Novel series

This is about novel series that I've read or am reading as each instalment comes out. I don't want to review all of these in detail for each book (especially not when there are so many instalments in some series!), but I do want to talk briefly (yeah, like brief has ever happened in this blog! lol!) about each one. Anyhow, here's the list of those I'm thinking of including, with a clicker through to the article (which may or may not exist at this point) and a click back to the index. Note that this page is still under construction!

The Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher
  1. Furies of Calderon
  2. Academ's Fury
  3. Cursor's Fury
  4. Captain's Fury
  5. Princep's Fury
  6. First Lord's Fury

The Chronicles Of Elantra series by Michelle Sagara
  1. Cast in Shadow
  2. Cast in Courtlight
  3. Cast in Secret
  4. Cast in Fury
  5. Cast in Silence
  6. Cast in Chaos
  7. Cast in Ruin
  8. Cast in Peril
  9. Cast in Sorrow

The Harry Potter series by Joanne Rowling
  1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  6. Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (index)

It felt stupid reviewing a series of novels which pretty much everyone in the western world (and many a one in the east) has read or at least heard of, so I decided to do a different kind of review for this series.

I always maintain that a writer can get away with pretty much anything with me; as long as they write me a story that's engrossing and has interesting characters, I will overlook plot holes and even a goodly number of spelling or grammar errors. Just entertain me. So the plan here is to look at the plot holes and other problems with this Harry Potter launch vehicle, and later with the other six books. In doing this, we'll see that despite some pathetic problems and hellish holes, Jo Rowling still got the job done and admirably so.

The main character is now so well-known as a heroic figure that it may well have escaped you what a loser he is. Harry Potter is one of the most selfish, lazy, and stupid main characters ever created as we shall see, as I work through all seven volumes. He has very poor self control, few smarts, and no work ethic whatsoever. He's completely unmotivated and he blithely squanders pretty much every chance he's given.

He will not take advice, will not learn, and flatly refuses to take the golden opportunities to educate himself that are endlessly laid in his lap. He shows little curiosity about the world around him, even though it is quite literally magical. Everything is laid out for him on a platter, yet he does nothing but waste his time and indulge in self-obsessive meanderings. He refuses to follow rules and refuses to ask for help even when it's there for the taking. Yet Rowling turned this guy into a hero!

To be fair to him, he did start out life in one of the most lousy ways imaginable, and we can thank the other loser at Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore, for that tragedy. Dumbledore and Hogwarts consistently failed students, and Harry in particular, by offering a lousy education which ill-prepared them for the dangers which came crashing down on the school in volumes six and seven.

The first problem with this book is Harry's personal circumstances, and this is two-fold. This whole thing with Harry and his survival is centered around the protection of love - the love of his parents for him, and in particular the love of his mom, to stand in front of Voldemort's wand and take the deadly curse herself. This never made any sense to me. Not that a parent wouldn't do whatever it takes to protect their child - that's a given for any even half-way decent parent. No, the problem isn't that. So what is it then? And why am I asking you, when this is my thesis?!

The problem is that Harry was not the only child, and Lily was not the only mom. The story indicates that scores, if not hundreds of parents and children were killed, yet Jo Rowling would have us believe that not a single one of those parents loved any of their children like Lily loved Harry, and therefore not one of those parents could put a protective 'spell' around their child like Lily did. I call bullshit on that one - a big stinking pile of it. It's highly insulting to parents and yet this is the most basic premise of the entire Potter septalogy! Shame on Rowling for her implicit assertion that all parents save Harry's are deadbeat parents.

The corollary to this is that Harry has to be ensconced with his caricature of an aunt and uncle, Vernon and Petunia Dursley, and with their even more caricatured son, Dudley. Now remember, the core of the story here is the protective love of family, yet these three wretched people thoroughly hate and detest Harry, so where's the protection? And if the protection of these two surrogate parents - who loathe their nephew - is sufficient (because they're family) to provide protection, how come so many others do not get that same protection when Voldemort revivifies himself? Again, it makes no sense and it's insulting! It's insulting to parents and even to the very definition of love!

Rowling herself is rather abusive here in that she's very unkindly equating obesity with evil. Obesity is an evil, health-wise, but overweight people are not automatically cruel and hateful people. Again, it's insultingly bad writing: make the antagonist fat and then you don't have to do the work of writing a realistic villain! It also bespeaks badly for Dumbledore, who was the one who dumped Harry into this predicament. Was he not watching over Harry at all, or did he simply not care that Harry was hurting every single day? Dumbledore was a selfish, clueless and cruel man, and it's entirely understandable how he could treat his sister and the rest of his family in the way that he did because he treated Harry in exactly the same way! No surprises there in this series!

I can't help but draw parallels here between what Harry suffers in this seven-volume series, and what the fictional Job suffered in the misplaced Bible story - misplaced because the book of Job really doesn't belong in the Bible canon at all - and especially not if you want people to think kindly of the Biblical god!

But there are parallels. Harry was bereft of his loved ones, he suffered every day, and he got no reward whatsoever in recompense. And Dumbledore, his god, let him suffer. He never lifted a finger to do anything to ease Harry's suffering, not in the eleven years before he arrived at Hogwarts, nor in the six years he knew Harry as a student.

Actually, if we're drawing Biblical parallels, Harry is more like Jesus Christ, spending his forty days (or in Harry's case, a decade) in the wilderness before he begins his ministry at Hogwarts, leading to his sacrifice to the evil Voldemort, so that evil can be defeated and the people can find salvation. Harry Ron, and Hermione, became Royalty: HRH!

I found it odd - through amusing - when the letters began arriving. Clearly whoever was sending them knew that Harry wasn't getting them because they kept coming, yet never once did a letter pop into existence in Harry's hands in the privacy of his cupboard under the stairs so he could read it. What was that all about?! This is the first indication we get of how profoundly stupid witches and wizards truly are in Rowling's world (the issue of their absolutely idiotic attempts at "dressing like muggles" I will address later.

Harry's demonstration of magic was also an issue and is a contradiction in the Potter series. The first problem is that Harry can clearly do magic without a wand, so why was a wand even necessary? More on this anon! The second problem is that despite the ministry's restriction on using under-age magic, Harry never once is censured for it before he begins attending Hogwarts. Afterwards, he's censured unreasonably, even psychotically for it, even when it's clearly not his magic - as when Dobby uses it in book two, for example, or when it's for his own defense, as it is in book five. None of this made any sense.

Now you can argue that kids are allowed to get away with it before they attend magic school, but not afterwards, but this makes just as little sense (as we shall see shortly). In the meantime, I have to ask: why is there no magical kindergarten? Why must a child wait until eleven? The answer to that question lies in the British education system.

