Saga Volumes One – Three (CBR14 #71-73)

I’m working on a re-read of the Saga before I indulge myself in the latest, Volume 10, now that Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples are back from their sabbatical. It’s been four years since I last cracked these books, but I was immediately pulled back into the world that Vaughan’s writing and Staples’ beautiful art bring so vividly to life. Its easy to remember why this series possesses so many awards (seriously, its got Harvey Awards, a Hugo Award, British Fantasy Award, Goodreads Choice Award, Shuster Award, Inkwell Award, Ringo Award, and has the record for most Eisner Award wins in the “Best Continuing Series” category).

 For those who may not know, Saga tells the story of Marko and Alana, star-crossed lovers from opposite sides of a galactic war. The first issue of Saga literally begins with the birth to their daughter Hazel, and we the readers have spent every issue since watching the various ways in which this little family unit is trying their best to nurture and protect Hazel against a universe that doesn’t want her to exist. Saga is a sci-fi fantasy that up to this point has centered on them being chased around the galaxy.

Volume One introduces us to our family on the run and all of those who are chasing them. There isn’t a lot of lumbering info dumps, the universe that is a scary, crazy, fucked up, violent place is easily understood and the peril facing the young family is illuminated: the antagonist characters are quickly made complex, but also frightening. Volume Two may be a perfect space opera: adventure, romance, and humor. It is the story of the coming together of family across planetary divides as Marko’s parents join in the adventure. Volume Three pulls together the themes of the two previous ones and adds some of its own. It explores how to make a life while on the run, what finding love after a loss might look like, and how to feel about it.  There’s also a bit about getting over a breakup and that violence only begets more violence. While this go round I had even less patience for the tabloid journalists than I did last time through but am even more in love with Lying Cat.

Hazel is the gravitational center of the entire story. I love, love, love that these books contain Hazel’s voice from the future in form of narration around the text blurbs in Staples’ handwriting. It brings such a poignancy to what we’re seeing, reminding the reader always of the larger emotional stakes. Because while these are all about family and the relationships between kids and their parents, that is an enormous thing to tell against the backdrop of a survival story. I’ll be digging into the next three soon.

His Grumpy Childhood Friend & Her Pretend Christmas Date (CBR14 #57-58)

I was simply delighted by this one. His Grumpy Childhood Friend hit a couple different trope happy places for me – second chance romance, friends to lovers – but it also did something I love more and more as I consume a good amount of Romance books: it released its third act tension without a break-up or fight.  The tension point of the story isn’t a misunderstanding or one of the pair freaking out and walking away, instead we get characters dealing with traumatic experiences and figuring out how to continue in hope, not fear. Maybe its just where I am in my own life, but this sort of character development is what I’m here for, more and more.

But I should backtrack a bit. Mike and Charlotte were each other’s closest friends in their childhoods, living next door to one another. But twenty years ago, Mike moved away without any warning and never contacting Charlotte again. When she runs into him at her favorite cider bar the first thing out of her mouth is to ask what happened. He tells her a piece of the truth, that his parents hadn’t told he or his sister that they were moving until that day and that they hadn’t allowed him to reach out to his old life in their shared hometown. Charlotte and the reader learn more about those details as the story progresses.

Lau spends a lot of this book on expectations and emotional abuse. Mike’s parents were abusive, and he and his sister have both gone no contact, and while Mike has been to therapy to process his trauma he is still fighting the voice programmed in his subconscious by his parents telling him that he is not enough and will always fail. For her part, five years ago Charlotte had a traumatic break up and swore off dating. But she would like to get married and have children, so decides its time at 33 to re-enter the dating world. But she’s convinced that her cranky, introverted, isolated nature makes finding the right person for her highly difficult. Her hope (inspired by her friend Rose) is that some “practice” dates will help her start back down this road in a positive way. And what better person than Mike?

