phoenix“The hottest day of the summer so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet Drive.”

The best and most insane review I ever saw on Amazon was for a regular-sized paperback. The review stated that the book “was too heavy to easily hold”. Clearly the poster has never had the joy of carrying Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix around for a week. Seven-hundred-and-sixty-six pages later, I’ve finished it and can return it to my shelf and start using a smaller bag again.

The following review assumes that you’ve read this book, and contains spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

In the fifth installment of the enormously successful blockbuster series (I’ve already covered the first, second, third and fourth), teenage wizard Harry Potter has been left with his non-magical relatives once again and has had very little contact from the wizarding world. No one seems to be able to give him any information, and it’s clear that his friends are together without him. At the end of the last school year, Harry saw the evil Lord Voldemort return to power, but the Ministry of Magic are pretending that it hasn’t happened. Harry is frustrated, and things become even more confusing when he and his cousin are attacked by two Dementors and Harry ends up having to undergo a trial to see if he will be expelled from school or not.

Once Harry gets to school, things go from bad to worse. It’s their exam year so the teachers are throwing even more work at them than ever before, everyone thinks he’s a nutter as the newspapers are pretending that Voldemort isn’t back, and there’s a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Dolores Umbridge, a Ministry official who is there simply to make sure that Dumbledore and the students aren’t going against Ministry wishes. On top of that, Harry’s hormones are going wild, he’s having strange visions and Hagrid is nowhere to be seen. The story runs on through the year to the most shocking showdown of the series so far.

Throughout my time in the fandom, I have yet to meet anyone who says that their favourite character is Harry Potter, and I put that fact down solely to this book. Harry is fifteen and, obviously that’s a difficult time in anyone’s life, emotionally, even without the issues of being possessed by Voldemort and having the fate of the wizarding world on your shoulders. But throughout this book Harry is moody, irritable, sulky, and generally not particularly pleasant company. I understand that he’s going through a lot and his rage does make sense, but while Rowling does portray this well, he comes across as melodramatic most of the time and I just want to give him a slap. There’s an arrogance there, and he once again proves that he has a hero complex.

True evil wears pink

True evil wears pink

While this book isn’t my favourite, it does however introduce us to one of the finest characters in literature, Dolores Umbridge. Just as no one prefers Harry over everyone else, absolutely everyone is united in their hate for Umbridge. Whereas Voldemort is evil in more of a fantastical, cartoony sort of way, Umbridge is bureaucratically evil, obsessed with rules and laws, regardless of how they actually impact people. She unswervingly does whatever she is told to do, grasps power wherever she can and never questions that what she’s doing might be wrong. Umbridge is so much more scary than Voldemort because everyone has known an Umbridge. Her high girlish voice and penchant for pink clothes seem to emphasise her nastiness, and she produces such a visceral hate within me (and others) that she really is the pinnacle of Rowling’s outstanding skill at three-dimensional character creation. She gets her comeuppance, although this isn’t the last time we see her in the series, and when it comes, the reader cannot possibly feel sad about it. Indeed, it feels hugely justified.

This book really draws home how many strong characters there are in the series Minerva McGonagall remains my favourite, and even more so after a reread of this, and I also once again found myself remembering how much I enjoy Luna Lovegood, Kingsley Shacklebolt, all the Weasleys and Neville Longbottom.

This book is also notable in being one of only two that make me cry every time I read them. (The other is The Time Traveler’s Wife.) And no, not when Sirius dies. I’ve never cried at that because I’ve never been massively connected to Sirius as a character. Yes, it was tragic for Harry, but their relationship was always a bit too neat for me, and while I do wish he had stayed alive, I’m not upset by his death. The bit I always cry at is when Harry, Ron and Hermione meet Neville in St Mungo’s – the wizarding hospital – where he is visiting his terminally insane parents. Neville’s mum gives him a sweet wrapper in what she presumably believes is an affectionate gesture and Neville, instead of throwing it away, pockets it. There is an implication that this happens a lot and he always does it. It is perhaps the most heartbreaking thing I have ever read and I adore it.

This book is far and away the biggest of the heptalogy, and it isn’t my favourite. As mentioned, there are some very incredible scenes, characters and set pieces going on, but it always feels a bit too long. I realised early on that on page 200 of Philosopher’s Stone, the trio are just going down the trapdoor to face the final battle. On page 200 here, it was the first day of school. There’s a lot of exposition here, but I suppose that’s just how it has to be right now. There’s even more to come in the next book.

The novel ends with the Second War beginning and the wizards preparing themselves to fight back against Voldemort and the Death Eaters. There is a glimmer of hope among the wreckage of what happened in this book. We are left with no doubts at all that whatever’s just happened has changed everything, and the end of the series is rushing ever closer. Soon, all will be well, but not just yet.