Book Three in the series marks a clear departure from the structure of the first two, although many parallels can still be found. The main threat of the book, the Prisoner of the book title, is not the same antagonist from the previous books, and that’s quite clear from the beginning. We don’t get a third book where Voldemort makes a new move to get to Harry and is then defeated in a big finale. It’s more ominous than that and for the longest part we are kept in the dark of what or who this threat of the escaped prisoner could be representing, until there’s a large plot twist and we learn the prisoner is actually Harry’s well-intentioned and wrongly convicted godfather. Harry still has someone from his past who cares about him. That’s the pay-off in the end. He’s not alone.
The way towards that point is long and tough, though. First, we need to get through a few chapters of recap. The situation and characters are re-introduced – but I was wondering why that’s necessary. Who starts reading the series with the third book? Is there anyone who isn’t familiar yet with the Hogwarts school and its main characters reading this?
And what’s with explaining every single strong emotion of anyone by stating the color of their faces? Scarlett, pink, reddening skin, it’s repeated so often it sometimes broke the illusion for me. Why not just say directly that someone got visibly angry, felt frustrated, or was ashamed.
Those are my two points of critique. As you can see, they don’t play a major role. As the predecessors, this book is again highly addictive and it took me just five days including a five hour flight to get through the nearly 500 pages. Reading late into the night was hardly avoidable.
As with the previous books, there’s a lot of exposition, but it’s not as clearly divided between the first and second act now. Everything is more connected and happening at the same time. Not many irrelevant side quests or little stories written mainly for entertainment purposes happening anymore. The Dursleys, for example, play a much lesser role. And it’s clear now that Harry has grown and gotten more self-esteem. He doesn’t just take anything from anyone anymore. Seeing his development was way overdue. Finally he has some more agency in the things happening to him. Also, the big escalation during the second acts of both previous books didn’t happen in a nearly as frustrating and constructed way this time. I enjoyed that.
It’s still super weird how the teachers react to the threats. Some half-hearted security measures and then it’s like it’s not their problem anymore. Where’s the curiosity of the teachers? Why doesn’t anyone want to solve it? I’m still not fully convinced real people would act like this.
Two of the main antagonists, Professor Snape and Draco Malfoy, unfortunately had no character developments. Their motives are still unclear, which is frustrating to me. Having someone trying to boycott Harry at every step he takes, but without really explaining why, just annoys me. I want to understand what’s going on in Snape’s and Malfoy’s minds. It can’t be just envy of his popularity, especially in Snape’s case. But that’ll happen in the next few books, so I’ve heard. I liked how at least Malfoy didn’t play any significant role during the latter half of this book.
Funny side note I noticed: The Divination teacher Professor Trewalney, who teaches the kids how to read the future, is constantly made fun of. Even in a magical world, predicting the future is a senseless undertaking. Among other things, she predicts a flu wave making everyone sick including herself in the upcoming February. We’re not told if this actually happens, but I found it funny that even in the magical world of Harry Potter, they have not yet found any remedy which works against influenza. They can regrow bones, fly around, and hide giant castles from the public view, but the flu is still a threat which can’t be averted – same as in the real world. We can fly to Mars, build AIs, but everyone still gets the flu almost every year.
This book is a departure from the previous ones also in the sense that it doesn’t offer the same super satisfying end as the other two. We do finally witness Harry win the Quidditch cup, which didn’t happen before, and the way it’s written comes close to that fuzzy warm feeling we got at the finales of the previous books. But this time, it’s a more somber ending. Yes, Harry is not alone anymore, and we learn that some part of his father has survived in him since his Patronus animal, which turns out to be the stag, is the same one as James Potter was able to morph into. But his newly found godfather is still wrongly assumed to be a murderer and has to go into hiding immediately, and the real villain, Peter Pettigrew, or Wormtail, escapes. It’s bittersweet, but a great setup for the following books. You notice how the series is now in full swing and Rowling has developed a larger plot plan over the next few books as opposed to the first two which worked as conclusive stories in themselves.
The last twenty percent of the book after the plot twist reveal are written so incredibly well I couldn’t put the book down and had to finish it in one sitting well into the night. Rowling truly is a master at this craft. I’m again looking forward to what will happen in the next books.
📔 Highlights & Notes
Chapter 10 – The Marauder’s Map
Never trust anything that can think for itself, if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.
Chapter 14 – Snape’s Grudge
‘[..] Your parents gave their lives to keep you alive, Harry. A poor way to repay them–gambling their sacrifice for a bag of magic tricks.’ (Professor Lupin)
Chapter 22 – Owl Post Again
‘[..] The consequences of our actions are always so complicated, so diverse, that predicting the future is a very difficult business indeed … Professor Trelawney, bless her, is living proof of that. [..]’ (Professor Dumbledore)
‘You think the dead we have loved ever truly leave us? You think that we don’t recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble? Your father is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself most plainly when you have need of him. How else could you produce that particular Patronus? Prongs rode again last night.’ (Professor Dumbledore)