But as is the way of Romance, they both catch feelings. And as much as I enjoyed the time spent with the “practice” dating and making out, I loved the part of the book focused on Mike declaring he had real feelings for Charlotte, and her reciprocating, and the way these two people who feel dramatically unprepared for dating learn that they are just what the other needs and the future they each want is possible with the other. I appreciated Lau placing the reality that Mike is likely going to need to go back to therapy to help him cope with the ways in which being in a long term committed relationship with someone so closely linked to his past is going to trigger his trauma responses and how Charlotte worked to navigate what she knew versus what she could see in his responses and calibrating ways to better facilitate their relationship without taking the onus onto herself.

The epilogue pivots over to Charlotte’s sister and that gave me a hankering to revisit Her Pretend Christmas Date which was when I first came across a paired-up Charlotte and Mike. I was quickly reminded how much this opposites attract story worked for me. The story begins with Julie Tam and Tom Yeung set up on a blind date in November which is a disaster of misplaced expectations, they are opposites in all the ways they initially care about. Fast forward a month and Julie has been telling her parents about the new guy she’s dating, a fictionalized version of Tom since he is exactly the kind of person they’d want her to end up with. When her mother requests she bring Tom home for Christmas Julie makes a call and asks if he’d be willing to pretend to be her boyfriend for three days at her parents’, he surprises her and agrees.

Once these characters (and Charlotte and Mike) get to the Tam family home these two opposites begin to see what they had initially written off to be things that make them quite fond of each other. The Christmas traditions, plus the Tam parents added gingerbread competition provide plenty of opportunities for Julie and Tom to develop real feelings, even though neither thinks the other is. (Lau also sneaks in a “there’s only one bed” and brings the return of the noisy twin bed.) Lau excels at novella length, and I loved how she paced out these characters, plus the bonus time with Charlotte and Mike and the Tam parents.

The Queer Principles of Kit Webb (re-read, CBR14 #44)

The Queer Principles of Kit Webb is a book unabashedly about the heart. There are so many famous quotes about the heart that remind me forcefully of this book. Perhaps the easiest is the heart wants what it wants. So much of the plot of The Queer Principles of Kit Webb is caught up in its leads doing what their hearts tell them is right, what they know to be true from somewhere deep within.

We get our two heroes, the titular Kit Webb, a former infamous highwayman who has (mostly) retired from his life of crime due to a job gone wrong that left him disabled and with a dead partner. He now runs his coffee shop, once simply a front for his criminal activity it is now most of his life. When Edward Percival Talbot, Lord Holland, who goes by Percy walks into his coffee shop and announces his intent to hire Kit as his alter ego Gladhand Jack Kit knows in his logical mind that he must not have anything to do with this Lord and his problems. But it’s his heart, and Percy’s persistence that break him down. Percy’s own heart – his love for his childhood best friend and now stepmother Marian and his new baby sister Eliza has him hellbent on doing whatever is necessary to protect them (and by extension himself) from a blackmailer who has surfaced with proof that his father the Duke is a bigamist. Marian and Percy have only a few months to concoct a plan to salvage their futures and punish Percy’s father. Kit offers to teach Percy to perform the robbery himself and from that point we watch as the two men are drawn to each other even though everything about their places in society and personal histories should have them opposing each other at every turn.

But as I say, the heart wants what it wants.  

This is a re-read for me, as I was intent on revisiting this book immediately before reading its companion The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes (so good!) and what a treat it was to spend more time with Sebastian’s command of banter, her salty secondary characters, and situational humor. Sebastian writes steamy, upbeat historical romances where the protagonists find their matches in their partners, people who keep them on their toes. I love when two characters fall in love despite themselves and found family, which this one also has plenty of. There are also important things to say about representation, and the way in which Sebastian handles tearing apart privilege and wealth that make this an excellent read and I suggest everyone read it at their earliest convenience. I already convinced my mom to take it out from the library, and my sister has it on her to read pile. Success!

The Governess Affair (CBR12 #42)

The Governess Affair (Brothers Sinister, #0.5) by Courtney Milan

For my Bingo Gateway Square, I decided on a personal Gateway and one that I would recommend to others. The Governess Affair was my on ramp into the writing of Courtney Milan (and her near perfect Brothers Sinister series) and it’s been a love affair for the past six years. As for others, this lovely little novella is good for a general introduction to romance and romance novellas specifically.

