Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)
Author: J.K. Rowling
Through five books in the Harry Potter series, The Order of the Phoenix was equally the most frustrating and the most captivating entry in the series. The book begins with Harry back at his repugnant aunt and uncle’s house after the events of Goblet of Fire. Harry has survived an encounter with Lord Voldemort, knows who his death eater supporters are and was crowned the Tri-Wizard champion. Despite all those momentous events Harry feels more isolated than ever. The Ministry of Magic refuses to believe his account of what happened, the grief over seeing Cedric Diggory’s death weighs on him, and all indications are that Dumbledore, Sirius, Hermione and the entire Weasley clan are off having meetings without him. Harry is then attacked by Dementors and must use magic to protect himself and his cousin, at which point he is expelled from Hogwarts for unauthorized use of magic and must go to trial before the Ministry.
There’s no greater villain than a bureaucrat, and here Rowling introduces Dolores Umbridge and I immediately hated her more and found her more interesting than He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. Over the course of this novel (which Wikipedia cites as the longest in the entire series) Umbridge manages to disrupt Quidditch, Hogwarts, and even the kids chance of learning to protect themselves. This is all done with the endorsement of the Ministry of Magic, but all evil done on their behalf is accomplished with Umbridge as the focal point.
I described this book as frustrating and captivating, and Umbridge despite her effect on others was one of the best parts. Her presence threw off the usual flow of the books, and the thrill of attempting to thwart her or give her comeuppance was much more interesting than the usual encounters of Harry seeing Voldemort in a “both characters will live to book seven” situation. Other high points for this book were Severus Snape’s development via flashbacks, and Neville Longbottom’s progression from background character to supporting character. Hermione continues to be the character most likely to not infuriate you.
This book was at times equally frustrating in the same way that a bad romantic comedy often is. Characters have misunderstandings that last the length of the book that could be resolved if they would just have a conversation with each other. Much of the suspense and danger come because Harry refuses to talk to Dumbledore, Dumbledore doesn’t talk to Harry, Harry doesn’t talk to Snape, Snape doesn’t talk to Harry. In general, Harry is his worst teenage self throughout the book. He resents Ron and Hermione for being made prefect instead of him. He resents Dumbledore for not telling him what’s going on. He routinely does stupid things that cause him to lose his broomstick, end up in detentions and get caught by Umbridge. If this were my first book I tried in the series, I wouldn’t be eager to read more based on how selfish Potter acts for the majority of the series.
When The Order of the Phoenix ends, a few of the storylines are firmly back at the status quo (Harry’s back with his aunt and uncle and hates Snape as much as ever) but Voldemort’s position has changed significantly and I suspect the dynamics of Harry and the children of the death eaters will be coming to head shortly. Harry’s relationship with Cho (and interest in the opposite sex) progresses and stalls out. Going forward, I’m hoping that Snape and Neville continue to get more time in the spotlight, as they’re two of the most interesting characters that Harry typically ignores. I’m also hoping that Draco Malfoy gets some sort of character arc as his reactions to what is happening in the world and school around him are increasingly one note and boring to read about. I’d give this one 3.5 stars, and on a coin flip it lands at a 3.