Description: The war against Voldemort is not going well; even Muggle governments are noticing. Ron scans the obituary pages of the Daily Prophet, looking for familiar names. Dumbledore is absent from Hogwarts for long stretches of time, and the Order of the Phoenix has already suffered losses.
As in all wars, life goes on. Sixth-year students learn to Apparate--and lose a few eyebrows in the process. The Weasley twins expand their business. Teenagers flirt and fight and fall in love. Classes are never straightforward, though Harry receives some extraordinary help from the mysterious Half-Blood Prince.
So it's the home front that takes center stage in the multilayered sixth installment of the story of Harry Potter. Here at Hogwarts, Harry will search for the full and complex story of the boy who became Lord Voldemort--and thereby find what may be his only vulnerability. (book flap)
My Thoughts: An incredible improvement over Order of the Phoenix. Harry has learned from the mistakes he made then and developed into a more mature person; although he continues to become angry and make mistakes, he also makes much more of an effort to control his emotions and to learn from what has happened to him in the past. One of the first things he says in the book, for instance, is about how he has dealt with the events at the end of Order of the Phoenix: rather than moping and fuming, as he did after the events of the fourth book, he says that he has realized that he cannot allow himself to drown in his sorrow, but must get on with his life. (Obviously this is a rough paraphrase) This is not merely something Harry says, but also something Harry acts upon on his own life, and the fact that he can talk about and have such mature attitudes shows how he has grown.
Half-Blood Prince is a fascinating book. Dumbledore plays a much larger role (and he's back to his normal self!), and he and Harry spend a lot of time exploring Voldemort's past. These journeys into the past are some of the best scenes of the book, and some of the few times where Rowling exercises her sharp wit against any particular person; as the series has become more serious and nuanced, so have her portrayals of individual characters. Perhaps the only exception to this trend is Voldemort (although he was never an object of ridicule); Voldemort's past shows him to have been consistently evil. I suppose it's in keeping with his role in the story of personifying evil. Is there ever anyone who has absolutely no glimmer of goodness inside them?
Both the beginning and end of Half-Blood Prince are great. It begins with the Muggle (non-magical) prime minister meeting with the Minister of Magic, and was a wonderful return to Rowling's satirical style. And not to give anything away about the ending, but it was fantastic. The creepiness is just palpable, the final conclusion tragic, and all is masterfully written. I cry literally every time I read it.
The beginning of Rowling's wonderfully written and more mature books in the Harry Potter series. One of my favorites.