I struggle often with reading novellas or short stories – too often for my liking the story feels like it ends before the narrative should, or worse, is left thin. Neither of those things happen in The Governess Affair. In this crisp hundred-page novella we get the story of Serena Barton, the titular governess who finds herself put out from her job after a run-in with the Duke of Clermont. She decides to take her revenge by quietly sitting in front of his residence until her demands are met… the problem being that it falls to the Duke’s man of business, one Mr. Hugo Marshall, to see that she is on her way so that the Duke can win back his bride, her fortune, and Mr. Marshall’s wages to boot.

It’s not an uncommon historical romance set up, but what makes this one stand out in my memory over the years is the depth to which the characters are developed. The best books I read feature the most well drawn characters and Milan crafts three dimensional characters who exist in a world you are easily able to understand over and over again in her oeuvre. As a bonus her protagonists are beautifully self-aware, which is just down right refreshing.

The Viscount Who Loved Me (CBR12 reread)

The Viscount Who Loved Me | Julia Quinn | Author of Historic ...

Of the early Bridgerton books I loved books three and four, really liked the first, and thought the second was okay on my first read through. The good news headline of this reread review is that I liked this book more the second time through than I did the first. The plot of the book is a bit thinner than its predecessor, but that isn’t a bad thing. In The Viscount Who Loved Me we follow Anthony and Kate as they maneuver through the 1814 season, Anthony having decided that this year he will marry and since he has decided to not pursue a love match he plans to set his cap for the incomparable of the year. Kate’s sister Edwina happens to be that girl and his haphazard pursuit of Edwina leads Anthony to spending more and more time with Kate, until they find themselves caught in a position where they will be forced to marry. The underlying themes Quinn is working with are fear and memory, both Kate and Anthony have an irrational fear, and it is linked to a memory – Anthony can remember his, but Kate cannot remember hers. They unpack those fears, and build a solid relationship, and get their happily ever after in just under 300 pages.

But this is still a three-star book for me and I think a big part of that is that I just don’t think that Anthony Bridgerton is the hero for me. Part of the problem is that Anthony is no Simon and Simon is definitely my type of hero. Anthony spends most of the first book, and a decent amount of the early pages of the second, being a complete ass, and not in the loveable way. He’s also short of being an Alphahole – another area that works for me. Anthony is simultaneously too much and not enough, and I still don’t know how to reconcile myself to that. I also still dislike that Quinn chose to write two back to back “married because they have to” stories to open her series, but it bothered me much less this time through.

I feel bad for how little I like Anthony, because I love Kate, and I really like Anthony with Kate. Kate Sheffield is a heroine of the wallflowers pantheon, overlooked by the tastemakers, playing second fiddle to her younger sister even though they are incredibly close. She’s bright, and witty, and just plain fun to be around as we the reader get let in on her nearly silent rejoinders. She also shakes loose something in Anthony, the fun, and perhaps my favorite scene in the entire book is the Pall Mall match when they are absolutely riling each other up for the fun of it (also, if you read this try to find a copy with the second epilogue included – it’s another Pall Mall match and almost as good as the first).

All that said, this was a perfectly lovely way to spend two evenings without power thanks to Tropical Storm Isaias, so I’m left more happy than not.

The Duke and I (Reread CBR12)

The Duke And I (Bridgertons, #1)

Continuing down the road of comfort reading I’ve decided to do some rereading of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series. I first read the books in 2015 and loved them then, and I’m happy to report that after my latest reading of The Duke and I, the first book in the series,  that I’m just as pleased now as I was then. Even better, there’s a Netflix adaptation of the series on the way – season one finished filming before COVID shutdown most television production but we don’t have an announcement about premiere date but Netflix has been holding to sometime in 2020… I may be hoping that this review puts just that much more energy into the universe to get that date announcement, we need it (and once Umbrella Academy season 2 drops there’s a definite window of opportunity),

So, what is the story all about? From Goodreads: Simon Basset, the irresistible Duke of Hastings, has hatched a plan to keep himself free from the town’s marriage-minded society mothers. He pretends to be engaged to the lovely Daphne Bridgerton. After all, it isn’t as if the brooding rogue has any real plans to marry – though there is something about the alluring Miss Bridgerton that sets Simon’s heart beating a bit faster. And as for Daphne, surely the clever debutante will attract some very worthy suitors now that it seems a duke has declared her desirable. But as Daphne waltzes across ballroom after ballroom with Simon, she soon forgets that their courtship is a complete sham. And now she has to do the impossible and keep herself from losing her heart and soul completely to the handsome hell-raiser who has sworn off marriage forever.

