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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Guest Review: Harry Potter and The Prisoner Of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (Reviewed by Achala Upendran)

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Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harry Potter and The Chamber Of Secrets

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Drama certainly has a way of dogging Harry’s footsteps.

I started the Harry Potter series with the third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. For that reason, it is rather special to me, and it is the book that I have read most of the seven. The first time I finished it, I was so blown away by the conclusion that I flipped it over and started it again. I blabbed to all of my friends about this ‘amazing’ book I’d read and got a couple of them going on the series. Hopefully that is what I have managed here as well.

Like its predecessors, Prisoner of Azkaban features a Hogwarts ill at ease and a Harry who is, yet again, at the centre of dramatic events. Unlike its forerunners however, the tension that stalks Hogwarts’ halls is confined not only to the school, but has expanded its wings to enfold the wizarding world at large. Sirius Black, dangerous detainee of Azkaban fortress, has escaped his confines. Known to the wizarding world as Voldemort’s right-hand man and a mass murderer, Black is certainly not the kind of man the Ministry of Magic wants on the loose. They also think they have a shrewd idea of just what, or rather, who he is after: the baby who caused the downfall of his master, Harry Potter.

As you might guess, this doesn’t make for a very auspicious beginning to Harry’s third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. To add to his worries, the dreaded dementors of Azkaban have been stationed around the school to guard against Black. Every time Harry goes near one of these terrible creatures, he is forced to re-live his worst memories and, given the tragedy that marks him, these are very, very draining experiences.

For a thirteen year old boy who’s got enough to worry about – new classes, trials on the Quidditch pitch, bullying from Slytherin and the first whispers of a crush – these are unwelcome additions. Luckily, not all the new things Harry encounters at Hogwarts are terrible. Perhaps most encouraging is the arrival of a new Defence Against the Dark Arts instructor, Professor R. J. Lupin, a man who knows his subject and how to teach it. Of course, much like everything and everyone else in Hogwarts, there is more to Professor Lupin than meets the eye. Is he completely trustworthy, and does he know more about Sirius Black, and Harry himself, than he is letting on?

Prisoner of Azkaban is, in my considered opinion, the most well-constructed of the Potter books. Rowling spins a very tightly woven story, each incident, comment, piece of information carefully placed and leading up to a truly spectacular, cathartic conclusion. Here we see the full blossoming of the skills that Rowling had been developing (absurdly quickly and very well) in the previous books, skills for mystery writing that she continues to display in her avatar as Robert Galbraith in the recently released The Cuckoo’s Calling. The rest of the series deviates considerably from this format, adhering much more strongly to the epic fantasy tradition and the Hero’s Journey identified by Joseph Campbell, so perhaps it is fitting that Rowling signs off on this format with this rather brilliant rendering.

Not only is it a wonderfully plotted novel, but the characters of Azkaban also contribute to the reader’s enjoyment. Professor Lupin is a great addition to a growing cast, warm, encouraging and spiced with just the right amount of mystery. Here, finally, is a teacher that Harry seems to relate to on a personal level, a mentor figure who is accessible to his students and forges a personal connection with our hero. It’s the first time in the books that Harry has someone to go to not just for academic queries, but the larger moral and personal dilemmas that will beset him as he grows older and deals with harsher trials.

Not only does Lupin provide him support in the form of practical instruction, but also a shoulder to lean on, an adult perspective that is exclusively marked for Harry. I think this is an important connection for the young wizard, given that, until this point in the books, he has not had an adult wizard who catered exclusively to his support. Lupin is Harry’s mentor, not Ron or Hermione’s, and this is, I feel, an important development in his journey towards hero-hood.

CONCLUSION: By the close of the book, Harry has taken some very important steps towards adulthood. The tone of Azkaban is dark, like its immediate predecessor, perhaps more literally so because of the presence of the dementors. I concede that the movie adaptation may have done its bit in cementing this impression; Alfonso Cuaron’s rendition of Hogwarts was considerably less cheery (and more chilling) than Christopher Columbus’s. The shadow of death falls early over Azkaban, not only because of the threat represented by the escaped criminal, but also alluded to time and again by another entrant, the Divination professor Sybil Trelawney. Whether any of these signs and portents will result in something concrete is for you to find out.

So what on earth are you waiting for?


GUEST REVIEWER INFO: Achala Upendran is a freelance editor and writer based in India. She blogs about fantasy literature, with a special focus on the Harry Potter series, at Where the Dog Star rages. You can also follow her on Twitter at @AchalaUpendran

Achala will be reviewing all of the seven Harry Potter books, so enjoy her thoughts as she brings a special focus on the series, characters and world that have enchanted so many of us.


Anonymous said...

Seriously? Harry Potter reviews? What's the point?

This site has gone way downhill since Robert and Liviu left.

Why isn't this site reviewing all the major Fantasy releases? What's with all the reviews on minor ebook only releases?

Liviu said...

I appreciate the kind words above - though I still contribute but rarer, mostly because I read much less current sff than before - but the question about "reviewing all the major Fantasy releases" misunderstands the nature of the site as it is simply a place where a few people share their interests in books without compensation beyond having access to some for free and earlier and it is not an industry site like or a non-profit site run by donations like Strange Horizons

So basically what gets reviewed is mostly what the contributors read and like rather than what's hot or pushed by the industry and as I observed with most other similar sites, the pattern of saturation repeats (see Pat's site or Wertzone to name two of the more visible ones)

On the other hand there are a quite a few newer sites that are still "hungry" so tons of current sff gets reviewed there and they may be a better fit


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