Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on July 17, 2005
Half-Blood Prince is easily one of the better books in the Harry Potter series, though each is a masterpiece. But the 6th installment of a 7-part series is bound to be full of great moments in the story. There remains a great deal unanswered in this book, however, and the 7th will surely need to be no smaller than an average encyclopedia. Somehow as I was reading this book, I felt that I was learning more and at a quicker rate than in Order of the Phoenix, but so many of Harry's problems and questions took so long to reach any sort of answer or resolution that I still ended up not knowing many of the secrets I expected to be revealed in this book. It must be that Rowling, in her grand scheme, is saving much for the last book. One thing seems to be for certain, though, and that is that Rowling will never lose that special touch, that supreme and genuine interest in the story and its characters that makes the writing so engrossing. After completing this book, I was in a state of total shock and to this moment I wish only to read the seventh book.
Half-Blood Prince is dark; I mean far darker than the last. This is the time I have always known was inevitable in the Harry Potter world, at last we are seeing chaos and war and battles break out within the walls of Hogwarts itself. Several of the chapters are particularly well-written, with great suspense and imagery; an example would be the time Harry and Dumbledore spent in the cave. Relationships blossom in this book at last, including Harry suddenly falling in `love' with Ginny Weasley, Ron dating Lavender Brown, Pansy and Draco clearly going out, and some serious hinting at a possible romance between Ron and Hermione when he gets rid of Lavender. Some of the focus on their teenage jealousies and squabbles, and their newfound interest in dating and `snogging,' was a cute touch, but admittedly not what I was exactly looking for. After all, it was more fluff than anything else, and certainly none of it was real love. Then, the useless couple of Tonks and Lupin was introduced in the end; all well and good, I suppose, but again not something that overjoyed me. The end of the book is very sad indeed, yet, I was not crying--I was merely shocked, flabbergasted at the circumstances. A Snapeless, Dumbledoreless Hogwarts that Harry Potter is not intending to return to next year? Yes, you heard right. Harry wants to go off and find all of Voldemort's remaining Horcruxes and face the final battle on his own.
Much of the book is devoted to Harry witnessing important memories in the Pensieve with Dumbledore so that he can gain a greater understanding of his enemy, the Dark Lord. Now, I have long been a fan of Severus Snape. I admit I love him. Most of my reasons for loving Harry Potter center on him. And while much was learned about him in this book, much is still unknown, and what we do now know is shocking. To begin with, we learn the names of his parents, muggle Tobias Snape and witch Eileen Prince (yes, Snape is the Half-Blood Prince.) It is also known that Snape overheard the prophecy regarding Harry & Voldemort and told the Dark Lord about it; however, supposedly he showed enough remorse after Voldemort used the information to kill Harry's parents that Dumbledore forgave and entrusted him. Many are accusing Dumbledore of naivety for this, but I believe that they are only looking at what is plainly on the surface of this book and forgetting many things. I will explain later why, amazing as it may seem, my love for and faith in Snape remain unshaken despite the fact that this book, from its beginning, seems to be saying that he is still on Voldemort's side. I believe it's too simple for Rowling to be writing that he is, after all, evil. To me it seems a set-up. Additionally, I was expecting a surprising reason for Dumbledore to trust Snape, not a simple apology. There must still be more to this than meets the eye.
Before I explain my case about Snape, I'll mention some of the things that remain a mystery after this book. Sev's patronus and greatest fear don't come up (in fact, while Tonks' patronus is revealed, Boggarts don't receive any mention.) Some interesting information is supposedly going to be divulged regarding both Lily and Petunia, but neither of them played much of a role in book 6.
So on to my favorite character, who ends up being the Prince mentioned in the title. When I first finished this book, I was somewhat upset because while I still loved Snape, I was aware that what he'd just done was not steering in the direction of redemption, as I had hoped to see him going. I also knew that, at least until some point in Book 7, almost everyone (in the books and in real life) would turn against Snape and regard him as a treacherous dog. Yet, after composing myself and reviewing what I'd read, I realized that I just cannot accept him as truly evil, or Dumbledore as an old fool.