This book was initially my introduction to Quinn and all the things I enjoyed about her writing I enjoy now. Quinn writes great family dynamics, her humor works for me and had me laughing loud enough to startle the cats. There is a plot point in this story that doesn’t sit well, there are issues of consent that aren’t great. But I’m still happy to spend time with Quinn’s writing and the world of the Bridgertons in this its 20th anniversary year. Interspersed with other reading I’ll be endeavoring to read the next two books in the series in relatively quick succession as they are all set in back to back years (books 4-6 are similarly grouped), and the next in the series will also be making an appearance on my Bingo board.

Station Eleven (CBR12 #20)

This is my third reading of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. It is one off my favorite books of the past few years, a book that I find to be nearly perfect. This reread was for Cannonball Read’s Book Club where we’re revisiting our first even book. It is also an extremely prescient time to be reading a book about a global pandemic, but I’m glad that Covid-19 isn’t nearly as devastating as the Georgian Flu.

What I was struck with this time through was how Mandel structured the pass-offs between characters. On my first read through I remember being thrown off by how Mandel wove the story so that she pump-faked me time and again, catching me off balance by where or when the story was going next. I loved it then, but it wasn’t the experience I had this time. Mandel doesn’t equally balance our time with characters or settings in Station Eleven, and it creates a beautiful eerie quality to the book. But its skillfully done, this time through I could see the details of each pass-off, each time she sent us down a new road, each careful construction to open the story even further, to dig in just a little deeper. The story is full of tension because you never know when you’re going to see a character again and if perhaps their storyline has reached the end, and while the last two times through that made me sad, this time it made me cherish the moments with each character just a little more.

The book is full of visual cues and references, from the items from Arthur’s (and Miranda’s) life that make their way out into the post-flu world, to the art described in the book-within-the-book Station Eleven that Miranda creates, to the beautiful descriptions of the world the characters are in, how nature takes back over, what true devastation and collapse look like, to the world that they lost, that we are very much still in.

I really love this book, and I hope you’ve read it and love it to. Don’t be afraid to read it now, but maybe check in with yourself first, just to be sure.

Northern Lights (CBR11 #36)

Image result for northern lights nora roberts

I’m glad the CBR11 Bingo Square is Summer Read, not Beach Read because I have a very peculiar definition of what I read at the beach and it is not vacation “light reading”! Northern Lights might not count for some (there are a few murders and a male protagonist fighting through depression) but a Nora Roberts romance will always be a Summer Read for me.

I’ve read Northern Lights before, but its been a long time. In Northern Lights we follow Nate Burke as he moves from Baltimore, Maryland to Lunacy, Alaska to take the newly founded job as the Chief of Police. Nate is also running from the death of his partner less than a year ago. As you would expect in a town called Lunacy, it is teeming with an cast of characters rightfully called Lunatics. Amongst the Lunatics are Burke’s officers, townspeople convinced that someone from Outside should not have been brought in as the Chief, and those who doubt the need for a Police force at all.

An unexpected meet cute with the always dressed in red Meg Galloway leads to what you would expect in a romance novel, but what I love about Meg is that she is entirely self-sufficient in the world which is saying quite a lot for a character who lives in remote Alaska. She is the kind of character I’ve come to expect in 2019, but Roberts had her on the page 15 years ago. It can be easy to take hits at Roberts, her books are often formulaic, and I probably don’t need to revisit many of her trilogies. Nevertheless her standalones, and particularly those focused around some sort of mystery, are reliably good reads.

