Harry Potter returns for his third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry amid the fear and hub-bub surrounding the escape of Siruis Black from Azkaban prison. Sirius is a wizard who is said to have killed thirteen people in cold blood including his old friend Peter Pettigrew, and now the top officials of the wizarding world have reason to believe that Black is working for Voldemort and headed for Hogwarts in search of Harry, intending to kill him too. Harry and his best friends, Ron and Hermione, try to go about the school year as normally as possible, but multiple attacks on the castle apparently perpetrated by none other than Black leave everyone feeling anxious. Add to that more conflict, as the overachieving Hermione seems to have finally bitten off more than she can chew, while her new pet leaves her in constant conflict with Ron; a magical Hippogiff under Hagrid's care is wrongfully accused by Malfoy of attacking him; dire predictions by the new Divination teacher, Professor Trelawney; and the fearsome Azkaban guards known as Dementors, stationed outside the school grounds waiting for Black to surface, wreak havoc on Harry's mind. In the midst of all this, Harry is led on some exciting and dangerous adventures by an enchanted map, where he learns that not everyone and everything is all that it seems.
I have to say that the Harry Potter series is one of the most imaginative and entertaining book series I have ever had the privilege of reading. J. K. Rowling knows exactly how to suck both child and adult readers into a creative world populated with heroic but relatable characters, fantastical creatures, magic, intrigue and adventure. I am thoroughly convinced that if this series had been around when I was kid, I would have loved it, and every time I read one of the Harry Potter books, I always walk away with a feel-good ending. Not that getting there is easy for the characters. They frequently face difficulties and in the process learn very valuable life lessons, making it a journey well worth the taking, and one that I've been thrilled to partake in right along with them. I think the Harry Potter series has been getting better with each book, which in my reading experience is an impressive feat for an author to pull off. Oftentimes with long series, some books will be better than others, or eventually the momentum will begin to flag, but with this series the impetus seems to build with each one, a trend I hope will continue with each book right up until the end. Although it is very hard to play favorites, I must say that I liked Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban the best so far. Even though this was a re-read for me, I had forgotten many of the little details and rediscovering them made for a very enjoyable time.
In my opinion, the Harry Potter series has one of the best casts of characters I have ever read. J. K. Rowling really has a way of bringing her characters to life and making them seem so very realistic. The friendship between Harry, Ron and Hermione takes on a different tone in this book. Hermione has finally bitten off more than she can chew, and that along with her new pet and some tough choices she makes in an attempt to be a good friend, jeopardizes her relationship with both Harry and Ron, but particularly Ron. The two of them argue throughout most of the story like an old married couple, and when they finally make up, there were a couple of really cute moments. This just added fuel to the fire of my prediction that they will someday be more than friends. As always, all three of them acted very heroically, especially Harry and Hermione, and once again, Harry had the opportunity to show his amazing capacity for mercy, in this case to one who didn't really deserve it, which was a beautiful thing to me.
There are so many wonderful secondary characters I could never name them all, but there were some who stood out to me in the story more than others. Professor Dumbledore didn't play as much of a mentoring role to Harry in this book. Instead Professor Lupin picked up those reins, which was just fine with me, because he is a great new character that I absolutely loved. Even though Lupin is hiding a big secret, he's the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Hogwarts has had so far. Lupin is a very kind and decent man who deals honestly with Harry's questions, and the way he went about empowering the timid Neville was both heartwarming and laugh-out-loud funny. Another new teacher was added to the line-up, Professor Trelawney for Divination studies. While I believe that some psychic phenomena exists in the world and it can be real, I don't believe that any one person has the power to always predict the future clearly, so the way she is portrayed was very much to my liking, in that her powers aren't set in stone and she isn't necessarily as all-seeing as she believes. In fact, both teachers and students alike, particularly Hermione, think that she is a little strange and tend to question the veracity of her powers. Hagrid is back along with his love of all magical creatures and his imperviousness to the idea that any of them are truly dangerous, a trait that I have always found to be very sweet and charming. It seems that caring for these creatures and communicating with them is where his true talent lies, something that I have a feeling may play a bigger role later on. Professor Snape is still as enigmatic as ever and I find myself constantly questioning his true motives. Sometimes I think he is pure evil and others times I think he is merely a thoroughly bitter man who holds an extremely long grudge and wants company in his misery. I found Crookshanks to be equally mysterious in his intelligence, and was left wondering if he is simply an extraordinary magical creature or if there might be more about him yet to be revealed. The portrait of Sir Cadogan was positively hilarious, making me laugh at every scene he's in. Also, I had forgotten that Cedric Diggory and Cho Chang, both of whom I know play important roles in later books of the series, made their first appearance in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, just a little tidbit I thought worth mentioning.
The whole tale of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban had many fun and exciting plot points. The mystery of the murder of Harry's parents at the hands of Lord Voldemort really heats up with new details being revealed, as Sirius Black, the man Harry believes betrayed his parents, escapes from prison and seems to be hunting Harry down to do him in as well. Not everyone or everything in the story is what it seems either, and time plays a big role as well. These were two of my favorite elements, but I can't say much more about either without giving things away. I really enjoyed the Defense Against the Dark Arts exercise with the boggart, a kind of bogey-man-like creature that takes on the shape of the thing each person fears the most. I thought that the way Professor Lupin teaches the students to handle it was a great lesson for kids in combating fear. I also loved a quote by Lupin in which he seems to be channeling President Franklin Roosevelt when he observes that Harry greatest fear seems to be fear itself. The incident outside the Shrieking Shack between Ron and Harry, and Malfoy and his friends was a riot, as were the things that the Marauder's Map said to Snape. The climax was riveting and intense, and I could barely put the book down even though I remembered a lot of what would happen. Overall, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was another fabulous read in this series with a little something for everyone. Now that I have finished my re-read of the first three books, all the stories from here on will be new to me, and I absolutely can't wait to dive in and see what other thrilling adventures await our intrepid heroes.
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