fiction, review

Clean Sweep

While I’m still so far away from going on with Kate Daniels series, Ilona Andrews’ Clean Sweep has satisfied a little bit my thirst for their other works. It’s turned out quite unsatisfying, though, in some ways. Firstly published for commercial purpose at the end of 2013, it was originally a weekly free short story posted on Andrews’ official website, being worked on in the middle of their other projects and hectic familial life. I’m not really sure, however, if it’s the reason why Clean Sweep turns out flat to me, for I always believe in their talent for writing. It might have been just me who didn’t feel the click, but I seriously didn’t find it as exciting or even interesting as any Kate Daniels novels.

Dina Demille, a young girl running a Victorian bed-and-breakfast down in Avalon Subdivision, is no ordinary girl. She has a unique magic power and she is, too, the magic itself. On one light summer day, a dog has been murdered. It dies in the strangest fashion anyone can imagine. As an innkeeper, Dina knows that she’s supposed to keep neutral and stay out of it, but it’s been the third murder in the subdivision and she senses that what is to come will be even worse. With the help of Sean Evans, an ex-military newly arrived in their neighborhood, Dina sets to investigate what actually happens and who the perpetrator is. Their investigation into the stalker and its dahaka wreaking havoc in their peaceful territory leads them both to the dirty linen tightly kept by one of vampire families of the Holy Cosmic Anocracy, House of Krahr. The coming of the vampires to the Earth, with a definite goal to capture and arrest the dahaka, stirs things up. Dina has to protect and tend to Lord Soren, an injured vampire knight, and give sanctuary to his Marshal nephew, Arland. Things get more complicated as the neighborhood becomes painfully affected by the damage done by the dahaka, so Arland is forced to reveal what problem his family has. At the end of the day, Dina, Sean, and Arland have to work together to fight the enemy who is dangerous enough to kill them all.

The main character of Clean Sweep, the heroine here—Dina Demille—can be said to be a little bit like Kate Daniels. I might have been just imagining things, but throughout the reading I was quite sure that Dina is as tough and sarcastic as Kate. She’s also that kind of independent lone wolf who’s trying as best she can to refuse anybody else’s help, yet so determined to help others. Unless you want to take Dina’s physical appearance into account, then that will be a different case. Thankfully, Sean Evans is nothing like Curran Lennart. He is some kind of shapeshifter, yes, for his character is a werewolf, but he is not that rich, bossy alpha male who leads a vast pack of were-animals and carries a heavy need to be obeyed. Sean is more of a loner, a wanderer seeking always adventures. Odd as it may seem, but he is still looking for his true self, the true place where he should belong to. He’s confused, uncertain, quite troubled inside. As for Arland, I have to say that I didn’t quite catch his whole character. The Marshal of House Krahr is described as dashing, charming, and protective, but that is all. There is nothing, I’d rather say, special about him, not the way I see it anyway.

Interestingly, as much as their descriptions are quite out of my “expectation”, the characters making appearances in Clean Sweep are very literally unusual. There are not only humans or humans with magic, but also out-of-the-box werewolves and vampires. Both are described coming from other planets in the universe, arriving on Earth through a gate of some sort. Even the vampires here are not some blood-thirsty undead. They are cosmic soldiers with carnivorous nature, and yes, they are common human beings. It felt so strange to read such a mind-boggling description, but oddly enough, Andrews can explain it all the way through the narrative so clearly that the reader won’t find it difficult to understand. The same applies to the world-building. The Andrews seem to have committed to create something unusual, something that the reader may not find anywhere else, but their world is not hard to catch on to. It even looks magically simple to read. If there is one setting description I didn’t quite get, it was Baha-char. Perhaps I just couldn’t follow the road path of the market. Well, putting everything aside, I have to regretfully say that I am so disappointed by the run of the story. I don’t find it interesting to follow. It’s so dull and didn’t catch my attention at all. I even had to read it with full force in order to finish it. The opening scene is not captivating either, not inviting enough to drag me through the whole plot. If it was not for Andrews’ signature sarcasm scattered over the dialogues, I don’t think I could endure the storyline, however fast the pace is.