This is one of those reliable reads, in Lunacy things heat up as a former resident is discovered to have been murdered 16 years earlier. Nate suspects the killer in an unsolved murder is still in town and his investigation unearths some of the secrets that lurk beneath the frozen surface of the town, further complicating his burgeoning relationships in his new hometown, including Meg. I remembered *most* of the plot but had thankfully forgotten the identity of the killer and enjoyed this book as much on reread as I had remembered doing when I decided to request it from the library. Afterall, Roberts is the queen of romance for a reason.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

The Silkworm (CBR10 #45) (reread)

Image result for the silkworm robert galbraith original cover

*Note: This reviews were completed in 2018 before the author’s hateful views towards our trans siblings was widely known. My reading experience was what it was and these reviews will remain up, but it should be noted that I find her TERF values abhorrent and will no longer be supporting her through further readings or reviews. In looking back, I missed some troubling writing around the character of Pippa and endeavor to be more aware as I move forward in my reading life.  

Yes dear ones, the book was indeed better.

I genuinely missed the world of Cormoran Strike and when the television show was announced I knew I would do my best to track it down. It wasn’t easy in the States without a Cinemax subscription, but I sent a plea to my brother and he managed to procure the series for me and it was waiting for me as I started my re-read. Talk about perfectly timing for The Book Was Better bingo square.

Most people can’t reread mystery novels; once they know the ending the book loses its ability to hold their interest. Because my brain doesn’t hold onto details the mystery is often new to me again – in fact I didn’t remember who had committed the actual murder until well past the 90% mark of the audiobook. The clues were there, and it was fun to recognize which I remembered to be the red herrings. The Silkworm remains a fascinating examination at what can bring out a criminal genius.

Until this point in my reading of the Cormoran Strike books I have thought of Charlotte as non-critical to the story. I thought she was there to give us a better idea of Strike’s past, as a comparison point to Robin. Oh how wrong I was. In my first reading of book three, Career of Evil, I pulled apart the ways that sexism and misogyny were being examined in the book and in this reading I saw so many of the ways Rowling was setting up those points in this book. What I had missed, or what I had just assumed as part of the fabric of The Silkworm on my first go through was how Rowling as Galbraith was pulling the strings on unhealthy, codependent relationships and Charlotte and Matthew are part of that important subtext.

Back to the adaptation question, yes the book was better. Odds were always going to be so, how do you slim down a 17 hour audio book into a two hour television show and not lose something crucial to the story? Like the adaptation of the first book this one moved the timeline around a bit, one of the character’s first name was changed for reasons passing understanding, and an entire swath of side characters were left behind. But the television show did keep the main character beats of Robin and Cormoran’s relationship and the mystery, so for that I am thankful.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (CBR9 #66)

Image result for mondo deathly hallows

*Note: These reviews were completed in 2017 before the author’s hateful views towards our trans siblings was widely known. My reading experience was what it was and these reviews will remain up, but it should be noted that I find her TERF values abhorrent and will no longer be supporting her through further readings or reviews. 

We have reached the end of the road. We have journeyed through truth, learned about the past, had boulders change our paths forever, embraced the drama of the teenage years, we’ve experienced losses and found ways to grow from them, and seen love as an action spurs our heroes on their paths. Now, we watch it all come together as the forces of good battle to resist the forces of fear and hate.

Before even embarking on this review, I have written over 11,000 words about the world of Harry Potter. Why? Cannonball Read’s very own emmalita has the answer: “seems like a good time to read a subversive series about the importance of personal choices, standing up to bullies, standing up to your friends when they are wrong, and treating everyone with compassion and kindness.”

Not every book, or every series, is for every reader. There is no guarantee that someone would pull exactly the same meaning, or so much meaning, from the works of J. K. Rowling, as I tend to do.  Here at the end it is time to look back at the themes and narratives that have brought me here and see how they all come together to leave us on a note of sorrow and loss, but also hope and triumph.

Discovering Your Identity

In the beginning, we found Harry Potter as a boy who did not have much to define himself, but by book seven he is a man who knows very well who and what he is, but is still learning his value to others. Voldemort, the Death Eaters, and their allies are making swift gains particularly at the Ministry (as that organization refused to prepare itself for the truth of their ascendance), and it is time for Harry to leave Privet Drive for the last time. This is no easy task and requires backroom planning by Dumbledore, for Snape to continue working both sides against each other, and six Harry Potter impersonators to disguise his true location and destination.

