Title: Overlong, but generally enjoyable installment in the Potter series
Content: The fifth instalment in the Harry Potter series is the longest yet. They hype around the books was firmly established by the time this one was published and expectations were impossibly high. I ordered it from Amazon as well as queuing in the rain to buy it just in case my local store ran out of books - and I know plenty of others who went to similar lengths. Looking back now, objectively, it wouldn't be worth such extremes - but it does highlight just how much this series came to mean to readers, and not just because it was fashionable. This was the first novel in the series that I feel suffered from lack of an editor. It is overlong and I know of younger readers (the 8-10 age group mainly) who had enjoyed the earlier books but struggled to keep the thread through this one. It is less cohesive and tightly plotted than the preceding stories, and introduces a whole host of new characters. Some become firm favourites and pivotal to the final part of the series. I particularly like Luna Lovegood, who first appears in this book, and also Kinglsey Shacklebolt. It sees the return also of Remus Lupin, a fan favourite from the third book who did not appear in book four. Many of characters introduced are adults and it expands the number of adult characters in the series considerably. The themes are 'darker' (every successive Harry Potter instalment is described as 'darker' generally). Abuse of power is an important theme. There's also a lot about the politics of the magical world underlying this story, and for some young readers this may be their introduction to some concepts about the world of politics in general. We see corruption, institutional prejudice, manipulation of the media, politicians lying, and politicians doing the wrong thing in order to protect their own jobs. Injustice is another key topic. Harry Potter himself shows more 'teenage' tendencies in this book - he gets a bit shouty a few times and spends rather a lot of time thinking things are SO unfair. Of course, it's slightly undermined by the fact that things genuinely are. He gets his first girlfriend, and he sits his exams. There is a sinister element in the nightmares and visions which he suffers throughout the book, implying that he may be at risk of possession. In fact, he is viewed as mad and unstable by most of his fellow students throughout the novel. There is a character death at the end and several other characters are injured or in peril at various times. The story has less of the innocent joyfulness and sparkle of some of the earlier stories, but it does tackle some more meaty themes and is still a great fun read. I would recommend it more for readers of age 10 and upwards, because I think younger children will find the length and structure more daunting, but of course it depends on the child. Adults will also enjoy the book. There are a few plot holes and a few inconsistencies introduced here that create problems later in the series - but overall, the Potter stories are always fun to read and virtually a required rite of passage for children in the 2000s. So sit back, enjoy, and don't think too hard about the details.