauracracy finally has to admit it was wrong. And then, BAM! It’s the end of term again and the book is over.

Okay, okay, so some more back-story is revealed, but in the most frustrating way imaginable for such small details that I had basically assumed from year one. We learn a little about a teacher or two, we learn a little about the dark side of wizarding, and we learn a little about magical medicine. And like I said, rich compelling characters and interactions abound, as well as plenty of little challenges for the increasingly large cast of characters. A really good read overall, and if you’ve read the other four, go ahead and read this one; I’m sure they’ll get to that battle sooner or later, maybe around the last 100 pages of year seven, and you wouldn’t want to have missed out on part of the middle. But seriously, we’re basically at the same place we were at the end of the last year after reading more than all four prior years combined.


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