fiction, review

The Silkworm

Indonesian edition’s cover

Robert Galbraith’s second Cormoran Strike novel, The Silkworm, came out with a new idea, and I could imagine readers would have expected a more challenging crime story than the first one. And it apparently is, mostly. I just didn’t see the drama get a lower dose, nor the plot get any tighter, though I can say it didn’t feel any less enjoyable. More than that, the tone was very much bothersome, and the atmosphere didn’t emanate much suspense.

The crime drama begins with the disappearance of an eccentric, infamous writer, Owen Quine, after finishing his latest manuscript. His wife Leonora comes to our private detective, Cormoran Strike, for help since it is not Quine’s nature to “disappear for so long”. While Strike is desperate for a well paid gig, he cannot deny the temptation of finding the missing writer and cracking the mystery. He finds him, eventually, but not in a state anyone might imagine: dead, both hands tied behind his back, his stomach sliced open and hollow. Everything Strike discovers at the crime scene no doubt indicates murder, and questions of who and when, as usual, flow relentlessly into his head. It is not rocket science to see that the scene of the murder is set exactly the same as the last scene in Quine’s latest novel, and it doesn’t need a genius either to conclude that the murderer must be someone vaguely, and horrendously, described in the book, someone real. Someone who doesn’t want that book to be published and endanger his/her reputation.

Cormoran strike is portrayed as dramatically gloomy as he is in the first book, The Cuckoo’s Calling. Some readers might find it hard to stand his depression and sadness, but we all know that J.K. Rowling a.k.a Robert Galbraith always wants to describe her characters as human as possible. So if that includes showing off some overwhelming feeling of brokenhearted within an ex-soldier private detective, then we have to accept it. Unfortunately, Galbraith/Rowling chooses this moment of broken heart to reveal Strike’s way of thinking, resulting in a depiction of a common man who stresses great importance of beauty and pretty looks in a woman and doesn’t really consider her personality until he regrets it and then finally turns his back on her. The way he treats Nina Lascelles might also force the reader to think of him as a man who doesn’t feel any reluctance to take advantage of a woman for his purpose. Unfortunately, again, the narrative seems to justify this depiction. It’s either because Galbraith wants to show herself as a male writer (even though she is actually a woman) so much that she immerses herself in manliness, or she’s just so sexist (I don’t want to play with the word “misogynist” here) as a woman. Anyway, putting it all aside, there is still an irresistible attraction in the whole characterization, especially among the suspects. Daniel Chard really caught my attention. His portrayal is so appealing to me not for his subtle homosexuality, nor the way he suppresses it inside him and the emerging rumor around him, but for his obvious anxiety about himself. The way he talks, the way he avoids eye contacts with people talking to him, the way his hands twitch and move… all those gestures make the reader able to feel his anxiety and bottled-up anger.

As a whole, The Silkworm is pretty much better than The Cuckoo’s Calling, but there are some disturbing weaknesses getting in the way of me enjoying it completely. If the opinion of certain characters is the voice of the writer, then Galbraith/Rowling has openly looked down her nose at romance/erotica genre in this second crime novel of hers. I didn’t expect that. I thought as a woman—though she disguises herself as a man—she would be more respectful toward works of popular fiction written by “female writers” (if that term has to exist at all). It turns out, however, that through some characters depicted working in the publishing industry Galbraith/Rowling has called romance/erotica “trash”. Well, however disappointing the tone is, I can say that The Silkworm has a good premise, a believable elaboration, and a trickier plot than its predecessor. Unlike the previous installment of the series, this book didn’t let me guess the murderer just after the first few chapters, and dragged me along the storyline to find him/her at the end of the climax instead. The many suspects with their unsettling behaviors have really fooled me and prevented me from stopping all the guesses in my mind. Many of the dialogues are also made in cuts so the reader won’t be able to know exactly what is going on in the investigation process. Despite the still dominating drama, the arrangement of the plot is enormously enjoyable. I’d forget about the lack of the suspense atmosphere here, because it might have been deliberately set so by Galbraith/Rowling to make it easier for the reader to devour than any other crime stories.

All in all, The Silkworm is not an entirely satisfying read, but I liked it. Rowling fans do not have to worry about her characteristics in writing because they’re all still there. She pays much attention to details, she’s elaborative, and a true creator of natural characters. I just wish she didn’t use that tone in it.

