Think that was a detailed enough warning?
This ended up being a lot longer than I expected. I bolded major topics as I get to them, so if you want to skip over something it'll be easier to find the next one.
Disclaimer: These are my opinions. I do not claim that they are Fact or Truth. I also do not claim that they are set in stone. I reserve the right to change my opinions without warning. I do not claim to speak for you, or for anyone else, unless I specifically say so. I speak only for myself. If I do say I am speaking for you, and I'm wrong, tell me and I will retract the statement. Furthermore, I don't have a good memory for details. Sometimes I get things wrong. It happens. My point is usually to do with the concept, not the details, anyway.
The disclaimer applies to all of my journal, of course, but given that feeling runs especially high on Harry Potter and there are flamewars all over the 'net, I think this is an appropriate place to repeat it for anyone who happens by.
First, a reiteration of my earlier non-spoilered comment, since most of what follows are criticisms: I liked this book much better than the last one. Of course, anyone who heard my initial reaction to Order of the Phoenix is well aware that it wouldn't have taken much, since on the first reading I wanted to throw it across the room, and subsequently still feel that it is in dire need of a good edit. The only thing I really enjoyed in that book was when Sirius Black got killed. But, as also noted, part of the problem is that Harry is the viewpoint character, and in OotP he is fifteen, full of hormones and anger and all the fun things about being an adolescent male. I suspect that this is actually written very well. It's just that I have never been a 15-year-old male. I must say, I'm glad I never will be one.
However, fortunately for me, and I think the world in general, the truly irritating part of Harry's adolescence seems to have been limited to the year he was 15. This doesn't seem to be true of teenage boys in general. Notably, my co-worker's sons, who are 15 and almost 14, have been at that stage for several years already. I doubt they're going to magically get over it on their 16th birthdays. Hmm, maybe that's the key, it's that Harry got over it magically...
My other categorical disappointment in the books is the strongly Gryffindor-centric viewpoint. Again, given that everything is filtered through Harry's perceptions, that's not surprising. Also, from what I've read of interviews as well as drawing conclusions from the books, I think Rowling herself would be a Gryffindor, or at least believes she would be. This probably doesn't pose much of a problem for, say, crifmer, who self-identifies as a Gryffindor and wears the house ring and everything.
I am not a Gryffindor. Honestly, I don't think I fit into any of the houses. I'm not ambitious enough for Slytherin, not clever enough for Ravenclaw, and... Well, my perceptions of Hufflepuff don't seem to match anyone else's. I think of it as the place for teachers and nurses and other dedicated hard-working nurturing types. My mom is Hufflepuff, without a doubt. Her father is a Ravenclaw. My dad... I think of my dad as a Slytherin type, mostly because when he was younger, he didn't break rules, but instead worked in the space that the rules weren't. On the other hand, he might not have done too well there, because there's no question that his father was a Muggle. Me, I think maybe I'm a Squib. I'm a skeptic and unbeliever, and maybe there's just no magic in my soul. Or, maybe I'm just too American for the Hogwarts system, and maybe I would have ended up at one of those American schools that the fanfic MarySues keeping transferring from. Goodness knows, I grew up very near Salem, Massachusetts, and if the US had any schools of magic, I think that would be the place.
At any rate, I keep wishing we'd see Slytherins who didn't go bad - which, yes, we get in HBP, although not among the students. Or Hufflepuffs who weren't dull and pedestrian, or cannon fodder. Or Ravenclaws doing the kinds of things Hermione is always doing when the boys aren't distracting her... These things aren't in the books, whether intentionally omitted by the author, or just overlooked by either author or protagonist. These are the things I end up looking for in fanfic, to fill in the holes. Anyway, even understanding why they're not in the books, I still find it disappointing.
And, for all of that, I still really enjoyed the book. Actually, I was sold about 70 pages in, by my eighth grade science teacher. Mr. Garceau was a very strange man. That's not just an adolescent opinion. My mom was a substitute in the school, and she said that pretty nearly all of the teachers thought he was weird. There were a lot of things he had us memorize and recite together any time he used certain trigger words, to the point that four years later in AP Physics, you could tell who had been in his class and who had been in the other teacher's class, because we still recited whichever of Newton's Laws it is automatically.  He also had a lot of old tired jokes that he used over and over again. So, somewhere around page 70, Dumbledore said, "And on the other hand..." and I automatically completed, "I wear a ring." And then, two paragraphs down, the big revelation is that Dumbledore is wearing a ring on his other hand! After that, I kept waiting for him to do something "just for the halibut, because it's Tuesday and I like fish."
But I digress. Often.
So, the Half-Blood Prince. I so should have figured that out sooner. I did figure it out faster than the kids did, at least. Still, they had a major disadvantage - they didn't know the title of the book, so they didn't know they should be looking for a major figure in the current circumstances. I had even speculated at one point that it might be Snape, and then discarded the idea for some unknown (and, it turns out, incorrect) reason. It's interesting, though. The actual plot points about the potion book weren't that big a deal, and wouldn't have warranted the title. However, I don't think that there's much doubt that Snape was a central moving force in this book.
