Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite book so far. Plot, characters, reveals, voice–everything was done amazingly well.
(Warning: Since I’m reviewing each Harry Potter individually, there will be spoilers about a book’s plot in its review. So if you haven’t read this one, and you want to, stop reading now.)
The good/evil mystery surrounding Sirius Black was fascinating. I’ve read the series before, so I knew that he ended up being a good guy, but in the beginning of the novel, I was doubting my memory. J.K. Rowling toyed with her readers by making trusted adult characters (namely Dumbledore and other teachers) believe the original story about Sirius and Peter Pettigrew. Unlike in the previous two books, where Dumbledore seemed to be omnisciently working in the background to help Harry and his friends succeed, he actually becomes a hindrance in his need to keep Harry “safe” from Sirius. This forced Harry, Ron and Hermione to mature, counting on themselves instead of adults. As with the last two books, the story’s voice kept the same feeling but aged with the protagonists. The characters continued to grow and learn, and the reader sees unknown sides of the characters: Harry’s skill at magic with his Patronus, Ron’s loyalty to Scabbers, and Hermione’s need for facts when she storms out of her Divination class. The side plot of Hagrid and Buckbeak helped develop characters and demonstrate that the Ministry of Magic isn’t necessarily the good guys.
The one thing that stood out to me about this book was J.K. Rowling’s command of the little details. While most authors are content to reveal their secrets when they want, maybe citing a few, notable scenes as buildup, Rowling’s novels are littered with small scenes and offhanded remarks that end up tying together into massive plot lines. This skill is the mark of a dedicated author, showing that she actually deserves all the hype about her books (while some popular authors today seem to value dramatic plot and even more dramatic romance over literary merit). Especially rereading the series, but without a full memory of the plots’ exact points, these details drag me into the story as I piece together her dropped hints with my own vague memory of the story.