Rating: 3.5/5

fiction, review

The Casual Vacancy

The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s next novel after she took her Harry Potter series to its end. It’s the first publicly known work of hers to dwell outside the world of Hogwarts, and wizards, and magic, and children. Rowling seems to want to get rid of the long-shadowing image of children’s books writer and prove herself to be a versatile author capable of writing any kind of fictional narrative. People appear to have such high expectations, as I understand, and this particular book is said to fail to meet them. However, putting aside people’s general opinion, I think The Casual Vacancy is a great work and I am gladly satisfied with it. It’s a witness to Rowling’s established literary talent for absorbing, observantly, social conditions prevailing around her and putting them into words.

Set in Yarvil, where Pagford—and Fields—are parts of the district, the book shockingly starts with the death of Barry Fairbrother, one of its councillors, right in the evening of his wedding anniversary. It leaves one seat vacant in the Pagford Parish Council, beckoning purposeful people to vie for it. Howard Mollison, always aiming for the removal of Fields from Pagford’s official map, needs an ally that he can trust completely and sets his son, Miles Mollison, to run for the local election. This meets a serious challenge as Colin Wall, the local school’s deputy headmaster and a close friend of Fairbrother, tries to fill the dead man’s shoes and makes his dreams come true. Clumsy and anxious as he is, Wall seems to have more support from Fairbrother’s old, loyal ally, Parminder Jawanda, and from the social worker who has much concern for the drug addict living in their area. But the competition doesn’t stop there. Simon Price, a dishonest employee of some local printworks, voluntarily will himself to run in the hope that one day when he gains the seat, or so he sees his future will be, he can take full advantage of his position and make more and more money. As the story progresses, the reader can see quite clearly what motivates each of the candidates, what provides the basis for their politically wicked actions that at some strange point the reader can feel some understanding, though not pretty much approval nor sympathy, toward what they do and how they do it.

The Casual Vacancy has numerous characters without a single leading role. It feels as if the vacant seat left by Barry Fairbrother marks the non-existence of the said role, giving the supporting roles and even some fleeting appearances plenty of space to show up and get their characters under the light. Rowling, as an author, seems to have determined to create characters as natural and human as she can. And that’s what I saw here as I perused each of them through the beguiling narrative. On the outside, judging from a wider scale, Barry Fairbrother looks like a perfect character, kind, funny, fighting for the poor. But once we look at him more closely, from the perspective of his mourning, inwardly disappointed widow, we will find a slightly disappointing man with faults that make his ideal personality seem blurred and questionable. The same naturalness also applies to Fats Wall. Well, it is undeniable that Krystal Weedon is the center of all attention ever since the first part of the book that she seems to drown other teenage characters into shadows, but I found Fats Wall’s character more compelling. He is the epitome of the real teenager, restless, rebellious, obnoxious, careless, reckless, disrespectful, yet inside he is still searching for something, some direction which is very vague before his eyes. What Fats thinks he wants to do is live the real life, the real, harsh life. However, as obnoxious as he is, he’s still nothing compared to Shirley Mollison, the character I hate most. She’s the most hypocritical of all. She likes to be pitied, loved, admired and thought of as pure and an angel. And, what’s worse, she’s willing to do everything to have all those.

All the characterizations in this book show Rowling’s remarkable skill in creating and developing characters, no matter how many they are and despite the absence of the character itself, as is the case of Barry Fairbrother. She’s definitely succeeded in describing each one from other characters’ viewpoints and let the reader decide whether or not the way they see each other is correct. The core idea of the story is, I can say, very interesting and how Rowling executes it is very mouth-gaping as well, but the pace is so draggingly slow that I honestly was bored when I first went into it. It moves like a snail at the beginning, steady at the middle, and then seems to run hell for leather at the last several pages. Very fortunately though, the theme is new to me, and the development of the narrative seems so luxurious. It might be quite simple in some senses, but it’s very rich, like an expensive yet simply cut dress. Rowling always has it in her to provoke conflicts through humans’ deepest, darkest characters. She describes the conflict prevailing in each family forming the society in the book in such great detail. Reading The Casual Vacancy was like being viciously forced to face the bitter, painful reality of life that sometimes I was so unwilling to continue it, but then its appeal won my heart and got me back to it. The ending is pretty cliffhanging, and I’m sure it’s not what the reader wants. Be that as it may, to me it’s just the right ending to conclude the story and Rowling is so smart about it. The plot is unpredictable and strays away from its own long-running path. Rowling’s amazing style of storytelling need not to be questioned anymore, I think, for it’s already there and anybody can see it. What truly fascinates me is her ability to immerse herself in every character and come up with speech so typical of them.

