The new Harry Potter book is the bulkiest yet, just shy of 900 pages. J.K. Rowling is a talented enough writer to make us turn those pages, but is it really as rewarding as it should be?
Of the five books, I liked this one the least. It deals with Harry's new troubles at Hogwarts Wizarding School, which is now under the watchful eye of a High Inquisitor.
Reading this book makes me realize how unlikable Harry really is. He is full of self-pity and unrepentantly takes pleasure in the troubles of even his friends when they displease him. He's not your typical hero. The only thing to recommend him is the undefined power that ties him to his enemy, Lord Voldemort.
With the other books, there is plenty of excitement and a well-woven plot to relieve Harry's occasional pettiness. With this book, his character flaws are unpleasantly magnified.
This is probably a necessary development for the direction of the last two books. The tone is sure to get darker as Harry and Voldemort face each other in the final battle.
The books, which have never really been child-friendly, may become even less so. The length always has been a daunting challenge to young readers. Something as dark as "The Order of the Phoenix," not written in the typical "quest" mode of the other books, might lose readers.
I first read "Harry Potter" to understand the objections the religious community raised about the magical elements. I think that this would not have become a problem except for the way Rowling handled her world.
The first book shocked me when it described a creature in the forest drinking the blood of a unicorn. People are tortured into insanity, and in the fourth book, a student is murdered. The unflinching way Rowling incorporates such violence is unnerving. It makes me wonder if the stories are for kids. If I had read these books when I was 10, the violence in them would have upset me deeply.
Despite this, I am awed by Rowling's seamless storytelling. Her writing is good, her plots better. She draws you into her well-crafted world completely.
In the end, I have to say "The Order of the Phoenix" can't be judged until the series is complete. On its own, it is hardly worth the time it takes to read it.
I hope the next books make its purpose clearer.