If you haven’t yet finished Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and are the sort of person who cares about spoilers, stop reading this entry.
OK. Let me get the bad stuff out of the way first.
Book Five was overwritten. Strangely, I didn’t think Book Four was, even though it was every bit as long, and I wonder if that has to do with the books themselves or my mindset when reading them. Whatever the case, I thought this one bogged down in the middle. The important things that had to be established — Harry’s adolescent angst, the horror that is Umbridge and the danger she represents to Hogwarts — were well established by then, and we didn’t need to hit those same notes again and again. It was still a book chock-full of good ol’ nutritious plot, but shearing off a couple hundred pages would have been a good thing.
The descending action was also too long, and the revelation of the prophecy was thoroughly underwhelming. I’m not sure I’m happy with Sirius’ death, either — he didn’t get to do enough in this book to give his demise any sort of dramatic weight, and it felt a wee bit gimmicky, even down to the way that Rowling teased us with other possible Main Character Deaths before springing the “real” one on us.
Book Five does a lot more for the characters, psychologically, than it does for the secondary world Rowling has created. We’ve already had hints before now of the Ministry of Magic as big, messy bureaucracy, but nothing in the depiction of (early on, I’m talking about) made me shiver with delight or interest. Harry’s internal rage, though, rang true, even when he was being thoroughly stupid. The scenes with Cho were priceless. The characters are growing, and as they grow we’re getting deeper glimpses into the adult world that they’re going to have to join.
But none of that really matters. What matters is Chapters 23 to 25, from when Harry & Co. get the better of Umbridge to when Dumbledore goes toe-to-toe with You-Know-Who (maybe Hermione can say it now, but I still can’t). The whole phantasmagoric journey through the Department of Mysteries is Rowling at her very best; as I read it I couldn’t believe my good fortune that the book had become this good. Seeing the Death Eaters appear in the Hall of Prophecy was every bit as terrifying as Harry showing up in the graveyard in Book Four. If Rowling can keep that sort of spark just a little longer, she’ll be able to pull off the last two books in fine form. Let’s just hope she takes her sweet time with them, and doesn’t watch the movies any more than she has to.
UPDATE: Loyal reader David Groen points out that it’s a Golden Snitch, not a Quaffle. I apologize, and plead two-in-the-morning-itis.