Overall, The Casual Vacancy is a fabulous work of general fiction I always crave for. It has a weakness in its pace, but it doesn’t matter because all other factors can cover it. I really think that this is a great novel of J.K. Rowling, one that you should not feel disappointed about.

Rating: 4/5

fiction, review

The Cuckoo’s Calling

Indonesian edition’s cover

I would rather call it a crime drama novel than a work of crime fiction. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith does have the qualities any murder mystery has got, the investigation, the private detective, the case at hand, but it’s overwhelmingly blended with drama and detailed descriptions of troubled characters. J.K. Rowling, no matter how hard she tries to hide herself under an alias, still leaves a trace of her easily recognized, characteristic writing, in which a story of difficult life and thoroughly portrayed characters get the main spot. It’s not a fake crime novel pretending to be one, it just lacks the necessary atmosphere to support the narrative.

The story begins with the death of Lula Landry, a rich, rather infamous supermodel. She’s found lifeless in front of her apartment building after falling from the third floor and makes everyone, even the police, believe that it is an act of committing suicide. It’s just normal to have a troubled, bipolar famous person killing herself because, seriously, it’s no news to anyone. Moreover, the police investigation doesn’t lead to a different result. But while the media is busy exploiting Landry’s suicidal act, and gets a lot of money from every news consumer who believes it, John Bristow, Landry’s adoptive brother, doesn’t take a word of it. He believes, and is very sure, that Landry is murdered, pushed from her third-floor balcony. So he comes to Cormoran Strike, a private detective who was once a school friend of his late adoptive brother. Messed up, broken-hearted, financially broke, and having only one leg left, Strike has no choice but to accept the case. With the help of his temporary assistant, Robin Ellacott, Strike sets out to investigate this complicated, involving-many-people case: contemplating various possibilities, tracking down any proof, interviewing witnesses, perusing any possible course of events. And in midst of it all, he has to deal with the problems harassing his own life.

Galbraith, or rather, Rowling, doesn’t describe Strike as an attractive man. As always, she wants all the characters in her books to be as natural as possible, mentally and physically. Big and hairy, Strike gives the impression that people would rather look at the other way if it’s not impossible. However, like any other normal man, he doesn’t turn his back on female beauty and thinks that getting it under his belt is something he can certainly be proud of. He might look so introvert, gloomy, indifferent, and free-willed, but he is not weak, and very professional. His high intelligence is so obvious, proven by how his logic runs. He is indeed the private detective we all need in a crime story, except that we have to endure the narration of all his personal problems, which is quite unnecessary, I assume. Luckily, we can be gratefully entertained with how Galbraith describes the character of Lula Landry. She is not visible, her ghostly presence being tossed around from one mouth to another, from one perception to another. Her character is told from various points of view that it’s like pieces of personality being put together along the narrative and resulting in a spoiled, selfish, bipolar, unstable yet kind-hearted and caring person. Lula Landry may not be real in the story, but she’s the one who’s attention-gripping.

The fact that The Cuckoo’s Calling falls actually into “crime drama” genre, if I’m allowed to put it that way, affects very much its surrounding atmosphere. Rather than being mysterious, as it should be, it feels so dramatic and heart-tugging. It doesn’t have the thrills and spills, nor keep the reader in suspense. In fact, despite the murder case it comes up with and the numerous, puzzling clues scattered along the book, it doesn’t show wits or a fast pace or even any elements of surprise a crime story should have as an attraction. Rather, it runs very slow, though quite enjoyable to my liking, and moves with a flicker of random, guessing-game investigation. On the whole, it doesn’t look like a murder story with a troubled detective, but it’s more like a story of a troubled detective doing a murder investigation. Worst of all, this is quite subjective actually, I could guess “who dunnit” since the first few chapters, which was very much disappointing and didn’t make sense at all when you had hundreds of pages to read ahead of you. Well, nevertheless, The Cuckoo’s Calling has an interesting story, though without an authentic idea, and also great characterizations. J.K. Rowling will be J.K. Rowling, no matter what, and making such horrendous yet normally human characters is what she usually does in her stories. She has it in her to put several characters together to inflict conflicts that are, in some ways, insolvable. This detective story of hers does have an ending anyone would expect, but there are still some pieces of narrative which are left cliffhanging.

So, all things considered, I’m just going to say that Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling is an enjoyable read, and pretty awesome in some of its aspects. Only it doesn’t have the thrilling atmosphere to make it a true crime story, so I can say that it fails in that part. Plus, I really wish the narrative could be as strong as my enjoyment throughout my reading it, which is not.