Harry has transformed from the Boy Who Lived to the Chosen One, and by the end of the book he will bring everything together to be a hero who inspires other heroes. He never truly vanquishes the small voice in his head questioning if he’s made the right decisions along the way. He knows what he must do, and the path he has chosen, but he is always reticent to let others step in the way of danger that he has laid out.

But moving beyond the specific details of Harry’s character arc, this is a novel about generational divides, a statement that the old must pass that the new might inherit the earth, because whatever current generation is on top can’t save the world. All things change and evolve. The world can only be saved and shaped by those who will inherit it. The last image is of the next generation who will take over once Harry and his friends are done and dusted.

Found Family

The second act of this book, the much maligned second act of this book, is the story of one of the strongest friendships you are likely to see in contemporary YA literature. I could write soliloquys on the Ballad of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, in fact I may be accused of already doing so. In this book, if not before, they are functioning as a tight-knit family unit. But, we are also once again reminded of the deep, strong ties Harry has developed over the preceding six years.  It is unthinkable that he wouldn’t be at Bill and Fleur’s wedding, it is their home that he and the rest escape to and recover in following the events at Malfoy Manor. Separate from his feelings about Ginny, Harry is a Weasley and in case it was still up for debate Rowling makes it clear at the very beginning of the book.

I love Molly Weasley. She has always, quietly, diligently, and without expectation made Harry part of her family. In Order of the Phoenix as the boggart in Grimmauld Place Harry’s is one of the bodies she sees in the lineup of her dead family.  For his seventeenth birthday Molly gifts Harry her brother’s watch, and it will connect Harry to his found family throughout the events of the novel.

But Harry isn’t Molly’s only extra kid. At the end of the Battle of Hogwarts as all hell is breaking loose in the Great Hall, Molly bests Bellatrix Lestrange in one of the most discussed moments in the book. Much is made of Molly’s pronouncement of “not my daughter!” as she flies across the room to take on Bellatrix, but it could just as easily been “not my daughters” as the trio of witches taking on Bellatrix are Hermione, Luna, and Ginny. And it is Harry who throws up the shield charm to protect Molly, exposing himself to Voldemort and setting up the final battle, but he could not let his surrogate mother figure go unprotected.

Standing Up To Be Counted

For all of our characters this story is how they struggle to defeat a fully empowered adult wizard by becoming fully empowered and independent adults.

Neville Longbottom has grown by leaps and bounds throughout these seven books. While his confidence and skill have grown, the true measure of his character has been with him from the very beginning – you must stand up for what is right. He calls out his friends in Sorcerer’s Stone and by Deathly Hallows he is leading the resistance in Hogwarts and paying a heavy price for it (but he’s just living up to his Longbottom heritage).

Ginny will not be left to the side. She was instrumental in the eventual discovery of the first horcrux in The Chamber of Secrets (before we even knew what it was), and she marches through the subsequent five books demonstrating her skills and tenacity. She will fight for those she loves, and she will be brave enough to face down her enemies.

There is another character who quietly continues to work on the side of Dumbledore. At then end of Half-Blood Prince the reader is left hating Snape, and there is little through most of Deathly Hallows to bring us back in. There is however the flashback in the pensieve showing us the true intentions of Snape’s actions over the past 20 years. I remain on the side that it does not erase his actions, but it places them in an understandable lane. It is the final example of Rowling showing us the gray that lives within all of us.

I am light on speaking about Hermione in this review, not because she isn’t incredibly valuable, its just because I’ve covered it all before. Hermione does not need me to stand up for her the same way she doesn’t need Ron or Harry to.

There is a scene, late in the book during the Battle of Hogwarts when Harry, Ron, and Hermione are attempting to fight off imminent Dementors. They are trying and failing to cast their patronuses to defeat them, to protect themselves with happy memories filled with love. They are spent, and things are looking down until friends cast bright powerful patronuses to push back the dementors. As the line of people who have supported Harry grows and powerfully push back the coming darkness through the power of love and happy memories I cried. It is everything to do with standing up against the coming storm, and standing up for those you love and respect.