In Britain there used to be a written exam called the eleven-plus. Each year, kids who had turned eleven in the previous twelve months were tested to determine if they would go to an academically-inclined grammar school, or a vocationally-inclined secondary school. Thankfully that barbaric system has changed now, but Rowling is old enough to have known the older system, and she obviously took it to heart with the launching of a child into a new school at a tender age.

The issue though, is how on Earth do they ever keep this magic from the muggles when kids are randomly performing largely-uncontrolled magical feats for the first decade of their life? Obviously the answer is that it served Rowling's writing and dramatic aims, of course, but rationally, it's a huge hole! Yes, you can argue that the obliviators went out and fix things, but seriously? On that scale, and all the time? It's not feasible.

This whole thing is a mess, because we're told that magic isn't allowed outside of Hogwarts, but we're also told how jealous Harry's aunt Petunia became when Harry's mom Lily would come home from school and demonstrate magic to her family. How come she was never censured? And how come magical broom riding was fine outside of school, even for under-aged wizards, yet magical car driving is cause or threats of expulsion?! Plot holes is how!

I have to say I loved Rowling's playfulness and inventiveness with her magical world, silly as it was at times. This is one of the great joys of her stories and what made them seem so inviting and, on a superficial level, so real. I loved her naming conventions in many ways, such as Ron's rat's name, Scabbers, and Sanguini the vampire, and also the names of some of the stores in Diagon Alley - and indeed the name of the alley itself. I especially loved Flourish and Blott's, which I thought was magical for the bookstore. Some of the names fell flat though, and were more like the character names from the Clue game (which used to be called Cluedo in Britain).

One of the first things Harry discovers in Diagon Alley is that he's rich. This sudden acquisition of wealth was weird, to me. First of all, how did James and Lily ever get all that gold in such a short lifetime? Honestly? It seemed like a remarkable amount, and Harry wasn't very generous with it, was he? Yes he bought a bunch of candy on the train that day he traveled with Ron (although a lot less in the book than in the movie), but when Ron had crappy robes for the Yule Ball, Harry never offered to buy him a new set.

Clearly this was done for amusement, and it was funny in a simplistic way, but it really made no sense. These people are wizards, yet neither Ron's family, nor Ron, nor Harry, nor Hermione could swish and flick his robes into something more acceptable? Not credible!

For that matter, this was a wizarding world, so how was it that Ron's family were poor at all? They could turn a rat into a drinking goblet, but not a rock into a golden galleon? How would anyone know? And even if the wizard world knew a real galleon from a transfigured one, no one in the Muggle world would. Why were there no wizards who were making money (literally!) hand over fist?!

In fact, if real gold had a special aura, what was to stop a wizard performing "Accio gold" and extracting the entire world's reserve of real gold from the Earth itself? Again, a huge hole (as indeed it would have been if the gold were removed!) that everyone was willing to overlook (if they even noticed it) for the sake of enjoying the story. Rowling's novels are shot through with this kind of illogical juxtaposition, yet few questioned it because they were so absorbed in the stories. More credit to Rowling for pulling the wool over people's eyes so expertly!

Now about those back wizard wands: we're told that the wand chooses the wizard, but we're never told how that works, why a wand is necessary, how the wand itself works, or what is the significance of the type of wood, the length of the wand, the flexibility (or otherwise of the wood), or the significance of the magical beast component which is inside it. If a unicorn hair carries the magic, for example, why not have one in your pocket and use that? Why must it be included inside a stick?! Despite the obsession with "wand lore" in volume seven, none of this is ever explained by Rowling.

If a wand is necessary, how come some wizards can do magic without one? Some magical stories have got around this by simply saying the wand isn't necessary - it's just a beginner's tool to focus your attention until you can do it without the prop. This was not Rowling's approach, however. In Potter world, wands are important and are said to focus the wizard's spell, but it's really not until the last couple of volumes where Harry's wand becomes central to part of the story line, and even then it's rather blown!

Apart from that last crucial story line, none of the wand business made sense, but everyone bought into it because it seemed to make sense within the wizardly world. This is actually the vital component, and readers accepted it because it just seemed right - a wizard has a wand - of course he does! Maybe the secret to a good magical story isn't to make sense, but to do just the opposite!

One thing which I actually hadn't registered until volume three, was that a pet or familiar was almost a requirement for wizardry, yet we never saw Hermione (nor any other wizard aside from Harry, Ron, Dumbledore, and Neville) with one until 'Prisoner of Azkaban' when Hermione bought Crookshanks, the cat which terrorized Scabbers. Clearly this was nothing more than a smart tool employed to focus attention on Scabbers. Crookshanks all but disappeared after volume three. But the value or utility of a familiar was never actually explained in any of the volumes despite Hagrid telling Harry that he had to have one, and even buying one for him as a birthday gift.

Platform 9¾ was another very cute and neat little device which made for a fun story by bringing the real world into the story so that kids could go there and imagine the magic going on unseen all around them. Practically, however, it made no sense. Why would the wizards gather at a very public and busy place and start walking through walls?! Why were they not given a port-key each? Why were older wizards not allowed to simply apparate to a point outside the Hogwarts grounds and be picked up from there?

The train never stopped on the way to Hogwarts. The only place it picked up passengers was London. The only place it stopped was Hogsmeade station, so did even those living in the north of Britain have to travel south just so they could travel north again? We were never told. Were there other means of travel, or is this yet another example of how stupid wizards and witches are? Plot hole!

Clearly the train was merely a rather ill-conceived and convenient device for furthering the story even as it made no sense in and of itself. In volume one, this purpose was to allow Harry and Ron to bond, and for Hermione and Malfoy to be introduced. And who doesn't enjoy a good train ride with a promise of something new and perhaps adventurous? I love trains, so this appealed directly to me as I am sure it did to others.

What I didn't get was why Malfoy wanted to befriend Harry Potter at the beginning, but then unaccountably became an implacable foe almost immediately afterwards. This took place on the train in the book, but on the stairs of Hogwarts in the movie, and it made no sense at all for me. I mean I understand the hatred. Malfoy was from a Death-Eater family which despised Potter for putting their leader, Voldemort, out of action. Why would their son even consider befriending him? Hole!

The sorting hat is a fun thing. I loved it the one time Harry went into Dumbledore's office and the hat said, "Bee in your bonnet Potter?" I thought that was choice. What I didn't get is the tolerance of Slytherin house at Hogwarts. It was legendary how evil that house was, yet it was permitted to exist and everyone in it was pretty much evil. This made no sense at all, rationally speaking. As a writing device, it did provide for the trope high-school conflict - not only for the quidditch games, but for rivalry between Harry and Draco, who stands in a surrogate for Voldemort when neither Draco's dad nor Voldemort himself are there to present a threatening figure.