Overall, I have to say that I don’t really like Clean Sweep. The idea is okay, but the whole plot is just beyond my expectation, in a bad way. The narrative is still typically Ilona Andrews, and so is the main characterization, which is a big problem for me. I had hoped that Andrews would’ve come up with a different kind of person when it came to a different story, but my hope proved to be broken into pieces.

Rating: 3/5

fiction, review

Magic Bleeds

Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series is definitely getting better over time. As the story advances, the snarky, quirky heroine brings the reader to a new bloody adventure with a personal touch to the prevailing case. The development of the story is getting closer and closer to the point where Kate’s blood and magic are put precariously on the line. With more action, gory scenes, romance, and new characters involved, Magic Bleeds, the fourth in the series, becomes a stunning work of urban fantasy I’m sure nobody wants to miss.

Steel Mary, some kind of a deadly plague, spreads mercilessly across Atlanta and kills several shapeshifters. The outbreak of the epidemic happens just as some suspicious undead mages come to the city and run amok in prominent public places. As an agent now working for the Order of Knights of Merciful Aid, Kate Daniels cannot just sit down and do nothing. Her sense of responsibility knocks her senseless and gets her into action. Only the case also involves Curran Lennart, the Beast Lord of Atlanta, the leader of the Pack and the king of all shapeshifters in the territory. It is no way that Kate wants to cooperate with a man who has just disappointed her and made her feel like a complete fool. But the unruly epidemic and the mysterious death befalling the shapeshifters need to be stopped, or else another one will die and the whole city will be covered in plagues, so a broken heart has to come second. A series of investigations and some digging into several myths involving plagues pull Kate deeper into the puzzling case, forcing her to once again deal with her secret blood and magic. When everything starts to be crystal clear, it turns out that the enemy she has to fight and kill is someone up from her own lineage, someone of her blood and magic, Erra. Their blood relationship complicates the case even more, making Kate have to decide to choose her own family, or the people she cares about and the one she loves.

Here in the fourth installment, Ilona Andrews decides to show Kate Daniels’ emotional weaknesses and vulnerability. She may look so tough, strong and sturdy, snarky and funny, headstrong and decisive on the outside, but when it comes to love, she’s not different from any other persons, or women for that matter. She has a soft spot, whether she likes it or not, refuses it or not. She does cry, and is unable to shove away the insecurity within her. Reading her character from book one to four, I can finally conclude that Kate Daniels is really a natural person, someone whom you may or may not like, someone who may or may not be good or bad. But the most shocking character in Magic Bleeds, to me, is definitely Saiman. Saiman is never a likeable person from the very first time. He’s always described as arrogant, deceitful, snobbish, mean, vengeful, and, above all, a disgusting pervert. But in one particular dialogue with Kate, he says something very interesting about humanity:

“Being human in our world is synonymous with being included into the framework of society. Humanity entitles one to certain rights and privileges, but also implies voluntary acceptance of laws and rules of conduct. It transcends mere biology. It’s a choice and therefore belongs solely to the individual. In essence, if a person feels they are human, then they are.”

I never thought, during my time reading Kate Daniels series up to this point, that a character like Saiman could say something so human and basic. It’s so astounding. And it just goes to show Andrews’ commitment to create completely human characters.

The plot of Magic Bleeds is considerably longer than the previous numbers, running a little bit slow at the beginning and then feeling steadily fast right after the first half of the book. And even after the conclusion of the case, there is still some problem to solve, draining more and more the reader’s emotions and energy to finish it. The epilogue is, luckily, as cooling-down as ever and is the real turning point in Kate’s and Curran’s relationship. I would say that the whole package of the narrative is wonderful, with its plus and minus points that don’t necessarily have to spark any arguments. I will not say that I like to take a very long journey to finish a book, but in this case, I didn’t mind because the after-reading result was so satisfying. Andrews add just the right amount of romanticism, stick to the same quantity of humor, and increase the violence and the bloody scenes to a necessary level, although they made me weak in the knees at some point. The use of the Jewish mythology and stories from Bible is very much interesting, blended very well into the core idea of the story. I don’t know anything about both, I must admit, so I’m not in a position to say whether they’re correctly used or not. But one thing I’m sure of, Magic Bleeds has all the positive aspects of the three previous installments combined.

