Friday, August 10, 2007

Book Review: first four Harry Potter books

Once the seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series came out last month, I figured it would now be time to actually read all of the books in sequence (I had seen the films but not read any of the books until now).

So, in about seventeen days I've managed to finish reading through the first three books. Here are my thoughts after reading them:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: For a first book, you can see where J.K. Rowlings keeps it simple. The story is pretty straightforward. I felt the ending was a bit weak - in the final encounter she makes what I would consider a writing mistake. She ends up telling us what happened after the fact (through another character) rather than showing us. Yes, I can see she wanted to keep it all from Harry's point-of-view, but it really doesn't serve well from the dramatic high of the book that it should have. All writing books I have read (and I have read plenty) advise that you should "show, not tell". It was a nice enough opening book for a series, but it could have been better. Ah, hindsight.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: I really like how Rowlings builds upon the cast of characters from the first book as well as the introduction of new ones. The expansion of the world these characters live in further breathes life into the line. My only negative: Ginny Weasley. For someone so key to the second book, Rowlings sort of keeps the clues away from the reader through out. Instead we are given the whys and hows after the fact without the hints all along. That bothered me slightly. Again, could be a sophmore novel mistake is all so I'll give her a pass. Still, a fun read - and this book does fill in details that the second film had to leave out.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: I really liked getting more of the backstory to Harry's parents and their acquaintances when they were at Hogwarts. The additions of more quirky teachers and other sideline classmates of Harry's further fleshes out things. That was a nice touch as well. The mystery involving Hermione is much more easier to follow in the book rather than how it was handled throughout the third film. Rowlings lays the clues out for this all along - something I would have liked her to do with Ginny in book 2.

I'll likely dive into the fourth book this weekend and continue the cycle until I get through the seventh. Given that the last four books in the run are quite a bit larger (double the size or more!) of some of the first three, this could take awhile. I would love to be able to finish them all before the end of September if I can. Since my son just started on book 5 for the first time, it'll be interesting to see who gets to the seventh book first. My wife, however, is disqualified. She read the seventh in one day, and then began to reread all seven books again after that. She finished book 7 for the second time on Tuesday night (she is definitely the speed-reader in our house).

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