This is the second time I've read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, but the first since finishing Deathly Hallows and first time reading it critically. I've tailored this review in the following in mind: the intended audience for the book (much younger than myself) and its place in the series.
"Half-Blood Prince" is over 200 pages shorter than its immediate predecessor in the series as Rowlings transitioned from focusing on the events in Hogwarts to worrying situation in the Wizarding World since Voldemort’s public appearance near the end of “Order of the Phoenix”. Turning the focus away from what was occurring in most of Harry’s classes and more about his nonacademic life, especially in relation to his love life. Once again the past history of the Wizarding World is a central theme of the book, but this time centered on Tom Marvolo Riddle aka Voldemort, to understand how Harry can defeat the Dark Lord. With considerable skill Rowlings crafted all these new elements in the series, but seemed to shortcut her development of major established characters that took something away from the narrative a tad.
"Half-Blood Prince" finds the series’ overall story having entered into the Wizarding World in a time of war, fully transitioned into a darker mood that only gets darker with what is learned and what occurs. Before even getting to Harry, we follow the Muggle Prime Minister and learn of Snape’s residence while learning about an order that Draco Malfoy is to carry out at Hogwarts. Throughout the book, Harry and Dumbledore interact more than they ever have before as they navigate the past through other’s memories to find out how Voldemort survived his first encounter with Harry, through use of Horcruxes. The major subplot of the book is Harry’s investigation of Draco throughout the year even though his friends and even Dumbledore tell him not to worry about it, however the events at the end of the book seem to prove Harry correct. The academic develops in “Half-Blood Prince”, save for Potions, take a backseat to everything else going on which given how “Deathly Hallows” is written is foreshadowing what is truly important for the story as a whole. The relationships of Ron-Hermione and later Harry-Ginny seem both confusing and rushed, but given Mrs. Weasley’s comments about Bill & Fleur it seemed that Rowlings’ gave herself some literary cover on this point. As it turns out “Half-Blood Prince” is both a book in itself, but also setting up the events of the final book given the mission Harry commits himself to by refusing to return to Hogwarts. And with Dumbledore’s death, the stage is set for anything to happen in the growing darkness.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince continues the dark trend the series is headed towards, though even as the Wizarding World gets embroiled in war, Rowlings shows that rays of light do pierce the night. Unlike “Order of the Phoenix”, Rowlings included only a few new additions that were strictly to help the narrative of the book along in certain places while also helping create important segments in the overall story. While not as long as the previous two books, “Half-Blood Prince” is its own narrative while building the overall story towards the series’ climax and setting up for “Deathly Hallows”.