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Monday, July 18, 2005 - Page updated at 09:18 AM

Book Review

Emotional twists come with a grown-up Harry

The Associated Press

"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"
by J.K. Rowling
Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, 660 pp., $29.99

NEW YORK — A word of caution to all those hard-core fans about to dive into the latest adventures of Harry Potter: There will be tears.

Yours.

It's odd to think of the next-to-last Potter book as being a turning point but, in so many ways, that's the truth about "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." J.K. Rowling's hero is no longer a boy wizard; he's a young man, determined to seek out and face a young man's challenges.

Veteran Potter readers shouldn't worry about outgrowing the series, but younger fans may find that it has grown up too much.

All ages, however, should be assured: Rowling's latest has lost none of the charm, intelligence and hilarity that have catapulted her series into publishing history. But this book also has a poignancy, complexity and sadness we probably couldn't have imagined when we started reading the first one. There's an emotional punch you won't believe.

When Book 5, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," ended, we learned what made the evil wizard Lord Voldemort kill Harry's parents and try to kill him as an infant — a prophecy that said Harry could vanquish him, and that one of them would have to kill the other to survive.

The wizarding world Rowling returns us to in Book 6 is a scarier place, even though only a few weeks have passed. Thanks to Harry and friends, the entire magical community knows that Voldemort is back — and how. He and his Death Eater followers have unleashed so much violence and murder that even the head of the nonmagical world has to be told about it.

Sooner than in her previous books, the action shifts Harry away from his awful relatives, the Dursleys, and right back to friends Ron and Hermione and all the others at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. As usual, there are new faces — the new teacher of Defense against the Dark Arts gives Harry some serious concerns.

As sixth-year students, Harry and company have moved on from the magical basics into more complicated studies, preparing for their after-school careers. But it's not just the work that's gotten more complicated, it's everything. Friendships change, love arrives (this, thank goodness, should finally end all those Internet fan-site arguments about who is going to hook up with whom) and Harry learns a lot about his enemy — about his past, and about a potential weakness.

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We also learn about Harry, about the man he is turning into, his character and his strength of will.

But it wouldn't be Hogwarts without strangeness and mystery. Harry has his suspicions about who's trying to do what, and it all erupts in the end. Rowling shows off her mastery, leading us down a path with certain clues and still managing to blindside us about who turns on whom.

And, yes, there is another major death. Seriously major. Break out the tissues. No matter how well you think you know these books, don't assume you really know who anyone is, or what they are and aren't capable of.

This is a powerful, unforgettable setup for the finale. The hardest thing about "Half-Blood Prince" is where it leaves us — in mourning for who has been lost, anxious to learn how Rowling will wrap up a saga that millions wish would go on and on.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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