Another issue is Harry's scar. He has this lightning bolt on his forehead, of course, and it acts as a lightning rod for Voldemort, but this doesn't explain why Harry didn't get a jolt when he met Quirrell (another great name) in the Leaky Cauldron when he first came with Hagrid to Diagon Alley. You could argue that Voldemort was absent at the time, drinking unicorn blood in the Forbidden Forest, but if that's the case, why did Quirrell baulk at shaking hands with Harry?

This whole business of Voldemort hiding in Quirrell's head and getting away with it is a complete mystery. I find it hard to believe that Harry wasn't in agony from his scar every time he was anywhere near Quirrell, but his scar really didn't take its place (as almost another character!) until later in the series. For that matter how come Dumbledore, the purported greatest wizard ever, could not detect Voldemort - and neither could ex-Death-eater Snape? Snape (Professor Snape, Harry!) made no sense to me, but more on that anon.

If Dumbledore was sharp enough to detect that a robbery was going to take place at Gringotts and the Philosopher's stone was at risk, he surely ought to have detected Voldemort, but given that he had the "sorcerer's" stone, and knew it was at risk, there were two problems here.

First of all, why not remove the risk by destroying the stone? There was no problem with this later, so why delay? Assuming the delay was necessary, why were the protections which were put in place to safeguard the stone so pathetic that even a first year student could defeat them? Seriously? Obviously this had to be done so their royal highnesses Harry, Ron, and Hermione - could overcome them, but...plot hole! Plus, why could Voldemort not create his own? Wasn't he supposed to be a powerful wizard second only to Dumbledore? Why did Nicholas Flamel even need it to live to a ripe old age? he was a wizard! Could he not magically prolong his life?

The three-headed dog was a problem, I agree. I mean, how often do you run into one of those even if you're in the business? Yet not a single one of the other protective spells was an issue for any experienced wizard, dark or otherwise. Obviously for the sake of the children's story the protections had to be such that Harry, Ron, and Hermione between them could defeat them, but it was pretty sad and transparent!

Another rather clunky effort was when Harry and Ron go after Hermione when Quirrell sets a troll loose in the "dungeons" (how he ever got a fully-grown mountain troll into Hogwarts in the first place is conveniently glossed over, take note!). We can forgive the impropriety of two young kids running around - that's credible - but I don't get Hermione's confession afterwards. All she had to say was that she got stuck in the bathroom and the boys rescued her, which was the truth. I don't get why she came up with a complete lie - or why none of the teachers noticed she was missing from her classes! So much for magic!

And about that quidditch match where Quirrell tries to unseat Harry from his broom? None of that made any sense. Of all the opportunities Quirrell must have had to harm Harry, he availed himself of none of them and then he tries to hurt him in the most public place with scores and scores of wizards watching?! Plot hole!

The business of Voldemort inhabiting Quirrell, and Snape trying to prevent Quirrell getting the philosopher's sorcerer's stone is a complete mystery. Voldemort is right there. How can he possibly think that Snape is still working for him when Snape is defying Quirrell and saving Harry? This made absolutely no sense at all. Rowling herself realized this because she put a long and boring expository speech at the beginning of volume six, where Snape tries and fails to justify his insane and schizophrenic behavior to Bellatrix. Nonsense! Plot hole! You can't talk your way out of this with such cheap excuses! Voldemort killed people for far lesser offenses, yet somehow he fails to see all that Snape has done to protect Harry?

I don't get why Dumbledore chooses to return the invisibility cloak to Harry when he does. Does he not know that Harry will use it to break rules? Does he not care? Clearly it was a plot device to enable Harry to pursue Rowling's aims for the novel with impunity (and invisibility!), but it really made no sense to give an 11-year-old such a thing when he was in potential danger!

That's almost, but not quite, as irresponsible as sending first year students into the Forbidden Forest as detention punishment. How was this even countenanced?! And with Hagrid, too, who thought nothing of splitting up the group (although differently in the movie from in the book). Again this was a significant problem, but it served the writing and plot. I have to say I was never a fan of Hagrid. He was nothing short of a stupid and dangerous oaf.

Rowling never did explain how it was that Voldemort was reduced to an apparition after he turned Harry unintentionally into the seventh horcrux. Maybe seven is one too many?

The problem with Rowling's characters is that she all too frequently overdid them and went straight into caricature - to say nothing of the fact that, while I admit she did not invent the trope, she is very much responsible for every novel that comes out these days where the magical orphan child is the main character. Ugh!

You know one thing that I really don't get about Harry (actually there's a lot I don't get about him) is why he wears those eyeglasses. He's a wizard who lives in a wizarding world - yet there's no cure for short-sightedness? Hermione can repair his eyeglasses but not his eyesight? Madame Pomfrey can re-grow entire bones, but not fix short-sightedness - or for that matter, remove/at least disguise scars?!

I already mentioned that I was not a fan of Hagrid. He's a dunderhead who definitely shouldn't teach children, let alone be put in charge of them. Plus his history is bullshit. His wand was broken? Because there sure-as-hell isn't any way a wizard can ever get hold of a new wand is there now?! Not that wands are needed as we see repeatedly, and as Hagrid himself proved by using his umbrella - which was pretty much entirely forgotten after volume one.

Hagrid was supposedly expelled for the incident with the original opening of the chamber of secrets. The wizarding world has veritaserum available to it, yet they never used it on Hagrid? They never used it on Tom Riddle? They never used it on Sirius Black? Huge, huge plot holes. I guess the wizarding world isn't actually very much interested in the truth after all! Either that or once again they're abominably stupid people. This is the problem with magical stories. It's the same with time-travel stories! There is always an out and it leaves large holes in stories if they're not written really, really well.

Dumbledore is the biggest disaster ever. He tells Harry nothing, not even when he gets older and understands what needs to be done and deserves the truth. He lets Harry live for a decade with the most cruel and wretched people imaginable, because the protection of family supposedly works - with people who hate him? Bullshit! The torment doesn't end even when he gets to Hogwarts. Harry is bullied and abused my Malfoy (who wanted to be his friend?!), and is repeatedly the butt of jokes and taunts from other students, yet Dumbledore never once lifts even one finger to put an end to it or to help Harry out - and neither do the other teachers. And this is the same guy who gives a speech at the end of volume four about friendship and trust. Hypocrite!