Overall, Ilona Andrews’ Magic Bleeds is truly a great read. I liked the idea, the plot, however long it might be, the strong narrative, the romantic aspect. The characters are more complex as well. So, I dare say that this book is really recommended.

Rating: 4/5

fiction, review

Magic Strikes

Magic Strikes can be said to be the turning point in Kate Daniels series, where every aspect in the package improves significantly, the narrative, the plot, the basic idea, the use and the description of the myth, the characterizations. I cannot say that this is the best so far, but one thing that I’m sure of is that Ilona Andrews have put a lot of effort to get their third installment of the series better than the first two, and it proves to be so.

Once again, Kate Daniels has to face a great challenge when Derek, one of her shapeshifter friends, is found almost dead with a broken body and an injured face, unfortunately without his Lyc-V being able to regenerate both. No one knows who’s done it. The mysterious case swirling around the young werewolf becomes ever so complicated when Jim keeps a secret about something that the Beast Lord doesn’t even know. As it happens, that something turns out to be a violation of the Pack Law Jim and Derek do on purpose, which results in Derek nearly losing his life. Kate can’t help but plunge herself into dangerous, deadly fights in the middle of Midnight Games arena, where she and the Pack’s shapeshifters have to deal with powerful rakshasas armed by Sultan of Death. The presence of Hugh d’Ambray, Roland’s Warlord, in the arena to watch the fights and make sure the rakshasas win and kill all the Pack’s members involved makes Kate wonder who actually Sultan of Death is. Hugh himself always keeps an eye on Kate, suspicious of her blood and lineage. Kate, who has always been keeping her blood and magic a secret, finally has to reveal her real identity for the sake of her friends.

Kate Daniels readers must have known Jim from the first and the second installments, but here his character and appearance, in my opinion, stand out more than before. It might be for the mistake he makes and the heavy burden of responsibility he tries to bear on his own shoulder upon which the entire story is based. He does everything in his power to mend his past mistakes, and Curran describes him as a responsible person who will not take his failure at doing his duty easily, even if he has to betray his boss and best friend.

Interestingly, it’s not only Jim whose character gets elaborated more through his deed and decisions, Raphael and Derek also make more appearances with their own conflicts and behaviors. Despite his lack of action and dialogues along 1/3 of the book, Derek’s character looks clearer by what he’s done and the subtle description of his emotion. He seems a very sentimental young man, and willing to do anything in order to be taken seriously as a grown-up man. But it’s Raphael who really captured my attention. I found him funny and romantic, but not in a cheesy way. Not that it is surprising, since it’s been very clear from the start that he has an undoubted ability to snatch a woman’s heart in a way that you cannot resist.

As I’ve said earlier, Magic Strikes is way better than its two predecessors. It has a more interesting case, a denser plot without being too hasty in its run to the climax, and the narrative develops just in the right progress and doesn’t seem like Andrews force it to unfold the way it does. No wonder this book is thicker than the first two. The series of battle scenes is arranged steadily to bring the reader to the bloody, thrilling climax that is guaranteed to make them gasp and heady at the same time. Those scenes, and the violence emanating from them, are so much better and more detailed, bloodier if I may add. The way to the end of the book, including the epilogue, is very well executed, too, with a cooling-down scene to make the reader grin as always. So narratively, I can say that Magic Strikes is so much better written. Linguistically, it still bears the Andrews’ typical writing style: coarse but fun, witty and snarky, blatant and straightforward, yet some of their sentences are a bit dramatic. It is understandable, though, looking at the sad scenes they insert at some points. Most interestingly, Kate’s and Curran’s love story starts to hike up to another level, and so does Andrea’s and Raphael’s. But I’m not going to talk about it further, because there are some strange scenes that become my concern. I find it confusing when Kate doesn’t seem to recognize Raphael as Aunt B’s son who carries a shotgun in the first book, and thus Raphael has to remind her of that. What’s more, there’s a certain scene that I am sure taking place in Jim’s safe house, but when Dali, the Pack’s Asian mythology expert, comes to  said scene the setting suddenly changes into Kate’s apartment. This is just not right. Or did I miss something?

