Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
by J. K. Rowling
Scholastic, 1999, ISBN 0-439-13635-0
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
No spoilers, but I'm assuming that everyone who wants to will have read this by now. Harry Potter rides again, this time on a spiffy new Firebolt broomstick, and a very dignified but much-maligned hippogriff. This is a somewhat darker book than the earlier two, in a number of ways. It's clear fairly early on that the dementors, the guards for the prison of Azkaban, are not the good guys, and not such tools as good guys would use. It surely indicates some deeper corruption in the Ministry of Magic and wizardly society generally that these creatures are employed rather than hunted down and destroyed. Dumbledore refuses to allow them on the grounds of Hogwarts, which would seem to be only good sense, but in fact he's taking an unappreciated stance against the, at best, inexcusable stupidity of the Ministry of Magic.
Harry Potter is, of course, the presumed target of Sirius Black, the escaped Azkaban prisoner, and the man who, as everyone else knows but Harry has to learn by eavesdropping, was a close friend of Harry's parents and was convicted of betraying them to the evil Voldemort. There's a new Defense Against Dark Arts teacher, Professor Lupin, who is the first teacher we've seen, I think, that relates to the students at Hogwarts in a reasonably normal manner. He is also, unfortunately, given to odd periodic illnesses, and Severus Snape fills in for him when he's ill. Given what Snape has done in the past, and what he does do in this book, it seems to me to be an odd bit of authorial fiat that Snape is still working at Hogwarts. Being particularly harsh and unyielding towards the students of one House is one thing; the more or less open pursuit of a vendetta, severe enough that the headmaster supervises Snape's final so that he can't intentionally fail Potter and other Gryffindor students, is another. That he's the Malfoy brat's favorite teacher, and Malfoy père is well-connected, doesn't appear to be an adequate excuse. Snape isn't misguided; he's malicious. Get rid of him. Yeah, I know: a hostile teacher is necessary for ongoing plot purposes. But Snape's over the edge. He's not plausible; Dumbledore engages in mostly hands-off management, but Snape has done the kinds of things that cause Dumbledore to act.
Oh, and there's a very intelligent cat, Crookshanks, who is Hermione's new familiar. Crookshanks, like the hippogriff, Buckbeak, spends much of the book being unfairly maligned.
I've spent much of this review grousing, but that's because I assume nobody willing to read children's books needs to be told to read the Harry Potter books. They're great fun, and in this one, Rowling is apparently starting to think a bit more seriously about some things she's treated fairly lightly until now. Harry learns more about his parents, and more about himself. Ron and Hermione do a little bit of growing up, too. And Gryffindor--no, wait, that would be telling, and I said I wouldn't do that.
I did expect more to happen with Sir Cadogan, though.