Rating: 3.5/5

fiction, review

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

When you’ve been having a rough ride for six books long, caught up in captivating narratives, bewildered by some twists and turns, entrapped in detailed descriptions, stunned by unpredictable plots, and amazed by impeccable storytelling, you’ll want to come to a very, very satisfying climax and end it in huge glory. But when your ride is getting bumpy and suddenly coming to a halt in the middle of the street and then you discover that your machine is apparently having a problem, you’ll get pissed off. More or less, that’s how I felt after reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Upon the death of Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter has to shoulder a bigger task than any other ones he’s ever done before, trying to find the rest of the Horcruxes in which fragments of Lord Voldemort’s soul are kept. So Harry, Ron, and Hermione decide to drop out of Hogwarts and go searching for the remaining Horcruxes to destroy them. But they have nothing to wield but their wands and unaccomplished magic, no clear information on the whereabouts of the said Horcruxes. Relying only on some random tidbits picked up here and there and half-baked plans, they set off for nowhere.

The journey proves to be tough and dangerous, exceeding their capabilities and young minds. Their immaturity is obviously not enough to tackle every possible problem standing in their way, and what they have at hand are merely their strong will and bravery. Their friendship is also in danger. Against all odds, they can finally put the puzzle together and obtain all the Horcruxes and destroy them to pieces. But there is still one thing Harry has to deal with: the fact that he is the last Horcrux.

There is no doubt that all the three main characters in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows have been growing up some more, but their emotions hang precariously in the balance, threatening to fall and explode on either side. In fact, I can see by the duties and responsibilities they have to bear and the difficulties they must endure that they’re sort of forced to be more mature than they really are. And Ron’s character changes unfortunately into a more emotional, jealous young man, matching Harry’s own already emotional self. The rage, uncertainty, anxiety, restlessness, fear, insecurity, are all normal and understandable, looking at their age and what they’ve been going through. So, although I did not expect Ron to suddenly change that way and lose his silly nature, I can accept that. I can even accept his childish fight with Harry. The point is, we are brought face to face with the fact that Harry, Ron, and even Hermione are still emotionally unstable teenagers being forced to deal with the harsh reality of a dangerous life and unbelievably difficult challenges. Rowling never fails to amaze me with the way she creates and molds her characters.

On the whole, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has the best story among the Harry Potter series. It’s just such a shame that the plot is the worst of all. If I am to be frank, I don’t like it when something comes out to the surface just out of the blue without detailed explanations. And I seriously don’t like it when everything merely pops into Harry’s mind while he’s working on the chronology of every single thing both in the past and present times. How does Kreacher suddenly come out at Hogwarts to help Harry fight the Death Eaters? And how come Charlie Weasley suddenly arrives at Hogwarts when he doesn’t come with the others at the very first place? And how does Abeforth, the Hog’s Head’s barman, come to be Dumbledore’s brother? There are too many things unexplained, and I didn’t find no immaculate details anymore. The book is thick, there is, in my opinion, so much space to write some necessary details and elaborations. The storyline seems unlikely, awkward and implausible. And the epilogue is like any Hollywood sudden happy ending forced to happen.

Overall, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a total disappointment for me. Perhaps not totally, but still disappointing. The story created by J.K. Rowling for this seventh book is great, but that doesn’t really help the storyline nor the narrative. Mostly, this book failed to make me fascinated the way I was when reading the other six.

Rating: 3/5

fiction, review

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

One more step, and all will come to an end. Closer to the finishing line, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince picks up a safe speed to get us to the peak point through several more metres of revelation. Rowling holds back a few secrets and fights and saves some tension for the last part, the very last book of the series, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t get completely nothing. In fact, through the pages of this number, we get to know the real Lord Voldemort.

This time, the story begins with Dumbledore collecting Harry at the Dursleys’, asking Harry to accompany him visiting Horace Slughorn, an already-retired old Hogwarts teacher. Dumbledore wants him to go back and teach at Hogwarts, considering the lack of teaching staff after what happens last year, though, knowing Dumbledore, that can’t possibly be the exact, or only, reason. At the end of the little trip, Dumbledore tells Harry that this term Harry will have a certain private lesson with him. But what Dumbledore means by “private lesson” is actually getting to know who Lord Voldemort is. They get into so many memories extracted from several people to see through the past life of Voldemort so that they can get a grip on what they’re really up against. However, apart from that, Draco Malfoy’s mysterious behavior draws Harry’s attention, so distractingly suspicious and intriguing that Harry sometimes forgets the importance of his meeting with Dumbledore. And sure enough, his suspicion towards Malfoy, and Snape in particular, is proven true when the Headmaster dies at the hand of the Half-Blood Prince.