Overall, Magic Strikes is actually a very great work of fiction. It has everything a reader needs to satisfy their reading thirst. Had it not had holes in its plot, I would’ve given it a better rating. But I couldn’t, because a clear course of events is important to me.

Rating: 3.5/5

fiction, review

Magic Burns

Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series continues in a second installment, Magic Burns. This time, Andrews focus on a Celtic myth and the reincarnation of gods. The description of the “alternate world” they set up as the background develops enormously along with the development of the plot, despite the not-so-interesting idea of the story. It still has a strong atmosphere, thankfully, and some nice humor to entertain the reader.

In the middle of her mission to retrieve the Pack’s secret map, Kate Daniels meets a street kid named Julie whose mother is missing. Julie’s mother, Jessica, is a worshipper of the god Morrigan, and her disappearance brings out an unsettling suspicion in Kate’s mind. So she sets out to find her, but there is no fruit of it. Instead, Kate and Julie are attacked in Kate’s apartment by some undead mermaids and a strange, monstrous creature. That only strengthens Kate’s suspicion over Red, Julie’s neglectful boyfriend, and the necklace he gives to the girl. Somehow, the attack, Julie’s mysterious necklace, and her mother disappearance seem to connect with each other, forming a certain path which is still difficult to know where it leads. On the other hand, the Pack’s map keeps missing and the thief, Bran, is not easy to catch for his ability to disappear. Every clue she gets forces Kate to think that everything that happens has something to do with the flare, the gods Jessica worships, and Bran.

Here, we are introduced to the significant supporting characters that from this book on will help the story of the whole series develop. First we meet Andrea, Kate’s knight friend at the Order of Merciful Aid who has to hide her real self and identity from the world. She’s nothing like Kate, but she’s just as funny. As a beastkin shapeshifter, she’s described as beautiful and unusually pretty-shaped. Her beauty particularly attracts Raphael, one of the Pack and a werehyena. Just like Andrea is described as beautiful, Raphael is a handsome, gorgeous, heart-melting man with charm no one can resist. He is depicted as sly and slick, playboy and easy to get along with, but he is also a Mama’s boy, a nature that I don’t understand why he should have. Last but not least, Andrews introduce us to Julie, the street-kid orphan. I cannot say anything but that Julie is an average teenager, curious, stubborn, acting like she knows it all and in dire need of love and protection. What makes her interesting is that her presence puts Kate in a difficult position where she has to play parents when she herself is a troubled, stubborn kid.

Magic Burns has a better plot than that of Magic Bites, the flow of the entire narrative runs as smooth as silk, if I may say so. Starting from the hilarious opening, which then goes slowly to the introduction of the case, the storyline seems to snake its way through the detailed scenes and descriptions. The featuring side elements appear to be blended so completely into the main course of events that the reader won’t realize that those are fragments added to the narrative to take them to the climax. Kate’s and Curran’s relationship also develops in a nice and steady progress, stepping up a notch to the next level, though I cannot say it’s already romantic. What becomes a disappointment here in the second installment is that it does not have a magically great basic idea. I didn’t find the core of the story as interesting as the first, thus reading it didn’t get me excited. The battle scenes are also disappointing. They didn’t snatch my brain as I expected it to and left me thinking that it’s not an epic at all. The violence emanating from those scenes is not as strong as I found it in Magic Bites, but what really shocked me was the description of how great Kate’s craving for blood in the final battle scene. It is so obvious that Kate inherits her father’s bad blood, I know, but reading her killing people in cold blood was so horrifying.

All in all, I can say that I liked Magic Burns, despite its obvious weaknesses. The humor could still trigger my spontaneous laugh and very much entertain me. Even though I don’t really like the story, I love the way it is created and written into a narrative form. It has detailed characterizations as well, and the cooling-down ending is certainly Andrews’ biggest plus point here.

