Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a great book for a transatlantic flight. I’m not so sure it’s a great book in its own right, though.
We returned to Germany the day that the sixth book in the Harry Potter series was released. We hadn’t bothered to pre-order the book since we weren’t going to try to ship the book to Germany, and we didn’t expect to see it available that day. However, we saw a copy in a bookstore in O’Hare airport, and we decided to buy it. I had planned to work on some programming on the trip from Chicago to Detroit to Amsterdam to Hamburg. Instead, I finished the book before we arrived in Amsterdam.
As with the earlier Harry Potter books, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a quick and engrossing read. After having spent a couple thousand pages with Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the others, I really wanted to know what was going to happen to them. It was very interesting to read one of these “children’s” books in the midst of rereading The Lord of the Rings. Although both series are magic/fantasy books written by British authors, the similarity pretty much ends there. J.K. Rowling’s focus on the story means that her most complicated language doesn’t touch the complexity that J.R.R. Tolkien uses to describe an otherwise-meaningless flower that Frodo sees along the way.
I found Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to be much more enjoyable to read than Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. That fifth book in the series was weighed down for me by too much adolescent brooding and too much repetitive oppression of Harry by his teachers like Dolores Umbridge. In this book, Harry doesn’t have the weight of the wizarding world against him, just a great war that threatens all of the wizarding world. While it’s still not a happy situation, I found it much less oppressive than the previous book.
I agree with some other reviewers that this book seems like the first part of a large two-volume culmination of the series. It felt like this book was largely setting the stage for the final war in the last book of the series, defining the battle and the combatants. However, the book ends with a significant enough event that it feels as thought it can stand on its own.
One problem I have with the Harry Potter books as they proceed is the continual need to show us new and interesting aspects of the wizarding world and the power wizards and witches have. I know I thought about this while reading this book, but the best example that comes to mind is Legilimency from book 5, the ability to read someone’s mind. If Snape has such power over Harry in book 5, why didn’t Harry know about it in Book 1 and 2 when he hid things from Snape?
Overall, it’s a good book. One of my best friends, who regularly read the Booker Prize nominees and other weighty literature, considers this to be an excellent book, the best of the series. I’m not sure I’ll go that far, but it’s a worthy addition to the canon.
So, now I’m starting on Harry Potter und die Kammer des Schreckens, the German translation of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Book 2). If I succeed, I don’t think I’ll understand the wizarding world any better, but I expect my German will be better.