Here, in the sixth book of the Harry Potter series, I can see that Dumbledore puts more trust in Harry. It tells us that, the way Dumbledore sees it, Harry has stepped on to a higher level of maturity, entering a period where he is ready to shoulder more burden and responsibilities, to bear more secrets and dangerous experiences. Dumbledore, as a teacher and an old man taking care of Harry since he is a kid, realizes that Harry has been growing up and is not a little kid to protect anymore. This is very mind-opening, as if J.K. Rowling wants us to see how we should treat a coming-of-age teenager who surely doesn’t want to be thought of as a little kid anymore, and how we should put more trust in them.

I would say that Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is more simple than the previous installments of the series. It is more revealing, yes, but there are not many startling details nor turns of characters we usually get while reading Harry Potter. Well, the revelation of who the Half-Blood Prince is has undoubtedly been more than shocking, but I cannot say the same about what Dumbledore and Harry find around Voldemort’s background. What gets my attention more is, instead, Harry and Ginny’s mutual attraction, even Ron and Hermione’s revealed feeling to each other is no match. I’m not sure, but perhaps it’s because, after all this time, Harry returns Ginny’s feeling for him. I always waited for the part when Harry and Ginny send some sparks to each other more than anything in the book.

Finally, I have to say that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is more like a bridge stretching to the other side of chasm to usher us to the final destination. Not many mouth-gaping facts nor unbelievable secrets, or even bewildering twists and turns. It is still entertaining, though, and funny as usual. I’m not sure I have to recommend this book to non Harry Potter fans, but I can say that it was an enjoyable read and I liked it.

Rating: 3.5/5

fiction, review

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix comes out with something everybody has been waiting for, an answer. J.K. Rowling finally provides us with the most significant explanation of what becomes the core idea of the whole story. Still mainly set at Hogwarts, the book invites us to see and understand why the story of Harry Potter ever exists.

Still shocked, psychologically wounded and anxious after the death of Cedric Diggory at the return of the Dark Lord, Harry Potter is stuck at the number four, Privet Drive, a place he can barely call home, without any news about the whereabouts of the now coming-back Voldemort. The fact that no one of his wizarding friends nor any one of the wizarding community tells him about the aftermath of the Triwizard Tournament makes him feel even worse. In the midst of frustration and anger, something he least expects happens: a couple of Dementors attacking him and Dudley in the Muggle environment. In defense of himself and his cousin, Harry uses magic to repel the Dementors, resulting in him facing a hearing in the Ministry of Magic. As though that’s not enough, Dumbledore secretly rebuilds the Order of the Phoenix, an army to fight against the Dark Lord, without letting him join the group and doesn’t seem to want to see him.

Harry feels like everyone is ignoring him just the way Dumbledore is and worst of all, he starts to feel that Lord Voldemort can possess him. And he doesn’t have a clue that the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher placed by the Ministry can possibly discredit him and Dumbledore and soon succeeds Dumbledore as the Headmaster. His unrelenting dreams about the dark corridor somewhere outside school and his relentless feeling that he can feel what Voldemort feels and vise versa also almost drive him nuts. At last, entrapped by those dreams, Harry and his friends are forced to come to the Ministry of Magic where that corridor belongs to and fight against the Death Eaters for a prophecy about him.

Harry’s grumpy mood and restlessness give every reason for his slight change in character. Coming of age and being put through harsh moments, Harry is described having bad mood all the time, testy, easily offended, gloomy. And his connection to Voldemort only worsens his mental condition. He feels cheated and kidded. He seems to drown into angst and anger. To be honest, I did not expect to see him change that way, or that Rowling would do that to him. But, looking at his age and what happens before, also the aftermath, it is understandable to have his character adjusted to how he should be. But what so stunned me when reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the description of the character of James Potter, Harry’s father. This is the point where Rowling, once again, shows her skill in not only creating, but livening up a character as naturally and humanly as she can make it. Human beings are not purely perfect, they can never be, they will never be. Even James Potter has flaws and faults, which is the very reason why Snape hates him.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is definitely the installment in which you get most of the answers to many questions around Harry Potter and mysteries surrounding him. It reveals almost everything, making me decide that this must be the center of the whole series. Thick though it may seem, the book doesn’t give any nonsense nor illogical plot. Instead, its unbearably numerous pages present to us every detail we need to know and every description of scenes we never want to miss. The good thing is, the impressive narrative can accommodate all those things without any defect to crack the storyline in the middle, a blunder we usually find an author does. And, to top it off, Rowling inserts some idea about the difficult relationship between old and young men, showing the disagreement and generation gap stretched between them. The way Dumbledore tries to explain everything to Harry even got me disbelieved and forced me to shed a tear. I don’t know but somehow, I think that this book more or less teaches us how to tackle a parents-children relationship, especially when the children are coming of age and have so many questions and anger in their mind.