Now, before reading this book, if I had to make a list of impossible things that could never happen...Snape killing the Headmaster and fleeing the school with a bunch of Death Eaters, would have been right at the top of the list. But, I'd have been wrong. I had a very strong feeling that Dumbledore would be the one to die in this book. But I never saw the way it happened coming. In the beginning of the story, Snape came in rather quickly. Once Harry was at school, Snape finally got the Defense Against the Dark Arts post he'd longed for. I was cheering. (Yes, he is no longer Potions Master.) But it turned out not to matter. In the second chapter, Narcissa Malfoy and her sister, Bellatrix Lestrange, visit the home of Sev and he makes with Narcissa (possibly out of love) an Unbreakable Vow--that Snape will help her son Draco carry out a task ordered of him by Voldemort, and will complete it himself should Draco prove unable. The task, it seems in the end, was to kill Dumbledore. Draco does prove unable, and Snape carries it out. Yet, it cannot be this simple. Dumbledore may have been aware of the task, and the Vow. From the moment Dumbledore returns from the cave, weakened, having drunk an unknown potion set by Voldemort to guard a Horcrux, he says he needs Severus. He never says what for, never asks to be healed. When Snape arrives Dumbledore calls his name and says 'please' (pleading for his life, as everyone assumes, or something else?) before Snape aims the curse at him that kills him.
This seems twisted, monstrous, unforgivable, no? Exactly: No. Not in my opinion, at least. I do not think it was Snape's choice to kill Dumbledore, but that the Headmaster had at least one reason for telling him that he must do this horrible deed. Of course from Harry's perspective (Harry, who has inherited, as Lupin says, a prejudice against Sev) it was cold-blooded murder and betrayal and he now wants to destroy Snape as much as Voldemort. But this too is far too simple; clearly, as the book ends on this note, there are things Harry does not understand about what has happened.
He has forgotten, for instance, about the argument overheard by Hagrid, between Snape and Dumbledore. This point never was addressed again, yet amidst all the turmoil, who can blame it for being overlooked? Consider it. Dumbledore telling Snape he must do something that Snape does not wish to do. For several reasons I can think of (mainly involving the Death Eaters and the Malfoys), this argument connects directly to the death of Albus. And what of the mysterious order given Snape at the end of "Goblet of Fire," at which he turned pale? Clearly he is being asked to do things most difficult, to make great sacrifices; how can the most enigmatic person turn out to be clear-cut evil?
Read carefully and you'll see that Snape has hatred and revulsion etched into his face when he performs the fatal Avada Kedavra. I see these emotions not as directed at his target, which Harry naturally assumes, but stemming from the act he is about to commit. It never really occurs to Harry that Sev may have been feeling the same things he'd been feeling when he was bound by his promise to force-feed the convulsing Dumbledore, does it? Probably far worse.
Snape acts rather outrageously for the remainder of his time in the story, not shockingly, yet he refuses to allow any harm to come to Harry (clearly Dumbledore would've wanted that). He seems to be in pain and becomes furious at the mere suggestion that he is a coward--because he has just done the most difficult and least cowardly thing ever asked of him. Dumbledore has repeatedly stated that Harry's life is more important than his own, and that Harry understands less than he. And the facts remain that he has in the past done much good despite his suspicious nature, & that not everything he told Bellatrix about staying loyal to Voldemort can be true. My final point has to do with the words Dumbledore cried while drinking the potion in the cave. I don't know why, but I feel these words are important, and that after the escapade Dumbledore may have known the end was near.
Thus I rest my case. Avid Harry Potter readers will want to dive into this one, I'm certain, and those who haven't yet discovered it should do so. Only possible complaints? 1) Too short; 2) Not enough anticipated answers given, yet new questions raised, 3) Disturbing ending leaves you frustrated waiting for the next book.