Rating: 3.5/5

fiction, review

Magic Bites

When it comes to urban fantasy, I understand that Ilona Andrews is one of the major voices ever considered. Their Kate Daniels series has expanded into a number of smash hits. Magic Bites, the first in the series, was published in 2007 and became the starting point of the slowly but surely, fantastically built “alternate world” of Kate Daniels, the quirky yet determined heroine under the spotlight. It has an unusual basic idea, dark and gory atmosphere, and sense of humor I never thought would be fit for something like this.

When she is all alone gambling against her bottle of wine in the middle of the night, Kate Daniels is brought some bad news by her least favorite Master of the Dead that her guardian, Greg Feldman, has mysteriously died. Unable to wrap it around her mind, she dashes right away to the Order of Merciful Aid, where Greg was once a knight, and does her subtle investigation to confirm the truth. Further, the path she takes leads her to an awful suspicion around the Pack and the People at the same time, the two most powerful sides in Atlanta. Oddly, they are blaming each other. The fact that her investigation is going nowhere and that the People are reluctant to cooperate drives her to take a helping hand from the Pack and, especially, the arrogant, powerful Beast Lord. And when everything they gather takes them to Olathe, the People’s leader’s concubine and warrior, the case seems to come to an end. But it’s apparently not, and there’s something fishy that a certain person, hidden behind his identity and reputation, is actually the mastermind of all the murders happened. This mastermind knows very well what blood Kate is made of and wants it to gain its magnificent power.

Here I was introduced to an unusual creation of a leading female character I never thought I would encounter in a book. Kate Daniels is not an ordinary “white” character, although she is undoubtedly the heroine. She has naturally human weaknesses that oddly mix well with her heroic behavior. If you look at her character closely, perusing carefully the way Andrews describe her, she is actually a coward, a lone wolf, a selfish, headstrong, annoyingly snarky person. She’s not a character readers would adore without realizing her good qualities, namely funny, physically strong, independent, determined, and always there to help others. If any character could be complicated, then Kate Daniels is not just another complicated figure. She despises control but she’s cooperative, she’s individualistic but helpful, she’s emotionally vulnerable but determinedly strong, she’s not perfect in any way but she’s fabulously heroic. She’s like a heroine everyone will hate to love.

So unfortunately, Kate Daniels is not coupled to a leading male character as unusual as she is. If this is a paranormal romance, then Curran Lennart, the Beast Lord, is just the same as any other man I’ve ever encountered in the genre. He’s physically muscular and gorgeous, powerful, rich (for a shapeshifter), and seems to have the world under his feet. But, first and foremost, he is such an arrogant control freak. The only thing that differentiate him from other male characters I know so far in romances is that he is a shapeshifter, if that helps any.

Only Magic Bites is not a romance, much less a paranormal romance, although it is widely mistaken being so. It’s an action-packed, full-of-myth, violent urban fantasy with a touch of not-so-romantic love story. Andrews do not make the hero and heroine jump into the sack the minute they meet. Instead, the husband-and-wife writing team builds the connection between both from the very start, slowly through the course of events they narrate along the book. And speaking of the narrative, I feel a bit awkward about it. It might be the short plot which in turn makes the run of the story seem too hasty. How Andrews bring the reader to the final battle is also so simply ordinary that it only looks like any other battle scene without any significance. However, the world building and the application of all the strange terms are very well written I could feel the otherness of the unusual fantasy background they describe. They don’t let the reader misunderstand what they’re talking about, they explain and elaborate quite briefly yet clearly all the things the reader needs to know. In short, I can say Magic Bites has wonderful descriptions. Only I personally mind about the language. Too much foul language. Not that I never encountered such a thing in all my reading experience, but I think it’s just too much. On the positive side, the humor is just what I like, fresh, smart, annoyingly witty, though a little bit snarky sometimes.

On the whole, reading Magic Bites was a fun experience. I’d rather say that it’s not something extraordinary, but it offers you something unique and special, something that is worth your attention.

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