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Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

Cover art by Mary GrandPre

Published by Scholastic Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

As the threat of Lord Voldemort and his followers grows to threaten the entire wizarding world, fear becomes the overshadowing motif of Harry Potter's sixth year at Hogwarts. Even before he arrives at the famous school of magic, he is innundated with warnings about the perils to be guarded against, as if he doesn't have enough trouble living with his obnoxious Muggle relatives, the Dursleys. But so long as he is granted a modicum of bed and board there, a powerful magic will continue to protect him.

So says Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts, when he arrives to take Harry Potter to spend the rest of the summer with the Weasley family. But on the way Dumbledore takes Harry to visit an old associate who may be a potential teacher at the troubled school. A powerful wizard who has been on the lam, fearful that Voldemort is on his tail because of an old connection.

By the time Harry and his classmates catch the Hogwarts Express, the terror is becoming overwhelming. People are disappearing right and left, sometimes right out of stores on Diagon Alley. Aurors, the police of the wizarding world, have been brought to guard Hogwarts, and Dumbledore promises that the students will be safer there than they would be at home. But several incidents with Fred and George Weasley's joke items soon reveal major holes in the school's security program. Worse, there is evidence that the sinister Draco Malfoy is intending to use those gaps for something far more serious than stupid teenage pranks.

Rowling continues the element of social satire that began to appear in the previous book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. However, she now shifts her focus away from pedagogical theory and the havoc it often wreaks upon actual classrooms, and toward the fear and panic that has often arisen during the present War on Terror. The Ministry of Magic's checklist for protecting one's home and family against dark forces sound suspiciously like a magical version of some of the bureaucratese that has been issued by the US Department of Homeland Security, and presumably its British counterparts.

Review posted December 27, 2005

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