From November onwards The Magic Book Club (which I co-host) has been reading the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. As this has been a reread for me (I’d read each book at least twice before) and I love the books so much it’s hard to write a coherent review, I’ve decided to review them all at once. That is, I’ll write eight (yes, eight) mini reviews. (Wouldn’t it have been amazing if I’d actually been on schedule and posted this on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone‘s 20th anniversary?) If you’ve been on the fence about reading these books, maybe this will give you the push to go for it.
With every mini review there will be more and more minor spoilers and from Goblet of Fire onwards some major ones, but I won’t mention anything that doesn’t happen in the movies.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
The first book in the series introduces us to the magical world of Harry Potter. We all know Harry is a wizard (if not for the fame of the series, it’s on the back flap and pretty clear from the first chapter already), but somehow it still feels like a surprise when Hagrid actually tells him so. There are many, many wonderful characters, great world building, and an intriguing plot involving not just magic, but riddles and quick problem-solving – and of course, a plot twist.
My rating: 4 stars.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
With the world building out of the way (though new spells, creatures, people, etc. are introduced in every book and there is always something to incite wonder) the plot seems to improve. I feel like every one of these books improves on a reread – more hints to the plot twist or solution of the mystery become obvious every time – Chamber of Secrets stands out in this regard.
My rating: 4 stars.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
This book has been my favourite in the series for a long time, but it isn’t any more. Not because I’ve grown to like this one less, but because I’ve grown to love the later books more. Still, we have the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher ever, the first sign that Voldemort might really return, some of the scariest monsters in any book ever, Hogsmeade, the Marauders’ Map, and a Hippogriff. Remus Lupin really is the reason this book was always my favourite.
My rating: 4,5 stars. (Half added for sentimental reasons.)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
This one is my new favourite! Just like Chamber of Secrets, it improves on a reread, with so many clues suddenly becoming apparent. Aside from that our main characters are growing up, the world is getting darker with Death Eaters entering the scene, we learn about international wizarding schools, and the ending is the darkest yet.
My rating: 4,5 stars.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Things are really getting serious now. Voldemort is back, Harry has seen a fellow student die, and the resistance against the Death Eaters has started in the form of the Order of the Phoenix. When I was younger, this book was my least favourite because I thought Harry was being annoying. Now I understand him a lot better and I totally get why he would be so incredibly angry – he’s been through immense trauma and now the adults are ignoring and isolating him while he’s literally being tortured by an evil teacher. Oh, and also having freaky dreams connected to Voldemort. Anyone would be upset in that situation! Umbridge alone would be enough to ruin my days. At least we’ve got Luna Lovegood to brighten things up a bit!
My rating: 4 stars.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
It is so gratifying that, after all Harry’s been through (now including the added weight of the prophecy saying he has to be the one to kill Voldemort, and the devastating death at the end of the previous book), Dumbledore is finally listening to him and helping him. We learn more about Voldemort’s past, which is incredibly interesting. Harry is obsessed with Draco, who is up to something. Everyone’s having issues with teen angst (with everyone I mean all the kids, of course – Dumbledore’s past that kind of behaviour (though Snape isn’t, really)). We learn about horcruxes. And then there’s the mysterious Half-Blood Prince… All in all a very gripping book.
My rating: 4 stars.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
This book, guys! This book! Such a worthy ending to this series. Our main characters are only seventeen, but there’s a war going on and over the course of a few months they’ve had to grow up. They are so helpless sometimes, without a clue as to where to find the horcruxes or how to destroy them, in constant fear of being discovered by the enemy, questioning each other, themselves, and their past mentors. We get glimpses of what the world looks like when it’s ruled by Death Eaters, and it’s not a pretty picture. The book’s pace perfectly illustrates the journey of the protagonists, moving so slowly at times when they’re just moving from place to place desperately trying to come up with a plan, then picking up the pace as all the information starts to fall into place and everything is happening all at once. I personally think the epilogue stinks, but I’m not going to let that ruin my enjoyment of the rest of this amazing book.
My rating: 4,5 stars.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Oh boy. Ha. This ‘book’. It was marketed as the eighth Harry Potter book, which was a mistake. But even seeing it as a side story rather than a continuation of the series cannot save this play. The plot is weak, far-fetched and a patchwork of coincidences. Several characters have changed unrecognisably. I could get into so much detail, but anything I have to say has probably already been said before. Like in this review by prettygeekery. It’s full of spoilers but it highlights a lot of the same issues I had with the story. (I’d just like to add that they completely changed the concept of time travel from previous books?? By which I mean, in Prisoner of Azkaban everything they ‘changed’ in the past had already happened and there were no alternate realities, whereas in The Cursed Child every time they change something, the future/present changes along, creating alternate timelines. Sure, it’s a different kind of time turner that allows travel further back in time, but that doesn’t mean the whole concept of time travel would change. So not only is the plot bad, it doesn’t make sense in the universe it’s set in. End rant.)
Going out on a positive note, though, I absolutely adored Scorpius Malfoy (though his and Albus’ relationship is a shining example of queerbaiting and I’m forever angry about it) and I enjoyed Draco’s redemption arc, though sometimes it was a bit over the top.
My rating: 2 stars.
So, why should you read these books? I’m not sure about Cursed Child, but the original series is a wonderful way to escape into a magical world. I’ve loved these books since I was 5 years old because of all the magic and the amazing characters, specifically Hermione. It felt so good to see myself, a clever know-it-all with curly brown hair, being represented in a book as one of the heroes. The very first time she was introduced into the story, even though she was a little arrogant, I thought ‘that’s me!’ (my mother may have actually said that out loud to me or at least given me a knowing look). Though I also related to Hagrid, the friendly, loving outcast (who also has bushy hair) who’s allergic to cats (it’s a thing to bond over, okay).
If you’ve already seen the movies and loved them, I urge you even more to read the books. There is so much left unexplained in the movies that you simply need the books for to understand, as well as some great moments you’re missing out on. I mean, it’s not even explained who the Marauders are in the movies. Hermione has blond, wavy hair instead of her bushy brown curls that are so obvious it’s often the one part of her that’s visible in a crowd. They don’t show the Quidditch World Cup. Caring for Norbert(a) the Norwegian Ridgeback. Unicorns! Several of the creatures from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Dobby is just missing between the second and seventh movie?? There is no S.P.E.W.?!? Don’t get me wrong, I love these movies (some more than others), but there is so much more in the books.
(Let me know if you want me to
rant about do a full review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.)