So, in conclusion, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is not only a story about magic and the dark power, or even about a prophecy, it’s about how we should handle a tense relationship between two different generations, especially with a coming-of-age teenager who does not know what to do with his boiling emotions and thoughts. It’s a great read not only for children, but also for adults with children. I highly recommend it to both elders and the youth.

Rating: 4/5

fiction, review

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

When I first laid my hands on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, I seriously hoped it would be better than the movie adaptation. And I was not the least bit disappointed. Much to my surprise, it’s not only better in some aspects, including the portrayal of each character, but also it’s so much different from the disappointing movie. Published a year after the third installment, this fourth book of the Harry Potter series offers a true adventure of a magic world.

When the Quidditch World Cup takes place, the Death Eaters show up and make such a riot in the middle of wizarding and Muggle communities. While everything is looking unlikely to get worse, the most unexpected thing just happens out of the blue: the emergence of the Dark Mark, the sign of the Dark Lord. However, in spite of the commotion, the Triwizard Tournament is about to begin in Hogwarts, the contenders being the champion from each school whose names are put into and chosen by the Goblet of Fire. Having the Age Line limiting the age of the participants, the fourteen-year-old Harry Potter is, of course, not expected to join the competition. But someone puts his name into the goblet without anyone knowing it, so Harry, however resistant he is, is forced to join the dangerous tournament.

Just as expected, Harry has to deal with murmured accusation that he cheats in putting his own name into the Goblet of Fire when he himself doesn’t know who does it. But, despite having to face many people accusing him, including his own best friend Ron, Harry takes part in the competition and performs top performances, undoubtedly getting the best marks. What he doesn’t know, but what we all may assume it’s just the way it is, is that the last task of the tournament will bring him to the whys and wherefores of his name being put into the goblet. He doesn’t have any idea that Lord Voldemort, the Dark Lord, has been waiting for him to help rising his power again.

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, we get to see some more shocking turns of characters, as Rowling has been used to doing to her creation of people. However habitual it is, the result still amazes me and keeps me wonder. And I can definitely say that Rowling’s portrayal of characters in the book is way much better and much more twisting than it is in the movie. That said, what gets my most attention is the sneak preview of more of Lord Voldemort’s character through the more-or-less-in-depth narration of his background and history. Though not in full yet, Rowling succeeds in presenting the character of Lord Voldemort so that the reader, and I suppose Harry, too, can prepare and brace themselves for something nasty in the next number of the series. And that’s only for starters, there are a lot more surprises of characters sit between the pages of this book and are waiting to jump on you.

I have to say that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the thickest book of the series I’ve read so far with the longest plot to boot, what with nearly in-depth description of Lord Voldemort’s background and quite long history and detailed steps and rules of the Triwizard Tournament, not to mention some more warning revelations. Fortunately, the still attractive way in which Rowling composes every sentence and narration helps, so I didn’t get bored and put the book down fast. The jokes and hilarious dialogues also kept me stay on my seat while I was reading it, making me enjoy the book just the way I always did. The descriptions of all the magic stuff are also fantastic, and I believe Ms. Rowling had put a lot of efforts to create such a magic world. The narrative is just typically strong. And I don’t think I have to mention again the dark atmosphere shrouding the story.

All in all, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a fantastic fantasy book. When I was reading it, I kept saying that the movie adaptation should have followed its lead, not straying out of the line and changing almost everything, from its storyline to its portrayal of characters. I know transforming a very thick book into a movie is never an easy task, but I expected that they would only reduce it, not change it. Well, what I’m saying is that this book is just fantastic.

Rating: 3.5/5

fiction, review

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I never thought Harry Potter series could be more complicated, at least after reading the ever unpredictably bewildering yet gripping Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. But J.K. Rowling proves me wrong. First published in 1999, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban does not only have more pages, but also more details and unexpected revelations. And the reader had better be ready for something unpleasant.

After losing his control and messing up in the Dursleys’, Harry decides to get out of that house and brings with him all of his belongings and magic stuff, going exactly nowhere. He believes he’s already been expelled from Hogwarts the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry then and there for breaking the most fundamental decree of the underage wizard. But the Minister of Magic finds him and tells him that he’s not expelled. Bewildered, he immediately goes back to the school with his best friends, Ron and Hermione.

