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Customer Review

43 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The hero's journey continues, 25 Jun. 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5) (Hardcover)
Harry Potter is now a phenomenon. Who would have predicted 4-5 years ago that youngsters would be clamouring for a hardback book numbering more than 750 pages making it the fastest selling novel of all time?
Book 5, The Order of the Phoenix is the next stage of Harry's journey from uncertain and unhappy childhood to fully-blown adult hero. But his journey is not an easy one, for as this installment opens he is unpopular and mistrusted by almost the entire wizarding fraternity, victim of an all-too familiar press-campaign to besmirch his previous good name.
If you're already a Harry Potter fan, chances are you've already bought this. If you're not then it would be unwise to read The Order of the Phoenix without having read books 1-4 first. JK Rowling litters the text with references back to her previous novels, and the impact of certain key moments would be greatly reduced if you aren't familiar with her characters and world (and that most definitely means the BOOKS, not the film versions, to which she makes few concessions).
As with the fourth book The Goblet of Fire, Rowling presents us with an extended sequence before Harry and his fellow-pupils reach Hogwarts. Unlike the overlong and frankly rather tedious Quidditch World Cup chapters in the previous novel, however, the episodes building up to and containing Harry's trial are quite engaging, and serve to introduce a significant number of new characters.
Unfortunately the extended page count does not mean an increase of action in The Order of the Phoenix, and to be brutally honest this book is the slowest paced yet of the series. While the third novel The Prisoner of Azkaban is the most wholly satisfying, this is just good in places, there being three or four stand-out chapters. The rest is often overlong and overwordy and readers will not miss much if they skim through some pages.
The Ministry of Magic, headed by Cornelius Fudge takes a central role in this book. Rowling is unafraid here to call into question the motives and methods of politicians and the media, a bold move which allows older readers to make useful parallels with the real worlds and which could even encourage younger ones to develop an open-minded attitude to what they see and hear on TV and in the papers.
It is interesting to note that while the characters of Harry, Ron, Hermione et al are now aged fifteen, their behaviour and attitudes haven't really changed that much since they were eleven. They are still worried about House points, scoff chocolate frogs and swop cards, and think that owning your own joke-shop is the pinnacle of unorthodox achievement. And there's nothing wrong with that. Rowling's principal readership will be several years younger now than the characters they are reading about and will have no problem identifying with their feelings and priorities. The prospect of Harry and his pals undergoing a more realistic adolescent transformation into unsociable and unlikeable brats is enough to make this reviewer shudder with apprehension.
The love-story between Harry and Cho is tastefully handled, and again is more akin to what might happen between younger readers than genuine 15-16 year-olds. And Rowling avoids the anticipated outcome quite slickly, with Hermione's deconstruction of their disastrous date something of a master-stroke on the writer's behalf.
The much-heralded death-sequence is effectively handled, and Rowling slyly foreshadows it with a series of 'death-moments' involving almost every other key-character in preceeding chapters. Though whether the character involved will be resurrected despite what Nearly-headless Nick tells Harry, remains to be seen. My money would be on some kind of later involvement in the remaining books.
Of the regular characters, Hagrid is kept almost entirely in the background, while we are allowed some pretty revealing insights into Snape's past. We also find out what the adolescent James Potter was really like, a complexity Rowling has built into the storyline which makes Harry question his previous hero-worship of his dad.
Finally a word on the new characters. Umbridge is easily identifiable as the sort of teacher every school has at least one example of, and the mutiny against her by staff and pupils alike is staggeringly effective. She stands alongside Gilderoy Lockhart (who makes a cameo appearance-- hooray!) as one of Rowling's best creations. Tonks is underused but has potential to be a key figure (and another positive female role-model) in the remaining books in the series.
Overall I enjoyed reading this book, but feel it could have lost 200-300 pages without compromising either the characterisation or storyline. The sequence in which Dumbledore takes responsibility for the DA and the moment when the Weasley twins leave Hogwarts are genuinely uplifting and memorable. Dumbledore's revelations towards the novel's end of the link between Harry and Vol- sorry, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named set up the remainder of Harry's journey and point to a potentially very dark conclusion.
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