Harry is inexplicably abused by Snape, who supposedly loved his mother, yet who clearly hates Harry and delights in bullying him every chance he gets, yet Dumbledore never once censures Snape (Professor Snape, Harry) or tries to protect Harry from him. On the contrary! He deliberately forces Harry to take occlumency lessons from Snape so he can be bullied more in volume five. Dumbledore is without question a bastard who is, in many ways, worse than Voldemort.

Draco is allowed to get away with abuse and bullying beyond anything which is even remotely tolerable in any decent school. He gets away with one thing after another, particularly where Harry is concerned, whereas Harry is brought crashing down for even minor or accidental infractions. None of this made sense, and was actually a solid example of really bad writing designed solely to pluck those heartstrings again. I came out of this seven volume series not liking Harry or Dumbledore.

So volume one rife with plot problems and holes and yet it became a run-away best seller. This just goes to show that if you write an engrossing story with endearing characters, you can get away with murder. It doesn't even have to be really original or make a whole lot of sense. A bit of invention, a bit of plotting, a few wild adventures and you'll get your audience. Rowling did and with huge success! Keep that in mind while writing your own stories!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (index)

Volume two removes the contemporary Voldemort completely from the picture, but puts in his place a younger version so we can learn some of Voldemort's history. Plus it adds a pretty cool adventure and a kind of treasure hunt, which I think is why this was so successful. In addition to that, Rowling wisely introduces a host of new and cool ideas and characters, of whom I think Tom Riddle (nicely named!) is the most intriguing and interesting.

Dobby the house elf is a complete disaster in my book. To me he's the Jar-Jar Binks of the Harry Potter series. All he had to do was tell Harry that there's a high risk of a monster being unleashed at Hogwarts which can kill students, but no! I was not glad so much as relieved, I guess you'd say, when he was killed off! But here again is a plot hole. If elf magic is so powerful - as we're repeatedly reminded - how come Dobby died from a mere knife wound? He couldn't save himself? "Reparo" doesn't work on knife wounds?

Dobby is introduced in a way which dumps on poor Harry so Rowling can yet again try to tug on our heart strings. It makes no sense at all, though. Clearly the magic was done by the elf, yet Harry is censured for it? Is the ministry so stupid that it can't tell the difference between elf magic and wizard magic? Once again we have the idea that wizards and witches are really dumb reinforced: they're obviously so stupid that they can't see that Harry doesn't possess the ability to perform such a spell.

The flying car is one more example of how impulsive and stupid Ron and Harry are. They never seem to learn, which is as sad as it's ironic, given that they're students! Flying broomsticks outside of school, fine, flying cars not??? It's also an example of how contrived the plot ideas are. On the other hand, it does introduce yet another cool idea and gives them a bonding adventure, which is what appealed to the readers, especially when the car comes to the rescue of Ron and Harry after that idiot Hagrid yet again puts their lives in jeopardy by sending them to visit Aragog. And that name? It's a great test of your geek index if you can tell the difference between Aragog, Aragorn, and Eragon....

Gilderoy Lockhart was portrayed perfectly by Kenneth Branagh in the movie, but I have to wonder about the whole business hiring of him in the first place. Rowling excuses the choice in the book by telling us that no one wanted to apply for the position, so he was the only option, but this not only a lie, it serves to make Dumbledore look truly incompetent and stupid that he would hire someone who is clearly a poseur and a fraud, to teach such an important subject (and there's more on this particular topic in my review of volume three in this series). If Dumbledore didn't know Lockhart was a fraud, then Dumbledore is stupid and incompetent. If he did and still hired him, then he's incompetent and stupid!

The whole business of the Defense Against the Dark Arts teaching post was a joke which was, in a way, amusing, but which was also a plot hole. There were two eminently qualified people for the job right there at Hogwarts: Dumbledore and Snape. I never saw it explained in any way why Snape wasn't the dark arts teacher. They could have easily hired someone else for potions as volume six proves.

If Dumbledore trusted Snape, as we're told repeatedly, then he was unquestionably the best person for the job. If Dumbledore didn't want Snape there for whatever reason, then why did he not get off his lazy ass and do some teaching himself?! Again, it made no sense whatsoever, but the story was written so amusingly, with so many interesting bits and pieces thrown into the mix that readers, even curmudgeonly ones like me, were drawn in and induced to forgive if not forget!

Soon we begin seeing paralyzed pupils and learn the dark history of Hogwarts. And we get another look at the dangerous if not deadly game of Quidditch. Kudos to Rowling for inventing a cool game (for twelve-year-old readers), but it makes no sense that a school which otherwise claims to have student welfare at heart, to have an inherently violent and dangerous sport for them to play. It's actually insupportable, but Rowling gets away with it because the excitement and danger appeal to the age for which she was writing.

What I resent most about these books is not actually the plot holes I'm detailing, but that we never learn more about how Rowling did it - how she came up with these ideas. I've never seen anything in which Rowling discusses how she even came up with all these characters and nifty items. That, to me, would have been truly interesting. Maybe she does so on Pottermore, to which I've never been, but somehow I doubt it. Maybe she doesn't even remember at this point, but to me, those kinds of things would have been really interesting to read about and very useful to others who want to write successful fiction.

I find it interesting that after screwing up Harry's broken arm, Lockhart pays no penalty. It does allow Harry to be in the right place at the right time to get some more information, of course,m which is why this glaring lapse got through. Of course, Dobby, who could have solved the whole problem vanishes before he tells Harry anything of use, but then we get to discover that Colin Creevey has been paralyzed, too.

About that paralysis! It's termed 'petrified' in the novel, but this means, literally, turned to stone. If they cannot revivify a dead wizard using magic, how on Earth is it that they can revivify a stone and turn it back into a healthy, normal human with no harm? This made no sense, but once again it gets a bye because it's a cool kind of an idea and by the time the human petrifications begin, we're already wrapped up on the latest Harry quest. They do have a bit of an out in that none of the students (or the cat) is actually hit by the direct glare of the basilisk, but still, it's a stretch to believe their heart has literally stopped beating, and yet they're not dead and can be revived.

Once again Harry is thrown to the wolves as he speaks Parsel tongue during the duel. If it's so rare and so misunderstood, how come everyone instantly understands what it is and what Harry has done? And how come Dumbledore doesn't come clean with Harry? Well, it's to ramp-up the tension, of course, but it's still a failing, realistically. In fact, the inability of one character to communicate with another is both a problem and a characteristic of this series.

The problem here is that the attacks inexplicably stop. It's supposed to be because Tom Riddle has started focusing on Harry instead of trying to kill off the students, but this fails completely as an explanation. Harry doesn't find the diary immediately, yet the attacks stop. Of course Rowling has to stretch the story to cover the school year, but this is a big and unexplained gap. The diary, again, is a cool idea, though, especially given its importance in light of what we discover in volume six.

