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I believe that this series fell off the broomstick after Azkaban. The first three books were crisply written, tightly-paced adventures that appealed to children and adults alike. The latter four books, however, are overwritten, under-edited, ploddingly paced affairs suitable only for the hardcore crowd. Phoenix is one such book. Here I'll list the problems:
VILLAINS: I know that Umbridge is supposed to be annoying but for goodness sake, this book is over 800 pages. We don't need to see her Kick The Dog again and again. Umbridge isn't annoying because she's evil but because she's poorly written. A good villain should make you hate the character, not the writer. The same goes for strawmen like Fudge.
LENGTH: Again, this book is over 800 pages. Why? Do we really need so many irrelevant details and subplots that only serve to pad the pages? Remember the first three books? Remember how all the little details complemented the plot instead of overwhelming it? Did anyone care about Grawp, SPEW and house cleaning? This leads to...
THE PLOT: The first three books were mysteries with a sense of fair-play and a surprising twist at the end. There was build-up and there was payoff. Phoenix, however, is a stifling account of everything that happens in Harry's fifth year. What plot there is hinges on characters, namely Harry, acting like idiots. There's a reveal at the end which is pretty cliche and doesn't break much ground compared to previous twists. Very little of consequence happens and by the end we're pretty much where we started, give or take a few characters.
HARRY: I understand that Harry's angry, that he's fifteen, that he has issues. What I don't understand is why he's the protagonist. He's as dumb as a post in this one and he functions more as a plot device than a character. Hermione would make a better protagonist.
I hated Phoenix but for the one brilliant touch that is Luna Lovegood.
There is an inherent gamble when a creator becomes famous called the Lucas Zone. This is when a creator is given free and total rein on what to do. At best, the creator can tell the story they always wanted to tell and people will love them for it. At worst, the creator gets high off their own success and makes a story for the creator first and the audience second. Harry Potter, post-Azkaban, edges towards the latter.
I really enjoyed this book. I felt that it was a break between the action of the fourth book and the action of the seventh, revving slowing up through the fifth and sixth. This installment takes the time to focus on the characters as they face one of the toughest challenges of being teenagers: complete and utter disillusionment.
Gone is the at-least-outwardly-cheerful world of the first, second, third, and fourth books. In this one, the government is blatantly corrupt, the adults are all distant, preoccupied, and deliberately hiding information from you, everyone seems to hate you, no one seems to care about your problems, and you are on your own.
Harry deals with the large problems — the verbal and physical abuse by an authority figure comes to mind — and with the smaller problems, such as jealousy, competition, lack of acceptance, and suspicion from his peers. He deals with feeling abandoned by his mentor and by his community. And he deals very obviously with a serious case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Relationships are at the forefront here. So is the theme of duty.
War is hell, and this book takes the pains to blend the realities of growing up with the gathering storm of the coming battles. The book is a slow read, but I felt that having this lull in the action really made the upcoming books meaningful. You got to know the characters here. You learned to really care.
I refer to this only as "book 5" since it is undeserving of a proper title, and certainly not one as misleadingly awesome as the one it was given. Now the quality of J.K. Rowlings novels could be said to have been improving prior to this novels release, certainly its immediate predecessor was leaps and bounds beyond its any of the first three novels. Indeed it seems Rowlings talent had finally been honed to the point where not only could she pen a best seller, but that the very elements that made her novels great were now being applied throughout the entirety of the novel. Then I read her 5th installment in the series. What a dissappointment, gone were the engrossing prose and constantly changing high paced plot. Alas in its place was a cyclic plot growing more Avilicious with each repitition. It was so aggrevating to find that NOTHING HAPPENS IN THIS BOOK, again and again and again, and its the same nothing every time. In hindsight, yes some seemingly insignificant details prove important to the plot in later books and a few more obvious plot points within the work are addressed, but TOO FEW and far between. The only reason I was even able to finish it was the hope that it would get better. Unfortunately when I finally closed the back cover, I did so with the sense that it never had. Watch the film, or read the cliff notes, they are a much more satisfying way to got the major plot points needed to continue with the series which fortunately does get better. The spoiler free summary, not that ther is much to spoil since this part of the plot actually hijacks the expected plot set up in the previous novel, of the rest of "book 5's" plot would be as follows: here is a new character, now, hate. her. hate her hate her hate her hate her hate her hate her hate her hate her hate her hate her hate her hate her hate her hate her hate her hate her Hate Her Hate Her Hate Her Hate Her HATE HER HATE HER HATE HER HATE HER hate her hate her hate her... do you hate her yet? So you can see how this could get annoying quickly. So annoying in fact that it taints what little good this book has to offer.
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