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Book Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – by J.K Rowling

By / March 3, 2012 / no comments

The fifth book in the world famous Rowling series begins whilst Harry is spending yet another summer holiday away from Hogwarts and the rest of the wizarding world at the home of his aunt and uncle, Vernon and Petunia Dursley, in a sleepy town in Surrey, England. As ever Harry is bored to tears by his family’s arrogance and his feelings of isolation; however this year things appear to be even worse as he has had almost no contact from his best friends from Hogwarts, the Wizarding School.

One afternoon Harry and his useless and overweight cousin Dudley are unexpectedly attacked by dementors, terrifying dark spectres with the power to suck all the happiness from your very soul. Thankfully, Harry knows the charm required to project himself and his cousin from the creatures, however after casting the spell Harry receives a letter declaring that he is has been expelled from Hogwarts and worse even, will face a trial to decide whether he should be punished for using magic whilst he is still legally underage.

Harry leaves the Dursley’s, as they blame him for their son’s trauma after the dementor attack and eventually finds himself at the home of his godfather, Sirius, whom he has only recently became acquainted with after Sirius spent several years wrongfully incarcerated in the wizard prison Azkaban. At his godfather’s Harry finds his best friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, along with the rest of the Weasley family, and a mysterious group of adult witches and wizards, who are calling themselves “The Order of the Phoenix”.

Members of the Order include teachers from Harry’s school, magical security staff from the Ministry for Magic and others who were involved in fighting the evil Lord Voldermort when he first rose to power almost twenty years ago. The Order have decided to reconvene after Harry’s encounter at the end of the previous school term when he witnessed the death of schoolmate Cedric Diggory and Voldermort’s ascension back into human form.

Thanks to the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry Albus Dumbledore, Harry is cleared of the charges he faced and is allowed to return to school. Once there he learns that Dolores Umbridge, an snide and uptight employee of the Ministry for Magic has been made Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, by the Minister for Magic himself no less; one Cornelius Fudge, an insecure man who is sure that Dumbledore is out for his job and that the rumours of Voldermort’s return are fallacies designed to un-hinge him.

Umbridge is a terrible teacher and refuses to teach any of her students actual defensive spells and begins taking tyrannical control of Hogwarts during long periods when Dumbledore is inexplicably absent. In an attempt to ensure that his friends are well armed against the rising threat of Lord Voldermort, Harry and his friends start a secret club in which they teach the other students how to perform accurate defensive magic.

Harry is also instructed by Dumbledore that he must learn to protect his mind from Voldermort’s prying magic, as Harry has had a strange connection with him since birth. Harry begins taking “Occlumency” lessons from his most hated teacher Severus Snape. However Harry struggles with these lessons and begins to dream about Voldermort and his plans to break into the Ministry for Magic, in search of a secret artefact which he and his Death Eaters hope will help him take over the magical world.

The book reaches it’s climax when, after a dream, Harry and several other members of the student’s secret club the“DA” ( Dumbledore’s Army) venture to the Ministry of Magic to prevent Voldermort from torturing Sirius. However, Harry’s dream was in fact a manipulation by Voldermort that he knew would force Harry to make his way to the Ministry. When the students arrive they find themselves in the Hall of Prophecies, a library of all the prophetic visions ever made magically sealed in glass balls. However, they learn that only the person whom the prophecy is about may remove the ball from it’s place upon the shelf and that this was Voldermort’s plan all along, to lure Harry to the place so that he could retrieve a prophecy which is about both Voldermort and himself.

The students find themselves surrounded by Voldermort’s loyal followers, known as Death Eaters, joined now by dangerous escapees from Azkaban. A battle begins in the underground cellars of the Ministry and it looks as though all is lost for Harry and his friends until suddenly Dumbledore and other members of the Order appear.

However tragedy strikes and Voldermort’s presence is finally revealed to the entire wizarding community.

The Order of the Phoenix is when the Harry Potter books begin to get complicated: throughout the next few books seemingly tiny incidents will happen which will eventually become fundamentally important to the story as a whole. These range from simple character developments, to personal flashbacks and important discoveries which will eventually help win the war against Voldermort.

In many ways this book is a very emotional journey for Harry, Rowling writes his teenage mood swings and attitude brilliantly, disguising them as reactions to specific incidents, just as Harry himself believes them to be. The general disbelief of the magical community that Voldermort has returned, along with Harry’s stubborn reaction to his isolated summer perfectly compliment the development in the age of most of the characters. Meanwhile, thanks to Harry’s temper tantrums, Ron and Hermione are able to develop their friendship even further, beautifully encapsulating the awkward teenage friendships between boys and girls, and highlighting in some brilliantly witty moments the stark differences in teenagers maturities.

The Order of the Phoenix is also the most violent of the books thus far in the series and was criticized upon release for being immoral and anti-authoritarian. However I believe that this is just the natural progression needed for the book; both Harry and his readers are becoming adults throughout the duration of the series, the progression into a young adult is made evident through both the characters physical and the narratives’ physical development. Without the violence of this novel the book would be patronizing, besides which the plot could not be held without it.

Henceforth the books begin to get darker and more troubling, both for Harry and the reader. Yet, as ever, they are written brilliantly, the images Rowling creates and the characters themselves are so strong that they translate beyond the poor editing that afflicts all the books. Things are finally beginning to get interesting here and upon closing the Order of the Phoenix you will simply find yourself even more excited and intrigued than you were upon first opening it.

About the author

Ben

Blog editor, admin and founder of BestFantasyBooks.comYou'll find me on the BestFantasyBook forums and spending my spare time reading fantasy books and writing lists for this site. In fact, I have no spare time -- running this site IS my spare time!

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