Hagrid is arrested as a suspect and sent to Azkaban without trial. No one seems to find this unacceptable! Bizarre. The idiot sends Harry and Ron to meet Aragog, the giant deadly spider who has no regard whatsoever for Hagrid's friends. Fortunately their car rescues them, which was pretty neat. Thus they're led to Moaning Myrtle and to the entrance to the chamber of secrets - a place which the greatest wizard in the world, Dumbledore, failed to find!

The incident with Ron's wand backfiring and rendering Lockhart into even more of a mindless dilettante than he was before is amusing, but the plot hole here is how Ron managed to make it through quite literally the entire school year with no working wand? It's unexplained! This business of the broken wand rendering the wizard useless is also unexplained, and becomes important in volume five where the six students consistently fail to disarm the death eaters and thereby get Sirius Black killed. But once again the result of the spell also leaves Harry alone to face the evil as he did in the previous book.

We learn that Tom Marvolo Riddle is an anagram for "I am Lord Voldemort". I don't get the power of this "Lord" business. It's such a huge trope that people never even think about it anymore. We see it not only in fantasy, but also in sci-fi. In the stories, Lords are always powerful and/or dangerous - and nothing like their real life counterparts, who are typically doddering and pretty much useless. Why did he take the name? Is this something Voldemort would do? Why not King Voldemort or Emperor Voldemort? We never did find out why he chose Voldemort as a name. Was it nothing more than simply using up the remaining letters after Rowling had created "I am Lord" from his name?! Pathetic. Or was it the other way around - "Voldemort" came from Tom Riddle?

If all it took to reincarnate him was to suck the life out of Ginny, then why wasn't this the first thing he did? Why go through all the bullshit about killing off Muggles (which he did only half-heartedly at best). Obviously it was to create a dramatic climax, but it was perhaps the biggest plot hole in the entire seven novel series. Yet despite this Rowling kept the interest in her stories and got away with it, starting her series on an unstoppable roll.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (index)

The Prisoner of Azkaban represents the point in this series where Rowling really hit her stride. The novel was - in overall general terms - smart, tight and very active, and also very readable. Having said all that, it was still replete with plot holes and problems. None of that, though, prevented it from contributing to the run-away best-seller aura that Rowling was in process of creating, which would really take off after this edition came out. Again she shows us that you can have a Swiss cheese of a novel plot-wise if you write engagingly and offer enough freshness and action to keep young minds entertained. That and the fact that kids are far less critical and less demanding than are adults about things like this.

The Harry Potter movies recognized this sea-change in ways both intentional and unintentional. There was a major shift between the first two movies which very much had the look and feel of a Home Alone movie, and the third one (and those beyond that), which were far more serious and grown-up in their attitude, and significantly darker. I don't believe that the studio planned it this way, however! It was merely a change in director.

The three main actors were also allowed to be more themselves (while still the characters they portrayed, of course!). It was like the movies had a growth spurt and were now maturing fast. The change was even more marked because, in order to actually match the action in the novels, there had to be some major and very noticeable changes on the layout of Hogwarts grounds, particularly with regard to Hagrid's residence, and the location of the whomping willow.

The first issue here was that once again Harry inadvertently does magic - without a wand, and without the requisite vocalization of two Latin words. This is can a of worms which I'll open when I discuss Harry's learning of the patronus charm. The point for now is that Harry was never censured for this!

And yes, Rowling has an out - she explains it by having the minister of magic himself take charge, and presumably quash all complaints, but the problem with the writing is that none of this showed up. In other instances, there were repercussions almost immediately, with snotty letters from the ministry popping up, yet here, he has the time to go to his room, pack his trunk, drag it downstairs, have an altercation with his uncle and leave, and not a single letter arrives! Inconsistent at best.

The next incident follows immediately afterwards. While he's sitting moping and bemoaning what's to become of him, right before the Knight Bus arrives, he sees Sirius Black. The two of them are alone. This is before Harry comes to believe that Sirius has any beef with him. Sirius is in Padfoot form, but he could have quite simply transformed and told Harry everything right there, yet he did not. Why? Because if he had, that would have been the end of the story - or start of different story (and actually one which might have been more interesting).

Rowling was writing to a formula however, and she couldn't have that up-ended, so instead we get this gigantic failure. The interesting thing is that Rowling could have written this in a different way. She could have had Harry see the dog after he got onto the bus right before it zoomed off, or she could have left the dog out altogether. This was bad writing, and her audience was reaching the age, with this volume, where they would start to notice things like that.

There were several failures of magic in this volume. The first I noticed was when Harry and the Weasleys were clunking their trunks down the stairs of the Leaky Cauldron to head out to catch the train. Why? Why not use the locomotor spell to make them levitate? Another instance is when Harry gets his new Firebolt, courtesy of Sirius, and he has a broom care kit from Hermione. At one point he's left holding the polish for his broom in his hand after McGonagall confiscates the broom to check it for curses.

Let's not even get into the question of exactly how Sirius ordered it and paid for it, because a more interesting question is, why is he manually polishing it when he has magic? Maybe he's obsessed and prefers to do this by hand, but this excuse fails to deflate the bigger question as to why there are broom care kits at all when there's magic?

It makes no sense, but once again it does fit neatly into Rowling's world, where there's all sorts of magic, and wizards appear at a loss to understand the pedestrian ways of Muggles, yet they follow these very ways themselves with great faithfulness! It's not really a magical world, you see, not at its roots. That was simultaneously Rowling's biggest failing and her greatest guarantor of commercial success.

The next issue is on the Hogwarts Express where the three main characters find themselves removed to the very back of the train where the only empty berth is to be found - empty that is except for a shabbily dressed guy who's apparently sleeping. Again this is a world of magic, so why would anyone be shabbily dressed? This goes back to what I was saying about the Weasleys being poor. Why would a magical family be poor? Why would a magical family value gold when they have magic?

At school we discover that once again the Defense Against the Dark Arts class is in need of a teacher, and once again Snape does not get appointed to the post - for no reason whatsoever. It's going to be two more volumes before he gets the job and then, suddenly, he's the DAtDA teacher and that's it - no explanation for why, at that point after god knows how long, Snape is suddenly perfect for the job whereas he never was before?! Can you say nonsensical plot hole? But it did allow Rowling to introduce a new and interesting character for each volume. In one, it was Quirrell, who was a central character. In two, it was Lockhart, who offered comic relief. In three it was a werewolf. In four it was Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody, in five, Dolores Umbridge.

