Page last updated at 11:25 GMT, Wednesday, 20 July 2005 12:25 UK

Potter review: Philip Ardagh

Author Philip Ardagh
Philip Ardagh has read all the other Harry Potter books
Children's author Philip Ardagh has written more than 60 books including the Eddie Dickens trilogy. He reviews the second-to-last Harry Potter book and finds it a success.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is different. It's not quite like the Harry Potters that have gone before.

It starts differently and certainly ends on a very different note, with Harry himself not putting in an appearance until Chapter Three.

The story begins at No 10 Downing Street and finishes at a funeral. All previous Potter books have ended on a high, with the enemy at least held at bay if not actually vanquished, some form of quest concluded, and a riddle solved.

The Half-Blood Prince is much darker, however, and - especially if read in just a few long stretches - may have left some readers feeling a little deflated.

Anticipated death

The subject matter (which includes the apparent death of a major character) means that we shouldn't feel any other way, but many Potter fans, particularly the younger ones, may not be happy with this.

They've come to associate their Potter fix with feeling good.

It has some cracking moments and has left some questions enticingly unanswered

The much-anticipated death is remarkably understated, with the minimum of heroic confrontation. It seems a deliberately wasted opportunity: like the life itself, thrown away... which makes it all the more convincing.

And who is the Half-Blood Prince of the title? I'm not going to tell you. Suffice to say that I had a pretty shrewd idea (gleaned from The Order of the Phoenix), and I was completely wrong.

JK Rowling had quite a difficult task to perform in this book, having to tie up many loose ends and to explain as much 'back-story' as possible, in order to clear the decks and leave the stage set for Harry's final confrontation with Lord Voldemort.

This means that there isn't one main story strand this time around, with other minor plots woven around it, but a whole variety of strands, meshing together to create the whole; which may have made it a more fragmented, older, read.

Yes, there are instances where Dumbledore's conversations are pure plot-exposition - it has to go somewhere - but, on the whole, it's skilfully done.

This is the instalment where, with the aid of bottled memories and the 'Pensieve' in Dumbledore's study, we learn much, much more about Lord Voldemort's beginnings.

Hagrid's return

We also get to spend much more time with Snape, which pleased me no end. I love the ambiguity of this character and enjoy the extremely complicated relationship between him and Harry.

The sympathy we had for Snape in The Order of the Phoenix turns to something else here, but the ambiguity remains. Hagrid's back too, of course, but in a lesser role than in some previous outings. I can only take him in small doses so, for me, he's in it just the right amount.

As for Harry himself, he's less of a fly-off-the-handle teenager than in Phoenix, and finally gets a proper girlfriend.

Though Quidditch and lessons have their part to play as always, the day-to-day life at Hogwarts somehow seems to take more of a back seat, or perhaps I'm simply used to it.

The very nature of what this penultimate book must achieve means that The Half-Blood Prince could never be the best 'stand alone' title in the oeuvre, but it has some cracking moments and has left some questions enticingly unanswered. Is Sirius Black's brother Regulus about to play an important role, for example? This is quite an achievement after 600-odd pages.

Ms Rowling, I conclude, has done it again.

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