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Book Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K Rowling

By / September 24, 2011 / no comments

The third book in the Rowling series about the teenage wizard Harry James Potter is the one that really starts to delve into the darker side of the magical world; it’s the book where we first face dementors and learn some of the secrets of Hogwarts and it’s previous students; it’s really no surprise it won the Bram Stoker Award for “Superior Achievement” in horror writing in it’s first year of publication.

The key plot line in this book is that of Sirius Black, the best friend of Harry’s father James and only person granted the knowledge of the Potter’s whereabouts when Voldermort was at his height. According to rumours that have gone unbounded for thirteen years, Sirius betrayed James and Lily Potter to the Dark Lord and caused their death, he then went on to murder a fellow wizard and several other muggle citizens in some kind of mad rage.

The night after his thirteenth birthday Harry storms out of his uncle’s house in Privet drive; dragging his trunk, broomstick and caged owl with him. Whilst storming down the street he finds himself seeing a dark shape in the shadows, a huge black dog that seems to stalk him through the rest of the book. A trip to a bookshop in Diagon Alley reveals to Harry that the menacing creature is in fact a Grim, a magical omen, the sight of which marks the viewer as soon to die.

For all these Sirius has been a resident at the wizarding jail; Azkaban. An island ruled over by inhuman and terrifying magical creatures called dementors. However, Sirius manages to escape the prison, a feat never achieved by any other wizard, and as far as every one in the book is concerned he’s trying to hunt down Harry, so he can finish the work his master started.

Meanwhile at Hogwarts all sorts of things are going on, from the great and overwhelmingly important, to the miniscule and seemingly meaningless; a quidditch – a magical sport played on brooms in the air – match is invaded by dementors that causes Harry to crash and destroy his flying broomstick, whilst Hermione’s cat eats Ron’s rat (no that isn’t a metaphor) which leaves Ron even grumpier than ever and their friendship seemingly over.

Harry’s new Divination teacher foresees his death, whilst Hagrid, now teaching Care of Magical Creatures, introduces them to a majestic creature that is a strange cross between an eagle and a horse, whilst Hermione seems to have taken on more subjects than can physically fit into a day.

Harry is given the gift of an enchanted map that shows him secret passage ways out of Hogwarts and begins taking lessons in how to defend himself against dementors and the painful and terrifying memory they bring when in Harry’s presence. Harry is given a second gift, this time a mysterious package that arrives on Christmas day, which turns out to be a Firebolt, an enviable racing broom.

Then as if out of no where Sirius Black breaks into Hogwarts, not once, but twice, evading the dementors and threatening both a portrait and Harry’s very own dorm-mate Ron, with a knife.

All of this, along with a few passing comments that on reflection are so obvious and tongue-in-cheek they’re hilarious, culminate in Harry, Ron and Hermione, Sirius Black, a dead wizard and a werewolf in a creaky old shack that’s been haunted for years.

This is when the truth finally comes out and Harry’s world is changed forever.

This book is when the Harry Potter books begin to get grown up, not only does Harry find himself faced with true deceit and terror, in a way that he never really has been before, he also begins to develop into a young man, finding his feet socially and even starting to find girls attractive.

The dementors open up a new facet of darkness and horror to the magical world, which just can’t be matched by the earlier incidents with the giant spiders and the basilisk. Rowling’s description of the rotting hand that reaches toward their victim and the fate that greets you from beneath a dementor’s hood is really quite haunting.

As ever, there are some excellent comedy moments between Ron and Hermione, who can’t seem to stand one another. Whilst the stress of taking on too many classes drives Hermione to breaking point; eventually slapping Draco Malfoy and storms out of their Divination class, calling the professor a fraud. And, if we’re mentioning comedy, we cannot forget the brilliant “blowing up my aunt” incident at the start of the book either.

The book’s biggest flaw is it’s ending, which although gripping and apt feels, in a lot of ways, rushed. Harry is briefly reunited with his godfather and can feel a genuine family connection for the very first time, yet this emotional connection isn’t backed up in anyway. Every other relationship and emotional tie in the series are built up pretty much from the word go, even the gentle and warm-hearted Remus Lupin – the most recent Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher – has more of an opportunity to connect with Harry, and yet after no time at all Harry and Sirius are behaving as if they have known each other their whole lives; it just seems a little insipid and unbelievable, particularly when you compare to some of the other relationships in the books.

The Prisoner of Azkaban is dark and upsetting in a lot of ways; it looks into horrible aspects of revenge and spite through Sirius Black, who despite staying relatively sane over his years in Azakban has been twisted by hate and blood lust. The unbridled fear that the dementors bring out in Harry is also almost disturbing, yet his experience with them causes a heart-breaking dilemma that really resonates from the book. It also addresses several interesting concepts about responsibility and growing up; where Harry and his peers are faced with the kind of moments that seem so small but nonetheless define who you are for the rest of your life.

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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