The really interesting thing about these teachers is that not a single one of them - aside from Moody (who actually wasn't Moody!) - ever taught a single thing about actual defense against the dark arts! I don't think Rowling ever said what Quirrell taught specifically, but if she did, I'm guessing it didn't amount to much. Lockhart was useless as a wizard, and in the only lesson we read about where he teaches, it's about magical creatures, not about dark arts defense, but out of all the teachers, he is in the end the only one who started the dueling club so wizards and witches could actually learn defense against the dark arts! How ironic is that?!

This magical creature study is a trend which Lupin continues when he teaches about magical creatures, not about dark arts defense. Harry does get privileged lessons about the patronus charm which is, I think the sole time any student gets a lesson about dark arts defense in the entire seven volume series - that is until Harry himself starts teaching (in secret) in volume five, but this is a complete joke, because Hermione is far more qualified in spells than ever Harry is, and Ginny is a more powerful spell caster, but the girls are given a back seat yet again by a female author of a young adult novel! Shame on Rowling!

About that patronus charm! Lupin is hesitant to teach and doubtful of Harry's ability to learn because, as he keeps repeating, this is extraordinarily advanced magic! But how is it advanced? In what way? The only 'secret' to doing magic that we ever learn in Rowling's books is that you need two things: utter a very short Latin phrase, and give a twitch of a stick! What's to learn, exactly?

Now we are told that the swish and flick are important, as is the pronunciation, but the lie to this claim is given repeatedly. Even Harry, even before he had any magical training or even knowledge that he was a wizard, could work magic without saying Latin, and without waving a stick as we saw during his trip to the zoo in volume one, and at the beginning of this volume where he inflates his uncle's sister. For neither of those events did he get a reprimand from the ministry.

In the books, we see wizards repeatedly perform magic without a wand and without vocalization, so clearly neither of those two activities is important. You can argue that pronunciation and focus are important even when the spell is spoken in your own mind, but Harry's experience denies this. It makes it look like anyone can do magic - even a non-magical person - which is what Umbridge seems to be claiming in volume seven when she's examining a Muggle witch right before HRH break into the ministry.

So I don't get what's advanced about the patronus charm. Lupin fails to actually teach Harry anything. He just tells him the almost obligatory two Latin words, reminds him to think of a good memory (but fails to tell him it has to be really good) and doesn't even say a word about how to swish and flick! When Harry fails twice in a row he's ready to give up. He offers no further advice on technique or pronunciation or anything except to urge the need to find a good memory (which begs the question as to which one Lupin uses if he's so miserable).

So I really honestly don't get any idea at all from Rowling as to how this is supposed to be advanced. We're expected to take it on faith, which is poor writing. It's odd, because she does such am amazing job of writing in other regards: such as in setting an atmosphere and in bringing scenes to life, yet when it comes to the central theme of the series - that of magic, she fails utterly to develop her world.

Harry's monkey on the back for this volume is, of course the dementors, which I openly admit are a pretty cool invention and another great name (Dudley Demented is a great chapter title in volume five!). What I don't get is how Harry's fainting on the train got to be school-wide news and an endless source of joking, yet Draco's farcical injury from Buckbeak got to be a real tragedy. Obviously Rowling wrote it that way, but it made no sense and bordered on the usual caricature - too much black and white and nowhere near enough gray.

Who even told the story? The only people in the cabin (in the novel) with Harry were Lupin, Ginny, Neville, Ron, and Hermione. One of them must have blabbed the story in order for it to have got out, but I find it hard to believe that any of those people would do so. And once again neither Dumbledore nor any other teacher came to Harry's rescue by addressing just what the dementors could do and how they did it, and why it affected some people so badly - to head off teasing and bullying. Once again the school staff is bordering on being outright abusive towards its students.

Harry's rule-breaking and sneaking around again pays off as he gets some inside info, and learns that not only is Sirius his godfather, but he's also the man who betrayed his parents to Voldemort - so it's believed. Of course, a simple dose of veritaserum would have cleared all of this up a dozen years ago, yet no one thought to administer it? Sirius cared so little for his godson that he was willing to do ten years in Azkaban rather than fight to gain his freedom so he could take care of Harry? Poor writing, Rowling!

Yet again the stupidity of the wizard world is revealed as they hand down the verdict - Buckbeak must die! How weird is it that no one thought to use the time-turner to go back and witness what actually happened? Instead they have a court case where they give evidence? This was just plainly stupid, yet this is the kind of fly-trap you set up for yourself when you write about these topics, and when you create a world where anything is possible, including time-travel. If you're not extremely careful, it traps you more effectively than any Devil's Snare could do!

Thinking that Buckbeak has now joined the headless hunt, the three kids wander off, and arrive at the whomping willow in time for Ron to be grabbed by the dog and launched into the tunnel. Here again, the plot hole is astoundingly large. Why did Sirius do that? Why did he not simply pull a petrificus totalus on Scabbers and then explain everything? Because the drama has to be drawn out! Rowling is nowhere near done making Harry a victim, and making him suffer and feel threatened in this novel yet, but this is an enormous fault in the writing.

Even in the Shrieking Shack, Sirius still fails to identify who it is he's after. Despite having everything to prove Sirius innocent, they manage to still blow it, and Scabbers escapes. Not a one of them seems to be able to pull out the petrificus totalus spell for no other reason than that Rowling chose to write it this way. The same goes for failing to reuse the time-turner to go back and grab the Scab.

The time-travel was fun, though. It's always a good time when people have to avoid themselves. And once again, despite all the holes and problems, Rowling told a gripping story which drew in her audience and locked them in for another four volumes!

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (index)

Surprisingly, about half the Potter books begin without Harry taking the stage immediately. This is one of them. Voldemort is now forced to live a miserable existence as some unspecified hobgoblin creature drinking Nagini's "milk" (since snakes are not mammals, one can only assume this means venom), being attended upon by Peter Pettigrew, aka Wormtail. He kills Frank Bryce, the old man who tends the grounds, and Harry sees this in a dream but soon (and inexplicably, I might add!) forgets the details.

Usually the opening sequence is to jump to Harry (or after a digression, jump to him, and share his misery at being under the thumb of the Dursleys at 4 Privet drive, but here we quickly get to his traveling with the Weasleys to the quidditch world cup, this year between Ireland and Bulgaria. I have to say I wonder why Rowling added all these details. I'm guessing she felt secure enough at this point that she could pretty much do whatever she wanted, and this time indulged herself in a flight of fancy showing all manner of aspects of her wizard world which had hitherto been only notes in a book somewhere. This isn't the longest book in the heptalogy - it just feels like it is.