The Song of Ronald Weasley

Ron also becomes the full embodiment of his family’s ethos, a beacon of progress and humanity. Ron continues to be concerned about those he cares about, it is Ron who thinks of the House Elves in the kitchens of Hogwarts and reminds everyone that they need to be evacuated with the underage students. With that, Ron shakes off one of his largest prejudices completely, taking away any part of him that could be used to support Voldemort. It is also the linchpin that earns him an enthusiastic kiss from Hermione. I may have cheered.

Ron has skills, memory, and ability. He is the one who remembers to go get the basilisk fang from the Chamber of Secrets. But that doesn’t mean he is without failure. Ron, in his typical way, loses sight of the end goal and leaves Hermione and Harry alone in the forest. Nevertheless, the joy of Ron is that once he makes the terrible, prattish decision, he immediately regrets it. The measure of character is in recovery from terrible choices and how we pick ourselves back up, and Ron spends seven books showing us how that is done. Dumbledore knew this about him, and provided a way back. Rowling also uses this time to her advantage, giving the reader a glimpse at the world outside the ever-traveling tent. We are afforded a look at what the larger Resistance movement is doing while our trio is working towards their assassination mission.

Show Your Work

The entire journey of Harry, Ron, and Hermione is The Deathly Hallows can be seen as one long arc of pursuing knowledge, and asking for help, in order to successfully solve the problems of our lives. In their case, it is often about defeating Death Eaters, but it is also in learning how to navigate the adult world which is not nearly as steady and secure as one would hope. If the world is full of darkness, than knowledge is your best armor and strongest light against it. Hermione will carry a full library with them, Harry will craft cunning plots, Ron will stay on the alert and find the resistance radio show, and together they will ask for and accept help as they can.

It is never so clear as when Harry shouts into the shard of Sirius’s mirror and unbeknownst to him Aberforth hears him and sends Dobby to rescue them from Malfoy Manor. Harry has finally come to a place where he cannot save himself or his friends, and he reaches out desperately. Dobby is able to evacuate those imprisoned in the cellar (all important characters for the final denouement of the story) and ultimately puts his life on the line for his friends. The grief, pure and simple and stunningly apparent on Harry as he digs the grave for Dobby (who died a free elf) stirs something deep inside the reader. Harry feels he must do the work himself, so magic, so that proper respect can be shown. Dobby’s sacrifice requires no less of a man of Harry’s stature.

Neville and Dumbledore’s Army are another shining example of this spirit. Neville stays at Hogwarts, and continues the resistance from inside the walls, making himself a constant thorn in the side of Snape and the Death Eaters on staff. He also protects and cares for those who would stand beside him, and by having truly learned the lessons of the Room of Requirement he is able to furnish all the needs of his compatriots, including access to Hogsmeade via Aberforth.

And Aberforth Dumbledore is a quiet, reluctant hero himself. He feeds and cares for the Army, as well as serving as transit depot for members of the Order of the Phoenix and the Resistance. He also provides on last important reality check for Harry, Ron, and Hermione before the Battle of Hogwarts truly gets underway: does Harry trust in what he has been told by his brother Albus? Aberforth argues that Harry owes no one anything, and should run. He also points out, not incorrectly, that while our Professor Dumbledore did mostly prepare Harry for what is coming, he also in essence raised him like a lamb for slaughter. Aberforth cannot abide this, and attempts to use the full truth off Albus, and Grindelwald, and his sister Ariana to make sure Harry understands what is truly happening. He is never satisfied, but he finally does support Harry and sends Ariana’s portrait to go get Neville.

Remus Lupin, Depression, and Anxiety

What I did not know, but I could feel creeping in, was that part of the pull of reading Harry Potter again was that my brain chemistry was betraying me once more. My previous worst battle with depression came during the first time I read The Prisoner of Azkaban and this current round has been nearly as difficult. Add to that finally getting some clarity about the Anxiety I’ve been living with my entire adult life, and it’s been a hell of a year. However, I think this finally explains to me my preference for and love of Remus Lupin.