However, having managed to avoid being expelled from school doesn’t mean that he can escape from the real danger, the Grim which seemingly warns him about his death and the feeling of being watched by someone at school. The fact that a certain prisoner of Azkaban has reportedly run away and that the guards of the said prison, namely the Dementors, are being sent to Hogwarts to keep an eye on the movement of the running prisoner only get Harry’s nerve tighter. As much as being dangerous, this running prisoner, who is allegedly accused of murdering Harry’s parents, has caught Harry’s attention. One night, he is dragged to the Shrieking Shack and meets the prisoner himself, talking to him and being told everything about his parents’ death.

J.K. Rowling never ceases to amaze me with her humanly natural portrayal of characters, with how she describes the feelings and thoughts of every character so vividly that they never seem made-up even in words. I cannot say that she’s done something more to the three main characters we already know, or that she makes the characterization of Severus Snape more than merely suspicious or cynical, but I really like the way she writes all the dialogues and behaviors to make us believe they’re all believable. Kids are kids. They can be heroes in some senses, but they are naturally meant to have some faults. This is something about Rowling which keeps me fascinated, nothing so polished to a fault.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban seems to have many things to tell, but the mystery has not unfolded in full yet. It is just as I had expected before, for I couldn’t imagine everything would have been made known to the reader before the seventh book. This tells us how clever and tricky Rowling can be in composing an immensely engaging, full-of-surprise, magical fantasy story. It is also proven in how Rowling slips some strange, unlikely scenes here and there, puts just enough tension into several parts to make us anxious endlessly, and brings us to a satisfying climax, however it ends.  Interestingly, every single little detail Rowling scrapes together doesn’t go to waste, instead they exist to make the storyline sensible and understandable. And Rowling wraps everything up in a darker than ever atmosphere, making me wonder if it was only me shuddering at some pages. Nevertheless, Rowling never forgets to write ridiculous, hilarious dialogues and have some silly humor spread all over the conversations, especially when it is Ron’s or Lee Jordan’s turn to show up. Reading something mysterious and dark like the Prisoner of Azkaban really needs some relaxation like that.

All in all, I’d like to say that Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is just better than the previous installment of the series and  I truly like it. Not that the Chamber of Secrets is bad or something, but as a reader, it seems so normal for me to expect something better from an author every each time they release a new work. I certainly recommend this book to those who want a great read and a great fantasy story.

Rating: 3.5/5

fiction, review

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Continuing the first installment, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets brings us to the next adventure of Harry Potter. As a work of fantasy fiction, it definitely lives up to expectations, adventurous, full of magic, and extending the boundaries of your imagination. With more complicated twists and turns, J.K. Rowling invites the reader to follow her creation of a route towards a quick glimpse of the Dark Lord’s character as Harry enters his second year at Hogwarts.

Upon the arrival of the second academic year, Harry Potter is more than ready to leave his mean Muggle family’s home, namely the Dursleys’, for Hogwarts. But a house-elf named Dobby sneaks secretly into his room and tries to stop him from going. Harry refuses to stay, even with Dobby keeping him from leaving by any possible way he is capable of doing, and insists on going back to Hogwarts for he can’t imagine staying one more day with people who treat him inhumanely like a bag of trash. So he leaves anyway when Ron and his twin brothers come to collect him by a flying car.

Once at school, the warning Dobby has already given, which Harry ignores before at the Dursleys’, starts to become true as several students are found Petrified—being attacked to frozen—and Harry is the one to blame. However, over the time, it is obvious that it’s none of Harry’s doing, looking at the more attacks leading to someone, or something, other than Harry. That “something” is apparently hidden behind the Chamber of Secrets, built by Salazar Slytherin hundreds years ago and is last opened like fifty years before the latest scene. Breaking the school rules again, Harry and his two close friends, Hermione and Ron, set to find out what actually happens and who or what behind the Chamber of Secrets is. What comes as a shock is that the only one who can open the said chamber is the Heir of Slytherin, and Harry can surprisingly do it.

The three main characters show up just the way they are in the first book, without many alterations in their characterization as it is clear through the running plot. However, the Chamber of Secrets seems to try to present something more about being a child, especially a child who never gets to speak out her mind nor her bottled up distress. And Ginny is the embodiment of that “something more” Rowling is talking about here. The fact that Lord Voldemort makes use of Ginny’s unhappiness shows more than we think we’ve already perceived. Being the youngest child, Ginny never gets what any other youngest kids usually get from their family, more love, more attention, being spoiled to the quick. No. Kids are vulnerable, fragile beings, and those natures can be made worse by unimaginably appalling conditions and surroundings.