The problem with this for me was that it makes the book rather tedious and in places, downright boring. Reading the book through once isn't so bad, but when you come back to it for review purposes as I did here, and listened to seventeen audio disks, it's a bit much, even with Jim Dale's inventive and charming voice.

Established writers can get away with endless, mindless rambling unfortunately (Stephen King I'm looking at you). New writers cannot. Indeed, they're censured for it. What this book needed was a fearless editor. Hermione's ill-conceived (by Rowling) digression into saving the elves, for example, could have been omitted completely without the book suffering one iota.

The film makers chose to eliminate all mention of house elves (notably, Winky and Dobby) from this story, so we never get to see a female house elf in the movies, but that said, Rowling pursued the elf component so aggressively in this unnecessarily long novel. It was a bad idea to have Hermione start her own organization, which had the ridiculous initials SPEW. I cannot believe Hermione would ever have come up with a dumb acronym like that. It's an insult to her intelligence to suggest she would, so I didn't get Rowling's thinking here, or her apparent desire to make Hermione the butt of a joke. It detracted both from the character's intelligence and sensitivity, and from the goal she was pursuing here, and it was belittling and demeaning both.

The quidditch world cup was more understandable, but it served little purpose other than to make wizards look really stupid. The death eaters show up and for some reason, even though the decent wizards outnumber them overwhelmingly, they seem to dominate and rule the aftermath, running riot in the camp site and sending up the "Dark Lord's mark" into the sky. Poor Winky is set-up using Harry's wand, and she never recovers from it.

On the topic of wands, I don't get Harry's starkly highlighted carelessness demonstrated in this novel in his losing his wand, and later in his evident lack of care for it which is noted right before it's examined by Olivander. Contrast that with Harry's almost fetishized pining for it when it gets broken in volume seven and you'll see the inconsistency. Plot problems are rife in this series when it comes to wands, and how they work and why they're needed.

Once again at Hogwarts, there's a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, and once again we get absolutely no explanation whatsoever for why Snape, the best qualified teacher for it, isn't given the position. Oddly, the fake Moody ends-up being the best dark Arts teacher they've had to this point! Certainly he's the only one who has actually taught them about dark arts, which is hilarious given who he really is.

The big announcement though, is that Hogwarts will host the Triwizard Tournament - a battle of skill and wits between representative wizards from each of three wizarding schools: Beauxbatons (French for beautiful wands - and which contrary to popular view and to the movie presentation, is not a school solely for girls!), Durmstrang (a mix up of the German words for storm - sturm - and penetrated - drang), and Hogwarts (an English word meaning a pig with malignant skin growths...!).

Why Rowling chose to use German words for a Bulgarian school goes unexplained. Maybe it's because no one would be able to read буря проникнали? Why the tournament has been resurrected this year after two centuries of neglect is also a mystery, but it makes for a fun story and puts Harry in grave peril again, so what's not to like?! Harry is of course selected even though he's ineligible. How that works is a mystery. The three real candidates are Fleur Delacour (French for flower of the heart), Viktor Krum, and Cedric Diggory.

This not only puts Harry at risk for the tournament, but also drives a wedge between him and Ron, who inexplicably thinks that Harry is showing-off and has put his own name in the goblet. The first task, Harry learns involves dragons. Harry very kindly alerts Cedric since he assumes that both the French and Bulgarian candidates will know, but this alert serves only to make Harry look generous. It effectively benefits Cedric not at all since none of them know what they have to actually do. The big plot hole here is the fact that these fire-breathing dragons are confined behind wooden fences! Seriously? Was the editor sleeping Was Rowling?

Harry is revealed repeatedly as a poor student throughout this series, which to me is inexplicable given how thrilled he initially was to find himself a wizard and a student at a magic school, and how much he adores the school. He's really poor at doing homework, he shows absolutely no interest whatsoever in learning anything about magical history or in talking to the ghosts to find out about their world and maybe, in turn, something about where his parents are now.

He's never shown questioning other witches and wizards, and especially not the teachers, about their lives and their powers. Actually, he's downright disrespectful to the teachers to the point of outright rudeness, as is shown when he demands from Grubbly Plank where Hagrid is at one point in this story. In short, Harry Potter is something of a jerk and a slacker.

He only shows interest in the summoning charm (accio) when he is kicked in the butt by Moody to play to his strengths. Why would he not want to learn a summoning charm for its own sake? Imagine how useful that would be! Yet she shows no interest in it until he realizes it might save his life. Likewise he shows zero interest in any other useful spells. Not that the school teaches them. It seems to me the first order of business should be to teach children the defensive and the healing spells, but we know by now how incompetent both the school faculty and its headmaster are.

The shameful incompetence of Dumbledore is highlighted quite starkly here as Rita Skeeter (in her animagus guise of a mosquito, hence her name) comes and goes from the school with complete impunity. Recall only the year before, an animagus (Sirius Black) was able to come and go as he pleased, yet Dumbledore has done the cube root of diddly squat to set up magical barriers to prevent this ever happening again. I actually agree with Malfoy that Dumbledore is the worst wizard at Hogwarts!

More than this, Skeeter is publishing all kinds of scandal about the school and Dumbledore does nothing - not even writing a letter of complaint to the newspaper! I have to say I agreed with Skeeter in her assessment of Hagrid. I never really liked him, so I am a bit biased, but she is correct in drawing attention to how ill-advised Hagrid is in bringing dangerous animals into his classes.

The Yule ball seemed to me to be another example of where Rowling lards up this story, as though she was loathe to leave out any details from her wizarding world notes. In this case, however, it wasn't one which was so far out of the way that it stuck out like a sore thumb, but it definitely could have had less acreage devoted to it. The thing here which really bothered me was Ron's formal "robes".

These robes are antiquated and they smell, yet Ron and his parents are magicians! Why can they not magic a fix? He can't make them like new? He can't remove the smell? He can't remove the embarrassing lace? His mom, who can beat Bellatrix Lestrange without breaking a sweat, can't transform an old set of school robes into formal robes? She can't transform his old robes into new robes that fit him? None of this makes any sense and is yet another example of Rowling idly and simply laying a very thin magic veneer over the real world. It's so thin it's full of holes and she makes very little attempt to have it make sense.

Rowling is obsessed with robes, as it happens. Everyone wears them even when it's not actually necessary. For example, at one point, Skeeter is described as wearing bright yellow robes whereas in the movie she wears regular clothes. Why wouldn't wizards wear regular clothes? Why would muggle clothes be such a mystery to them unless they really are profoundly stupid people?

