A more mature Potter packs punch

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince By J.K. Rowling Bloomsbury 607pp., (Scholastic edition, 652pp.)

J.K. Rowling has done it again. The sixth volume in the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is yet another magical, exciting read. The book starts out at a measured pace, reminding readers of main characters and their associations, as well as important conflicts and their outcomes. The Dursleys, Harry Potter's relatives, still make an appearance in the opening chapters. But whereas previous editions have opened with Harry suffering their abuses, this book begins in the office of the frightened Muggle (i.e. non-magical) Prime Minister of Britain. Two government officials have been murdered, a freak hurricane has demolished the countryside, a major bridge has inexplicably collapsed, a chilly mist has wiped out summer, and there are Death Eaters in England. The Muggle world and magical one have intertwined - and behind all these catastrophes is none other than Lord Voldemort. Five books in the series have warned readers about the Dark Lord and his powers. In Book Six, we finally get a better understanding of "You-Know-Who." The headmaster at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Professor Dumbledore, has decided that Harry is old enough to learn about Voldemort's past. And as such, readers are finally treated to longed-for information about the family history of the Dark Lord, who was once known as Tom Riddle when he was a student at Hogwarts. And though the infamous scar on Harry's forehead keeps him thinking about Voldemort, his nemesis is not the only thing on his mind. Harry is now 16 years old. Readers follow him and his friends' Ron and Hermione's (sometimes comic) escapades of teenage emotions: jealousy, friendship, love and rebellion. Rowling is known for her multiple story-lines, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is no different. Quidditch is also back in the main plot-line, and the story continues to keep tabs on Harry's rival Draco Malfoy. Then, of course, there's the tale of the mysterious Half-Blood Prince. Shorter than Order of the Phoenix, Rowling's writing in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is tighter, and is filled with colorful and witty imagery. Like Harry, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is more mature than previous installments. In addition to the aforementioned catastrophes, Rowling throws in "armies of the dead," savage werewolves, and frank portrayals of violence and death. There is another fatality of a main character in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and while Rowling said she cried when she killed off Sirius Black in Book Five, the character to perish in Book Six is a far greater upset. Rowling likes to surprise readers: As well as the demise of the Character-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, the identity of the Half-Blood Prince is amusing. Some reviews have noted the gloomy plot and teenage angst in this installment of the series to be inappropriate for young readers. However, anyone who has followed the story since the first book must be prepared for the new experiences. After all, it is this budding maturity as well as the themes of hope and despair, the power of love against hate, that render the Harry Potter series not just for kids. The last pages of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince are bittersweet. There's an air of hope and sorrow. And there's a lot of anticipation for what's to come in the final chapter, Book Seven.