Rowling begins her second book of the Harry Potter series with a great opening, making me follow its intense storyline and unable to bring myself to put the book down far before it truly ends. She puts Harry and co. through a more dangerous challenge, a more intricate conflict, more revealing secrets, and blankets them with darker atmosphere that the Chamber of Secrets is better than the Philosopher’s Stone in an adventurous sense. But the narrative is just as great, telling us all how Rowling had been consistent in both her process and quality of writing. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is certainly an entertaining fantasy book, and it’s definitely a good read for any children. However, unfortunately, I find myself still liking Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone more. I still have this mixed feelings about why I prefer the first installment to this better second, but I’m sure that the first is always my favorite to this point.

Be that as it may, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is undeniably a great work of children’s literature. It has an amazing story, an unpredictable case, shocking secrets, and lots of magic. By this book, J.K. Rowling had established herself as the master of storytelling. I felt like I was petrified each time I turned its pages. So I strongly advise you to read this one and hopefully you will enjoy it.

Rating: 3.5/5

fiction, review

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

As common as magic stories in the realm of popular literature might be, Harry Potter will always win everyone’s heart. First published in 1997, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone has never up to this point been leaving its status as one of the most breakout children’s book in the history. After bitterly gaining several refusals, this first installment of the Harry Potter series has finally made its way to success and an extremely wide readership, and continues to do so for still an unknown period of time.

Starting in the modern real-life London, Rowling brings us to look at the life of Harry Potter, an orphan boy with natural magic powers, being prophesied to be the only one who can kill the Dark Lord. However, living as an unwanted nephew in his aunt’s and uncle’s house, Harry never knows anything about his past, his family, and the fact that he is a wizard by nature and the genes. Both his aunt and uncle completely seal the very secret around his parents and the magic world they are living in before they come to an undeniable, violent death. But that’s not until he receives a letter, namely a school invitation, from Hogwarts, the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where his parents complete their magic education.

After the serial obstacles standing in his way, Harry can finally find his way to Hogwarts with the help of Rubeus Hagrid, the giant, long-bearded gamekeeper of the magic school as well as the trusted man of Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster. Once Harry sets foot in the magic world, it’s obvious that everyone recognizes him, the Chosen One, the baby who escapes death executed by the Dark Lord, from the famous lightning scar on his forehead. It makes him feel uneasy, and lucky at the same time. Just then, unpleasant things soon happen at school with the coming of the new teacher of the dark arts. And as an ordinary kid with all his curiosity, Harry takes his chances and interferes in business certainly not his, breaks the school rules, and gets into a fight with the Dark Lord himself.

Harry is generally portrayed as a pitiful orphan in need of love and compassion, but unlike in the movie adaptation, he is not a total hero nor a completely innocent protagonist. Rowling creates his character to be an ordinary child, a flawed young person. He is naughty in some ways, and in possession of human nature. He likes the sense of sharing with his friends, yes, but that doesn’t mean he cannot dislike anyone. His friend, Ron, is just as childishly wicked, hating his family for being helplessly poor and envying his own siblings. But the good thing about him is his jokes, or perhaps it’s just his ridiculous way of talking. And while the only girl, Hermione, is depicted as smart and sensitive as any girls could be, we cannot ignore the fact that she likes to show off her brilliance or that she lacks enchanting looks. In my opinion, all the characters here are human and natural, even the great Dumbledore.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone definitely has an interesting story, simple but detailed in every aspect. Using long and comprehensive sentences in describing all characters, situations, places, objects and happenings, Rowling leads the course of events into a believable, just-packed-enough, sticking-you-on-your-seat narrative that we can’t stop reading it until we reach the last page. The storyline may seem a bit long for a work of fantasy, I’d say, but still acceptable and not the least bit nonsensical. The complicated viewpoints encompassed in one “third point of view” add some plus points to this book. All the jokes and funny dialogues triggered my laugh before I realized that the characters are in real danger, or that the atmosphere is quite dark in some parts. And the best thing about Harry Potter is its linguistically making-sense spells. Who would expect Rowling to play with words and make them into magical spells?

All in all, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is unquestionably a magnificent debut novel of J.K. Rowling and a magnetic first installment to begin reading the whole series. Seventeen years ago, I would have laughed out loud if anyone had told me I would read Harry Potter and love it. But when I read it, that was how I felt. I don’t think anyone will refuse this book as some publishers did in the past. And I think I’ve said my piece enough.

Rating: 4/5