I honestly don't know what to think about Snape, now. Up until this book, I believed that Harry was just reacting to a professor he didn't like, and that Snape was firmly in Dumbledore's camp. Now... I'm not sure what to believe. I think there's still a strong possibility that this is true. Part of me hopes so, because I've been very fond of Snape. I have to also acknowledge the equally strong possibility that he is truly a Voldemort supporter, and has just been playing Dumbledore. Story-wise, I must say it would be much more interesting to see a third possibility - that Snape's only loyalty is to himself, and that he has done an expert job of convincing both sides that he is truly working for them, so that no matter who wins in the end, he'll be on the winning team. That's a very Slytherin kind of thing to do.
Meanwhile, I actually have an opinion on Draco Malfoy now. He's finally become three-dimensional enough to be real. I'm very pleased with the way he was written in this book. Because, you know what? He's been raised since birth to believe in his hereditary responsibilities and obligations to his family and his House and his overlord. His values have been developed since birth. And, not only is he acting in accordance with his upbringing, he is also being skillfully manipulated by people who know best how to take advantage of the adolescent anger, and desire for revenge, and desire to be an adult and get involved - incidentally, much the same way as Harry's identical drives are being used to manipulate him. However, in the long run, Draco is just a sixteen-year-old kid. No matter what he thinks he wants, he doesn't really have the hardness of heart to kill someone who cares for him (because Dumbledore does love all his students) in cold blood. Not only do we see that when it becomes relevant, but we even get to see him feeling conflicted about it, and crying to Myrtle in the bathroom. That feels very believable, and I can't help feeling sorry for the poor guy.
I've read that Rowling had been quoted as saying that after this book, no one would like Snape and Malfoy any more. This goes along with the quotes about how anyone who does is just hot for the actors - ridiculous, given that people liked them before the movies were ever cast. To me, this is just evidence that Rowling doesn't understand her fans, or doesn't understand that not everyone is going to assume that Harry's Gryffindor bias is the One True Way. I am delighted that the depth of the characters wandering through her head, and her writing ability, are both greater than her own perceptions of her work, or at least than her public statements about it.
So, Snape killed Dumbledore. I'm convinced that Dumbledore knew what was going down, and that he had a reason to keep Harry there to see it. He wasn't begging Snape for his life, he was begging Snape to have the strength to go ahead and do it, saving his own life (because of the Unbreakable Vow) and letting Dumbledore die at the hands of someone who he believed had love for him. Whether or not he was right, we don't know yet. After I finished the book, I had the Last Supper scene from Jesus Christ Superstar running through my head - because Snape is so a Judas figure here. Frankly, I'll believe that Dumbledore is all the way dead and staying that way, when the entire saga ends. That whole bit set off all the Christian Allegory alerts for me. On the other hand, Rowling may use two initials, but C. S. Lewis she is not. Officially, she's been trying to avoid any such imagery. In practice, I hope she's got the strength to keep him dead, and not to bring him back as a ghost, either. He's in the portraits, so he can still give advice and opinions, and his ideals will live on in his followers (yeah, speaking of the Christian imagery....), so let's keep it at that.
I'm not going to be grieving over Dumbledore's death. I'm not going to rejoice the way I did over Sirius getting his sorry ass killed, either. Dumbledore's death was necessary for the story, so that Harry can step up as the Bright Young Hope of Our Future. It's necessary for the further development of rather a lot of the characters individually, whether or not they end up figuring in the rest of the story. And, you know, Dumbledore isn't really Pure Good and always right. He's been manipulating people, deciding how much information to give people, and sometimes, he has been making mistakes. He was also getting mighty old, and it was going to happen sooner or later... And going out in a blaze of glory like that is making him a symbol - a martyr, even - for all our young Gryffindor heroes.
Changing tacks... I've heard in several different places that people felt this book read more like good fanfic. Frankly, I don't think that's much of a criticism, since there's some really good fanfic out there. Be that as it may, I think the reason for this is all the shipping. That is, the relationships/pairings between the characters. It hasn't been that much of a focus before (they're kids!), and now Rowling's started writing it. Given just how much fanfic has been written about HP, it's no wonder that each of the possible pairings has been written anywhere between dozens and thousands of times, and that it starts to sound familiar after a while. So, my thoughts on the pairings:
Ron and Lavender. All too believable, beginning to end. And Oh My God, Rowling actually wrote Lavender to come across as even more ditzy than she already was! Stupid pet names are one thing, but using it in public? More than once? She deserves the inevitable loss of any scrap of respect her friends had for her. Hopefully, she will have learned something.
