When Sirius Black, the infamous Azkaban prisoner who people fear, escapes from captivity, Harry – now in his third year of school – realizes he must be very careful, for the convicted murderer has set his sights on the young Potter boy.
Prisoner of Azkaban is a novel I’ve really been looking forward to ever since I started the HP series. This is because, as anyone who’s read my previous Potter-thon (or talked to me about the series) will know, the movie adaptation of PoA is by far my favorite film out of the entire franchise (it’s going to be very difficult for Deathly Hallows: Part 2 to top it – but I suppose that’s a discussion for another day). There are countless reasons why this is so: A rich story, fantastic new characters, and most notably, the very obvious darkness it brought to the table that neither Sorceror’s Stone nor Chamber of Secrets had.
But I digress – if you want to read about how much I loved that film, go read my original Potter-thon if you haven’t already. Sheesh, lazy.
No, this review is centering on the original novel, the one I’ve been hyping up in my mind for a loooong time now. Did it live up to that hype I’ve built around it for myself? Absolutely. It was like the movie, but…. square its awesomeness, and there you go.
This is the first book in the series where it really feels like Harry – and Ron and Hermione, but to a lesser extent since Harry is the only one we ever get a POV of for the most part – is growing up from the kid he was in Sorceror’s Stone. Sure, he still has his immature moments – “I want to break the rules of time and space even though the consequences have been explained to me over and over again! I want my awesome broom back even though the teachers are only trying to protect me by examining it! WHAAA!” – but overall, you really can see him begin to get a more adult head on his shoulders, which is development that’s definitely welcome.
Of course, this could also be put off to the generally much more mature feeling the novel itself has, too. As with its movie counterpart, PoA is leaps and bounds above its two predecessors in terms of all around maturity, and it feels like a totally natural metamorphisis. Whereas it may not be the case with the first two installments, an adult can pick up PoA and probably enjoy the entire novel (or not, if you’re one of those boring adults with no…. IMAAAGINAAAATION! To quote a certain sponge…). Suffice it to say that it’s mostly because of this that, so far at least, it’s my favorite out of the three HP books I’ve read so far. After all, overly light, childish writing is refreshing once in awhile, but it can get old pretty darn fast.
The other characters that are introduced during the course of the novel are another reason why this is my favorite of the series so far. I would go so far as to say that Professor Remus Lupin and Sirius Black are my favorite characters of the whole HP saga, and this novel introduces both of them! Why hello there, epicness. I mean, how can you not love both of these characters? Sirius is an escaped prisoner of Azkaban (the most infamous wizard prison around – also, yay for play on words!) who also happens to be an Animagus (translation for Muggles: He can transform into an animal at will, with his personal choice being a huge black dog. Also badass) and Harry’s Godfather (which makes me wonder…. Does Harry have a Godmother?). Likewise, Lupin is the new Defense against the Dark Arts teahcer who is a werewolf. A freakin’ werewolf. If you thought these two couldn’t get anymore badass than they were in the movies, think again – their characters are developed at least twice as much in the books as they are in the movies, though I suppose this is no surprise since that seems to be the case with most of the characters.
On the note of characters, it’s this book in particular that really makes me realize that Snape is a MUCH more sympathetic character in the films than in the books. Seriously, you utterly loathe him in novel format, whereas in the films he’s actually much more likable. This is especially evident in things like changes to the backstory between him and James Potter. Remember that tidbit in the OotP film where we see the glimpse into Snape’s mind and his memory of James terrorizing him? What we got from that scene was pretty clear cut: James was a school bully who targeted Snape, and that was likely why he harbored such bad feelings toward Harry – because he reminded him of James. Okay; simple. In the Prisoner of Azkaban novel, however, things are elaborated on a bit more than just that and they come out quite differently. All James and his pals ever did was play a little joke on Snape; a dangerous joke, yes, but it was dangerous enough that James ended up stopping the prank on his own before it happened because he didn’t like what was going to transpire. Granted, things become a tad more complex with James later on in OotP (Snape’s flashback does come into play) but still. Add that to the fact that Snape was apparently supposed to be the original bully – the Draco Malfoy of his time, I imagine – and you have a much less sympathetic character on your hands in the novel. Or maybe Alan Rickman is capable of making any character better and therefore more sympathetic through his overwhelming awesomeness. It could be that too.
Talking about Snape actually brings me to my next point, almost about the series in general so far, but PoA in particular has really made me wonder: What’s with the Hogwarts school system? Is it all right for teachers like Snape to go around mercilessly bullying children until they’re in tears? Is this actually accepted by Dumbledore…??? Similar to Malfoy being a little twerp consistently throughout the whole series and VERY rarely actually feeling the consequences of it, Snape can be the most horrible person in the world to students and teachers alike and nothing is ever said to him about it. Can we… maybe know why? Can this be addressed somehow? Other than just the dreaded plot convenience of it being accepted silently so we have a clear cut character we’re supposed to hate? No? Of course not…
One other thing Prisoner of Azkaban aces much more than Chamber of Secrets is exposition. If you read my review of the Chamber of Secrets, you’ll know I found the exposition in that book to be choppy, forced, and many other negative synonyms similar to these that you can think of. Because of this, I kept a very close eye on the exposition of PoA, just to see if it was the same situation this time around. Luckily, my fears were totally unfounded. Maybe CoS was a learning experience for Rowling in this aspect, or maybe I just didn’t notice it this time around because it was so minor (though I doubt that… Nothing can escape my feared Force Sight!) but the exposition that was present flowed much more smoothly than in CoS. I’m inclined to think the reason for this is because Rowling did in fact learn from CoS, though, because her writing in general is much better in PoA than it was in either of the previous novels. It still has her very unique touch, but it’s noticeably more professional, too.
Prisoner of Azkaban is also the first book that actually answers questions brought up in the film instead of just pissing me off even further in book form. *glares at Sorceror’s Stone* Take, for example, the phone issue. This was one of the questions at the top of my mind while watching the films: Why didn’t Ron or Hermione ever call Harry? Do magical folk just not have electricity? Do they simply prefer owls? Or are Ron and Hermione just jerks? Well, it turns out that Ron, at least (Hermione didn’t… You have no excuse, little girl!) did try to call Harry! What do you know? But because he didn’t know how to work a telephone (or, as he puts it, the “felly tone”) since he’s been raised in the magical world all his life (I guess they really don’t have electricity) it didn’t turn out so well. “Hello? Can you hear me? I-WANT-TO-TALK-TO-HARRY-POTTER!”
Of course, there are still questions that, as of now (with luck they’ll be addressed later in the series) are still mostly unanswered. I say “mostly” because PoA did try to explain it… I guess… but it really meant nothing at all. Like the whole issue of Muggles never seeing magical things. “Don’ listen properly, do they? Don’ look properly, either. Never notice nuffink, they don’!” Right. Because this is a bad Jodie Foster movie where no one pays attention to anything just for the convenience of the plot. Sigh.
As I’ve stated many times before, Prisoner of Azkaban is definitely my favorite of the Harry Potter novels so far, and if the storylines of the films are any indication (with PoA being my favorite out of the movies, too) it’s going to be hard for the later books in the series to beat this one. It’s got wonderful characters, a strong story, better writing than both Sorceror’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, plus a much more mature feeling than these two books, as well. If you liked the film version of PoA (that is, if you’re like me and not part of the 99.999% population who’ve read the books before seeing the movies… which you’re probably not. I am forever alone) then you will adore this book.
Dang, I’m really enjoying the Harry Potter series so far! I can’t wait to get to the next…
Oh… oh no. Flashbacks of the movie… I can’t…. NOOOOO!!!