I am on record as praising Lupin as the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher to grace Hogwarts during the series, and I stand by it. He educates kindly. It is such a small, but unfortunately rare thing, and I think it gets missed in the larger sweeping epic of the books. But this is not a perfect man, in many ways Lupin grew up too fast and never properly left his teenage self behind. Lupin, like so many of our other characters, is learning to embrace his adulthood and for him it is in the face of crippling depression, anxiety, and otherness.

It comes to a head in the Deathly Hallows as Lupin attempts to join our trio as they depart Grimmauld Place to begin their quest. Lupin is afraid that he has ruined the lives of Tonks and their unborn child, and is ready to flee and possibly sacrifice himself in the service of Harry and his mission in place of facing the future he has made. He is still unable to accept the love his is offered. Harry ages dramatically in that scene, moving past his defiant youth posturing and bringing his emotional truth to bear in a stunningly adult exchange with Lupin. Hermione and Ron are shocked, this is an adult, their teacher, and Harry is speaking to him in such a manner. But it is necessary, and it is true.  Remus Lupin, like all of us, must grow into the truth of him, and forgive himself for his past errors. He must also learn that refusing love is the worst thing we can do to ourselves, let alone those who love us. Lupin comes around, and is back to his truest self when he arrives to fight at the Battle of Hogwarts. His and Tonks’ deaths are some of the hardest felt in the series (Fred is right there with them), and they are so because of what we have lived with them over six books. These are good, loyal, and moral characters who made the active choice to fight for good and put their lives on the line in the pursuit of defeating evil in the world.

Don’t Be Afraid to Try Something New

This one is more for the author than her characters, but it is superb nonetheless. In her final book Rowling, because she is truly an insanely ambitious, amazing writer throws out all previous conceptions of the structure of a Harry Potter novel. She had played with form and structure along the way, but in her closing act she isn’t afraid to do something she has not done before; this is simply the act of a woman in full possession of her courage. The first act, from page one, shifts the paradigm in a way that couldn’t truly be anticipated and still catches me off guard now a decade later. The entire middle of the book is essentially a two and three handed road trip, taking us to places we have never seen before through the eyes of our characters. It also dares to slow down the action, to marinate in the struggle, to let the reader and the characters feel a smidge of boredom.  For goodness sakes, Hogwarts doesn’t show up until the third act!

AND THEN Rowling introduces a completely new branch of the mythology around which the whole climax of the novel pivots. It would be easy to forget that Rowling saved the mythology of the Three Brothers for this final installment because it fits so seamlessly into the world she painstakingly and brilliantly created.  It is the sort of thing that probably shouldn’t work. We should be annoyed at the last minute deus ex Hallows but instead we see the threads that Rowling has been laying in all along, and frankly, she pulls it off with finesse and grace because while the final piece of the puzzle is delivered in the tail end of the series Rowling has been deliberately building to this point from the beginning, and double downed towards it based on the themes at play in Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix. But that’s still not all: she too shows a deft hand in a chapter that’s a taut thriller in Malfoy Manor. It is a peak into the prowess she has to create tension and suspense which will come to delightful fruition in the Cormoran Strike series a few years later.

And where does that leave us at the end? It leaves us with a final rumination on choice and love. Every single person chooses their sides and their actions throughout the story. Everything reverberates down the line. The story is simultaneously massive and epic and yet impossibly small and understated. There are colossal moments flying past that mean more because they are rooted in the personal. We are watching the myth of the boy who lived, who inspired a nation, who became the rallying point make the choice to act in love for his friends and compatriots, for those he considers family, so that they may live. Following all of that, he makes the choice to live. He chooses life, and he chooses to imagine a future that he is in. We should all do the same.

This completes my reread of the Harry Potter series in the 20th anniversary year of the publication of The Sorcerer’s Stone. It has meant a great deal to me.

This book (and accompanying series) was read and reviewed (at length) as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society. Registration for our 10th year will be coming up soon, and you can always drop in whenever you like.