Ginny and Dean. Doomed to failure. Seamus's jealousy was just too much. *grin* I'm not usually much for slash, but Dean and Seamus works for me, so that I have trouble thinking of them as just best friends any more.
Harry and Hermione. Oh, you missed that? Obviously I'm reading into what's actually presented. My interpretation is that they did, in fact, have flutters of attraction here and there, as is normal. However, when Ron and Lavender paired off, and it would have been really easy and natural to act on anything that was there, both of them realized that they just weren't that interested.
Ron and Hermione. Now, I'm going to have to go back and re-read, because I'm terrible at details. The impression I was left with is that they have finally both acknowledged the mutual interest, but aren't an official couple yet. Or, at least, haven't been public about it. This seems awfully mature and sensible, and like a Grownup Real Decision. Then again, this is the one pairing that's been hinted at consistently since day one.
Finally, Harry and Ginny. I must say, while the interest didn't surprise me, I found that kiss in the common room to be remarkably abrupt if rather sweet. That breakup at the end, though... Harry, sweetie, Voldemort doesn't have a light-up board that shows the beginnings and ends of official relationships. Breaking up with her isn't going to protect her or keep her from being used against you, if you're still in love with her. It just means that both of you are going to be unhappy about not being together right up until she gets used against you. Yeah, probably eventually you'll get over it. But it won't be tomorrow, or next week. Might not even be next year, if you were pretty serious, and I'm inclined to think you were. You're just setting yourself (and, for that matter, all your fans) up for a whole world of hurting.
And just how many people are in each House, anyway? At the Quidditch tryouts, Harry has them testing in groups of ten. Yes, 15 or so are from other houses and just there for the hell of it. But, he did seven groups without getting anyone good or useful. Given all the people eventually named, there most have been at least another twenty people who tried out after that. That's a good 75 Gryffindors. Did every Gryff except Hermione turn out?
Well, we know sixth year has eight students, five boys and three girls. Figure that fifth year and seventh years have ten students each. The previous war ended when Harry was one year old, so estimate that the baby boom makes class sizes double starting two years after him. Four years of twenty students each. That would leave us with... 108 Gryffindors this year. That means around thirty didn't try out. I guess it's not all that unreasonable, since this sport is a major interest and a major component of the House Cup. It just seems like a sudden change, since we haven't heard about tryouts taking so much time in previous years.
Meanwhile, I really think that the whole thing with the House of Gaunt was unnecessary. At very least, it was stretched out too far. I guess the idea was to emphasize the importance of the ring and the amulet, so that the eventual revelation of the Horcruxes wasn't a surprise. I really think that could have been handled without such an extensive sojourn in the world of nineteenth-century literature, however. Actually, my reaction at the time was that Rowling had envisioned exactly how she wanted the flashbacks to be filmed, and wrote them with loving precision. I don't know, maybe it's my lack of memory for details striking again, and maybe there was something important that we learned in all of that which required seeing the details of the abuse and the rotten family. For me, those scenes are prime candidates for being skipped on re-reads.
So what's going to be in Book 7?In no particular order:
- Where is Snape's ultimate loyalty?
- What happens with Ginny and Harry? Does she get taken hostage anyway?
- Who is RAB? Yes, by now just about everyone's arrived, one way or another, at the conclusion that it's Regulus Black. The kids still have to work it out, though.
- Did he manage to destroy the amulet? If not, where is it and how can it be destroyed?
- Where is the Hufflepuff cup and how can it be destroyed?
- A battle to kill Nagini.
- A battle to kill Voldemort himself.
- Cleanup of all the various minions.
- With luck, some bits of Hogwarts still, even if Harry & Co. have moved on.
- And, oh, yes, what is the final Horcrux, let alone where is it and how can it be destroyed?
On that last item, I've seen some speculation that the final Horcrux is actually Harry's scar. That would certainly explain a lot about what happens with it, and some of Harry's more bizarre experiences, like being the snake. That would be one hell of a climax scene, though - if that is true, is there a way to kill Voldemort without killing Harry as well? Oh, that could be so good that it makes me shiver just thinking about it.
This essay brought to you by the letters H and P and the number 6. Also brought to you through my conversations with crifmer and daernhelm, and the discussion on the Bujold mailing list (because everything gets discussed there). I am also influenced by ataniell93. I don't agree with her on many subjects, but I have a great deal of respect for her and I consider her to be an excellent source for reasoned viewpoints completely unlike my own. This is true on HP and on just about everything that passes across the Bujold list. It would probably be true on other subjects as well. If you go to check out what she has to say, keep in mind that she is speaking in her own space and please do not antagonize her. If you do, leave my name out of it.
 An object at rest, remains at rest. An object in motion remains in motion, in a straight line, unless acted upon by some outside unbalanced force. Doesn't sound that impressive, until you hear 10 physics students chant it in unison, with no flaws, no varying rhythms, and no practice in four years.