In prisoner of Azkaban, things start to get Sirius (never gets old). Rowling ambitiously tackles everything from time travel and teen angst to lycanthropy and shapeshifting in this one, as well as more gradual revelation about Potter’s past. Does she bite off a bit more than she’s ready to chew? Maybe. The speed of the story still pulls you in and you are 100% invested in all of the characters by this point, so you have to know what happens to them, and the pages keep turning.
Definitely the most action-packed book so far, Rowling still keeps the child-like voice and approach consistent. As the story gets darker and a bit more mature, her reliance on basic voice and lack of subtlety in some cases is glaringly apparent and a bit distracting. There’s still a lot of her telling us Harry, Ron, or Hermione is scared rather than showing us through the text. She does a masterful job with portraying the gradual maturity of her young characters, however. Hermione’s rebellion against a teacher, the lover’s quarrel between her and Ron (Oh yeah, you know those two are gonna shag at some point), Harry’s running away from the Dursley’s, all of this paints a picture of the hormonal teenagers our little young wizards are growing into without telling us that they look or feel older.
The fast pace she establishes in all her books does work against her in a few places as the frenetic pace detracts from some of the more complex action descriptions. Particularly the confrontational scene between Black, Lupin, The Trinity (Ron, Herm, Harry), Snape, and Pettigrew got a bit out of control as I read it. There’s too much simultaneous action without enough pause for explanation, and not enough control over the speed of the story. As this is by far the turning point in the narrative, I had to use my memory form the movie to get me through the blocking of the conflict.
Where Rowling improves leaps and bounds here is subtle additions to the meta-plot and the inclusion of small, interesting, and frankly very cool ways of revealing them. The Moony, Padfoot, Wormtail, and Prongs side-plot was well-conceived and well-executed (until the big reveal). The Marauder’s Map could have been a Deus Ex type magicky item, like the phoenix, but in book three she’s a bit more subtle about its application. And it even gets confiscated when Harry gets distracted. It’s a convenient plot device but less blatant, and furthers along an intriguing aspect of the meta-plot.
The characters, once again, were the strength of this book. Rowling has a penchant for creating characters that captivate the reader and fit smoothly into the story. First, Remus Lupin, who may be my favorite character in the books, serves as a semi-fatherly figure for Harry, and turns out to play an intricate role in Harry’s past. He’s sharp, observant, somewhat tortured, and throughout the narrative a very well-rounded addition. Also he’s a werewolf. And werewolves are awesome. His name however, gives away this fact well before the prose does. Naming him Wolfy McWolferson would have been only slightly less subtle, but as this book was aimed at a younger audience that probably wouldn’t know nuances of Roman Mythology and Romance languages, I can’t complain too loudly. Just quietly.
And then there’s Sirius Black, who’s easily my favorite character in the movies and may overtake McWolferson in the books given time. While the confounding conflict scene beneath the whomping willow is a bit hard to follow, the way Black transforms from arch-villain to hero is captivating. He isn’t in the book for very long, but his shadow spreads from page one to the finale and the revelation of the man himself does not disappoint. He’s sinister, angry, and yet his motivations are believable and his shift well-executed. And his name has given rise to a bevy of glorious internet memes and one-liner blog jokes. Siriusly.
We also see more mystery from Dumbledore, some refreshingly ragged emotional displays from Hermione, and Snape’s story, which is even more intriguing than Sirius Black’s, starts to take some shape in Prisoner. Snape may be one of the most carefully crafted characters (10 points for alliteration) in any literary series, and to see his story start to take shape, even though I know where its going thanks to the movies, is captivating. And still Alan… … …Rickman reads all his diaogue… … …in… … … my head. Makes me want to dive into book four.
My favorite book so far, I think Rowling has a handle on her bread and butter in volume three: fast pace and irresistible characters. Some problematic action sequences don’t distract too much from the overall joy one gets from reading it, and the pages kept turning. Can’t wait to get into book 4.