Monday, August 27, 2007

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows

I started this book the night it came out and finished it the next day. Like many I raced through the book and I probably missed a few elements. But that's part of the fun when you get to go back and reread books. You get to discover some of the things you've missed.

Overall I think Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows is J. K. Rowling's best book since Prisoner of Azkaban. The story has a fast pace, the characters are mostly true to themselves and you can see real growth in them throughout the story. Harry's lost some of his wonder at the magical world and he's lost his faith in the wizard government, though I think it could be successfully argued he lost that in Order of the Phoenix. Dumbledore isn't there to guide him and that loss is felt keenly. Luckily he doesn't have to go it alone. As always Ron and Hermione are there, ready to help and support him. One of the things I love about this book is the fact that even though he's dead Dumbledore as a character is still seen in almost every chapter, he's very much a part of the story even though he gets very little actual screen time.

It's interesting to see the way Harry handles Dumbledore's shady past. In The Order of the Phoenix he handled discovering that Dumbledore was not actually all-knowing, but he still believed (as many readers did) that Dumbledore was inherently good. In Deathly Hallows we see that to label him as such doesn't fit. Rowling shows that the wizarding world, just like the muggle world is full of shades of grey. Dumbledore was a good person, but at one point in his life he gave in to the belief that the ends justify the means. I truly enjoy how Rowling uses the revelation of Dumbledore’s past as a way for Harry to grow up and make his own decisions about how to handle the fight against Voldemort.

While I enjoy Harry's growth in this book I marvel over Ron's. Books 4 – 6 sullied Ron for me a bit. He lost some of his innate courage, courage he showed in book 1 when he accepted his role as the knight in the chess match and in book 2 when he faced his fear of spiders (though Aragog and his children understandably strengthened that fear). I'm trying to think of particularly courageous moments in book 3, and I'm not really sure what's the best example. His injury when Sirius grabbed him to get to Scabbers precluded his ability to stand in front of Harry like Hermione did. In any case, Ron's character dissolves in book 4 when he gives into his jealousy and turns his back on Harry. In book five he backs down from his brothers and allows them to get away with murder while he's a prefect when the more courageous thing would be stand up to them and at least attempt to get them to follow the rules. Not to mention his performance anxiety he has once he becomes keeper for the Gryffindor Quidditch team. This isn't the confident budding strategist that Rowling introduced us to in Sorcerer's Stone. Sadly, that person doesn't truly make another appearance until book 7. But when he does, Ron flourishes. He's lost some of his stumbling in front of girls (his involvement with Lavender Brown seems to have helped), he's trying to think like a strategist again, though he doesn’t quite pull it off to the extent I would like, and after a crisis of faith brought on by the One Ring posing as a Horcrux, he shows his commitment to Harry's quest and to seeing Voldemort fall. Bravo for making Ron more than just comic relief once more.

Neville Longbottom is another character that finally comes into his own. He's come such a long way from his start as an almost squib that can barely remember to tie his own shoes much less remember complex spells. I delight in the fact that Neville is the one leading the resistance at Hogwarts, he shows that Gryffindor courage and plays a part in ending Voldemort in a way that shows even though he wasn't marked by a lightning bolt scar like Harry without Neville, the self-proclaimed Dark Lord would've won.

All in all this is an excellent book and one I thoroughly enjoyed. It was a fitting end to Rowling’s series but I also take comfort in knowing the Trio survived and should she ever take a notion, they could appear on the written page once more.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Many people started rereading the Harry Potter series in anticipation of the final enstalment of the series. Rather than go through the previous six books I chose to just check out the 6th book, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, again. And...I didn't finish it. I read about half of it and put it down because sadly it couldn't hold my interest. I love the world of Harry Potter and the first three books I've reread at least five times, but I've only managed to get through the fourth book twice and I've never reread the fifth. My interest in Harry's story hasn't faded, I've grabbed up each new book the day it came out and devoured it over the opening weekend.

With Half Blood Prince, Harry is dealing with a Wizarding World that still doesn't quite believe Voldemort has returned despite the climatic battle at the Ministry of Magic from the fifth book. He's still in school and Dumbledore is finally sharing information with him. Harry's day to day life takes up a great deal of time in this book and for the first time he starts to show interest in Ginny Weasley. I could talk about the time spent on relationships and the way they're written for hours on end, but it's not very important for this review. Harry learns a great deal in this book, both about the Wizarding world, his arch-nemesis, and the usual teenage lessons dealing with relationships. It was an enjoyable read, but I don't think I'll be going back to it for many years to come.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Guns of the South

Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove is not my usual reading material but I decided to give it a try based on an author recommendation. I’m really glad I did, the book is thought provoking, entertaining, and brings historical figures to life giving them a personality that is steeped in historical accuracy but has enough of a novelist’s flair to be true characters. Like I’ve mentioned in a previous post, this book is set in the Civil War, starts in 1864 in fact. The moment the book starts you’re introduced to General Robert E. Lee, a man I read about many many times as a child (I think I was the only one in my middle school to check out his biography more than once). When General Lee is introduced to Andries Rhoodie, history as we know it changes completely. What happens throughout the book is based solely on the question, “What if the South had better weapons?” More specifically, “What if the South had AK-47s?” It’s a fascinating read and Turtledove does an excellent job showing the big picture through Lee and his journey while also showing the common man’s point of view through Nate Caudell, a school teacher from Nashville, NC.

My biggest complaint with this book is still the vocabulary. In the beginning of the book the use of the N-word (I know, still a rather immature way to describe it) pulled me out of the story every time it was used. By the end of the book I didn’t blink when I saw it. It fit the story and that bothered me. The fact that it didn’t faze me by the end, but when I saw it in the book I’m currently reading (The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama) it jarred me once more. The use of the word is unacceptable to me in modern speech, but I realize that Mr. Turtledove wasn’t making a commentary on today’s speech by using it, he was highlighting the setting of his story. It fit that story, it fit the example Senator Obama used, it doesn’t fit day-to-day speech now and my discomfort with the word is intact. Oddly that was an important realization for me.

Despite that tangent, I can honestly say I enjoyed Guns of the South. I’ve already recommended it to one person and I know I’ll be recommending it to other fans of history and the fantastic. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on another Harry Turtledove novel, as I’d been told, the man does amazing things with Alternate History novels.