First off, I have to say that the writing in Half-Blood Prince is just so much tighter and generally more readable than the loose baggy monster* that was it's predecessor. A lot happens and the story doesn't stall out. It's a miracle! Also, I love the first two chapters! Any time we get to leave Harry's perspective is a treat. Not that I have anything against Harry's perspective per se but seven books of one character that I don't actually love all that much (I know, I know... what can I say, I prefer his friends) is a bit trying, plus we get to see things that we'd have no idea about otherwise and experience settings that Harry has no place in. I also like that Harry doesn't get to dream about these scenes, like he did in Goblet of Fire... they're just a meanwhile and do some great expository work without the boringness that has haunted JKR's exposition in past books.
The Prime Minister liaises with the NEW Minister of Magic:
The Prime Minister did not know what to say to this, but a persistent habit of wishing to appear well-informed on any subject that came up made him cast around for any details he could remember of their previous conversations. (11)I love the image of this guy making an ass of himself because he just can't stand knowing less than the people he's talking to, a silly Muggle blustering to the grown-ups. Also, lol, politicians.
|I'm out-of-date and I don't even care.|
And Bellatrix and Narcissa call on good ol' Severus:
Many miles away the chilly mist that has pressed against the Prime Minister's windows drifted over a dirty river that wound between overgrown, rubbish-strewn banks. An immense chimney, relic of a disused mill, reared up, shadowy and ominous. There was no sound apart from the whisper of the black water and no sign of life apart from a scrawny fox that had slunk down the bank to nose hopefully at some old fish-and-chip wrappings in the tall grass. (19)I love this description in general (except for the missing comma), but it's also a fascinating look at Snape's background. Would you have guessed that this is where he came from? Or that the teachers actually have homes outside of Hogwarts? In retrospect, the amount of time spent describing Snape's home should have been a hint to this book's revelations, but that never actually occurred to me before. Why else would it matter that Snape comes from a dirty Muggle town, where he very likely yielded no power? ANYWAY (for now).
Finally we get to our illustrious hero, Harry himself! And it turns out that two weeks with the Dursleys has cured him of his teen angst! How convenient! Okay, he's probably actually in some sort of shock over losing Sirius, or maybe it knocked him straight, though I think that it would be more likely to make him even angrier unless his outburst in Dumbly's office was supposed to be cathartic? In which case, we should always let angsty teens destroy our stuff. At least he has the good sense to be embarrassed about it now. Speaking of Dumbly, Harry has lost his trust in his former hero, and that is a sad thing... He could not shake off the feeling that something was going to go wrong (44), that for some reason Dumbly wouldn't be able to collect him as promised. Where once he trusted implicitly, he has learned to be wary of the legendary Dumbledore, a theme that will influence much of the coming novel.
So Harry has inherited Sirius's house and there's an entail on it! This isn't actually particularly significant to the novel but it did make me shriek, Pride and Prejudice! so that's something. And it's also indicative of how out-of-date the wizarding world is. No Google and entails? That is just too much. Speaking of Sirius:
[Harry's] eyes burned suddenly and he blinked. He felt stupid for admitting it, but the fact that he had had someone outside Hogwarts who cared what happened to him, almost like a parent, had been one of the best things about discovering his godfather... and now the post owls would never bring him that comfort again... (77)
To double the sadness, how sad is it that Harry feels stupid for crying? Stupid gender expectations, you make me so mad. Let it out, Harry!
Back to Dumbly: as entertaining as his abuse of the Dursleys is, his assertion that "it would have been better manners to drink it, you know" (51) is awfully obnoxious. He did just show up at these people's house unnanounced at 11 p.m., has plans to call on more people without warning, and just beat the family in the heads with glasses full of booze. He's not exactly in position to be opening a finishing school. But then he calls them on their shittiness: "You have never treated Harry as a son. He has known nothing but neglect and cruelty at your hands" (55) and we are like FINALLY.
Harry goes to Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes! Which is fantastic and much more than jokes and can I go there?** I feel like the twins must have a Time-Turner to have created all this stuff in so short a time, but packaged daydreams! Voyeuristic Muggle magic tricks! Decoy Detonators! Self-Inking quills! Wait, isn't that just a pen? Anywho, it is the bestest and makes me happy because dreams come true! And now the Weasleys can be rich and Mrs. Weasley can get a fancy hat at Christmas!***
So, you know how Harry doesn't fully trust Dumbly anymore? Well, it looks like Ron and Hermione don't trust Harry anymore either and oh god it's all collapsing around us! Harry is all DRACO IS UP TO NO GOOD and Ron and Hermione are all, that's nice, could you pass the salt? And I would argue that their hesitation is JKR trying really hard to give Harry back his respectability but he needs that, so it's cool. Also, you'd think that Ron and Hermione would be into this than they are but maybe they've just grown up? More like they don't want to get sucked into any more of Harry's fantasies. Can you blame them?
And then the scene on the train, which is what really saves Harry in my eyes. First, we have Luna: "I enjoyed the meetings too," said Luna serenely. "It was like having friends" (138). And I am like SOB because Luna doesn't have friends but also, say it like it is, girl. Yeah, this is the kind of thing we're not supposed to say because it makes people uncomfortable but it is the truth and people have been shitty to Luna and she should be able to tell them about it. But then Romilda Vane is all, Harry, you don't have to sit with them, they're not cool, and Luna and Neville are like, yeah, we're not, but Harry's all "You are cool... None of them was at the Ministry. They didn't fight with me" (139). Now, this is a little awkward because Harry is using himself and his horrible mistake as a meter of coolness, but the sentiment is EXCELLENT and I want to hug him for it. Because last year on the train, Harry was all:
Harry slumped back on the seat and groaned. He would have liked Cho to discover him sitting with a group of very cool people laughing their heads off at a joke he had just told; he would not have chosen to be sitting with Neville and Luna Lovegood, clutching a toad a dripping in Stinksap. (188)Growth.
|It's probably just because Neville got hot. Okay, yeah, I only included|
this picture because, well, Neville got hot. SO SUE ME.
**I think we should all go on a group trip to the Harry Potter theme park. It needs to happen.
***I have clearly read this book far too many times.