Harry Potter is frustrated. Isolated from the wizarding world at his summer residence with his non-magical aunt, uncle and cousin, he hides in flowerbeds so he can listen to the evening news and steals newspapers from trash bins, hoping for some sign of activity from Lord Voldemort. He barely has had contact with his best friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.
A dementor attack, a cryptic Howler, and a rescue brigade bring Harry back to the magical world, to a place where a group of wizards has assembled with the mission to stop Voldemort. To Harry's disgust, no one wants to tell him anything regarding the mission, not even when he begins to dream of a snake and a door at the end of a long, dark hallway that he recognizes as part of the Ministry of Magic. Things aren't much better at Hogwarts, where his dreams turn into visions of Voldemort's power, anger, and desire for domination.
Daily Prophet, and the only people who believe him are the ones the Ministry would discredit. According to the Ministry, Albus Dumbledore is a dangerous fool, and anyone who follows him is not to be trusted. Co-workers, friends, and even families begin to divide according to whom they support. Spies and secrets feed a new era in wizarding history and lead to changes at Hogwarts, not all of them good. The students are as divided as the adults, and discord haunts the corridors.
Fifth year is the time for Ordinary Wizarding Level exams, or O.W.L.s, and Harry and the rest of the fifth-years find themselves working harder than ever to achieve top test results, which then dictate their careers. Spells are more complex, there's more homework, and the students have to work twice as hard as they did in previous years just to keep up. The only class that differs from this pattern is Defense Against the Dark Arts, taught by the deceptively sweet Dolores Umbridge, formerly Senior Undersecretary to Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic. Umbridge's lesson plans leave Harry and his friends worried and wanting more from their education.
Harry is also asked by Professor Dumbledore to study privately with Professor Snape, the hook-nosed, greasy-haired Potions professor who has done nothing but make Harry's Potions classes miserable since the day Harry first came to Hogwarts. In order to succeed and even survive, Harry must put his trust in those who hide the truth from him.
Intricate plots, maturing characters, and fast-paced action paint a picture of a magical world with a new veil of darkness. As Harry and his friends grow, they must face more adult issues and deal not only with a changing world, but also with their changing selves. Characters who have only served in the background of previous books become more important, and some of Harry's favorite people, like Remus Lupin, return. Never content to sit back and watch things happen, Harry and his friends take dangerous matters into their own hands, confronting evil and working as a team to stop it.
From page one, where we see more complex sentences and an angrier, damaged Harry, this book's tone is completely different from the previous four: deeper and richer, with less humor and more detail. Rowling's tactics of inspiring fear are different in this installation, too. The horror is psychological rather than physical, and there is less Quidditch and more magic. Harry is achingly perfect and emotionally real as a typical teenage boy, confused and defiant about everything from girls to his friendships to his magical education. He has come to trust very few people, but those he takes into his confidence, like Ron and Hermione, complement him very well.
Patience is recommended while reading, because the pacing lags in some places while rushing in others, and the multiple plot lines take a while to mesh. Rather than take us through a mostly linear tale with a twist at the end, as seen in THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS and THE GOBLET OF FIRE, the plotline here is built of many small incidents that come together to form the whole of the story. This new approach shows a shift in the atmosphere and targeted audience of the Harry Potter series. As Harry matures, so does Rowling's writing style, coloring the events of the past and linking them to the present. HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX gives many answers and raises even more questions, setting up an excellent path for the final two books in the series.
Reviewed by Carlie Kraft on July 1, 2003
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Book 5