Ron and Harry are downright jerks towards Parvati and Padma Patil, yet this is supposed to be funny. I found that a bit strange to say the least, but not as strange has the two of them not having been asked to the ball before Ron and Harry ever got around to it. The worst part here though is Harry's anger management problem. He's upset over Cedric taking Cho Chang to the ball, and so once again he proves what a lousy student he is by virtually ignoring Cedric's advice to listen to the egg in the bathroom. Moron!

I don't get why, in volume 5, Harry is assigned to special ed occlumency classes, but he is never once directed to anger management, which causes him far more problems than failing to block Voldemort ever does. In fact Voldemort's failure to capitalize on his access to Harry is totally inexplicable, but let's consider occlumency. Why only Harry? It seems to me that occlumency should have been job one on day one in Defense Against the Dark Arts classes, yet it's never taught! Again, a huge hole!

At the last minute (his usual habit) Harry finally gets to the bathroom and listens to the clue under water, but he fails to find a spell to help him to breathe until Dobby comes up with the gillyweed. Why this had to be done in secret is a mystery. He should have been able to ask for it. Why Snape has no protections on his stores to prevent theft is a bigger mystery, though! Another plot hole. But once again Harry fails to follow instructions and is rewarded for it - being tied with Cedric - again.

One thing I was annoyed with in the movie was what short shrift the maze got. The book has some, dare I say it, amazing things in the maze and yet we get nothing in the movie save for Harry running around blindly. The secret to getting to the middle and back out again in a maze, is to keep one hand on one of the walls and follow that wall. It will inevitably lead you into the middle and bring you safely out. No need for Hermione's magic.

Of course this doesn't help in a magical maze if the walls are moving, which begs the question as to how they would ever be expected to find the middle. Hermione's brilliance comes to the fore here when she presents Harry with a compass spell, but this begs the question: is this honestly the same 'genius' who came up with SPEW?! How the hell Harry ever got to be called a great wizard is as much of a complete mystery as to how Hermione did not!

We all know what happens next - the Triwizard cup is a port key and Voldemort is back! The big plot hole at the end is once again Voldemort's blindness regarding Snape, who gave veritaserum to Barty Crouch Jr. How can Voldemort even remotely trust him? But here you have it one more time - despite all these writing problems, Rowling once again hit the best-seller list and kept her readers glued.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (index)

This novel is my favorite of all the seven in this series, but I still had issues with it, including boredom from reading parts that I had found passable the first time through. The biggest one is what a jerk both Harry and Dumbledore are, Dumbledore for treating Harry like crap and Harry for being such a fly-off-the-handle sore-head.

The novel starts with Harry at "home" with the ridiculous caricatured aunt, uncle, and Dudley. This is the one where Harry treats Dudley like crap, ragging on him and taunting him. In some ways it's understandable given the way he's been treated, but frankly it makes Harry look like a jerk and a bully.

In the first chapter, amusingly titled "Dudley Demented" and on the way home one evening, they encounter the dementors in an alley. This is handled better in the movie, where the encounter occurs in a claustrophobic pedestrian underpass, than in the novel, where it's in an alley. I prefer the way Harry deals with the second dementor, too, sweeping his wand so his patronus charges the length of the tunnel to rescue Dudley.

In the book, Harry actually talks to it, telling it to go get the dementor, and it obeys him, which is intriguing. The patronus isn't really talked about at all in the books - not in any detail about what it is or whence it really comes, but this suggests that it actually is an intelligent life form, which begs a whole host of questions (half a host I find to be entirely insufficient on most occasions).

The really interesting thing here is that the wizard who was supposed to be shadowing Harry (unknown to Harry himself at the time) was Mundungus, who took off after a criminal deal, deserting his post. There are two major issues with this. The first is that given how criminally useless "Dung" is here, why oh why is he picked to be one of the six Harry impersonators in volume seven? It makes no sense at all except to kill off yet another person in Harry's life, which Rowling has been resolutely undertaking since volume one!

The other issue is one I've raised before and I'm sure I'll raise again: why would Dung even care about a bunch of "cauldrons that fell off the back of a broom"? He's a magician. He can magic into place anything he wants. Why would he be a criminal?

It makes no sense at all except that Rowling is still making the same errors here as she has made in every volume since the first: she's trying to create a magical world, but is making it exactly like our own world with the sole exception of the magic - and the level of stupid. This is nonsensical when you think about it, so most people choose not to - as do I when I want to enjoy the stories, but when you do give it some thought, you realize how wrong it all is from the perspective of writing an intelligent novel.

Harry arrives home and immediately get his letter from the ministry telling him that he's expelled from Hogwarts because of his illegal use of under-age magic. This is without trial, and without even an investigation,. Guilt is presumed, not innocent until proved guilty. Who would even want to live under a totalitarian system like that? How could they even enforce it in a magical world?

This "Big Brother" portrayal of the ministry is one which Rowling avails herself of more than once in this book, and it's also shown in the movie by the huge image of Cornelius Fudge, the minister of Magic, looking down ominously on everyone in the main hall of the ministry when Harry goes in for his trial.

The problem here is that it shows the witch and wizard community once again to be bastards and morons. There was no investigation of Harry, much less a trial, and he's been expelled? People might try to argue that this is something new, brought on by the suspicion and paranoia arising from Harry's revelation that Voldemort was back in the previous volume, but it's merely a continuance of the stupidity, ignorance and paranoia that has been a marked trait of witches and wizards throughout the series.

The escorting of Harry to Grimmauld Place is an unnecessary preview of the escape depicted in volume seven. Harry has been wandering around his neighborhood for two months and no one has bothered him at all, yet it's suddenly thought necessary to have an escort of aurors and senior wizards and take an circuitous route to Sirius's London home, now HQ for the Order of the Phoenix?

I don't really get the shouting portrait of Sirius's grandmother, or whoever she was. So the sticking charm couldn't be undone (not even by the greatest wizard ever?!), then why not try some spells on it - such as bombarda or scourgify? Or muffliato? Or just get some noise-dampening fabric, add a dampening spell to it, and stick it permanently to the picture? No reason except that Rowling chose not to, thereby making the wizards and witches there look inept and clueless.

Sirius is chomping at the bit, feeling useless and desperate to get involved, which is Rowling's way of setting him up for his death which Harry alone causes and is responsible for due to his stupidity, hot temper, and propensity for precipitous action. The problem is that Sirius could have done all kinds of things. He could have been out killing off death eaters, for example. So what if the bad guys know he's an animagus? How are they going to tell which black dog he is out of all the black dogs out there?

He could have been looking for horcruxes. He could have gone to talk to the giants with or without Hagrid the clown. He could have been spying on the death eaters using Harry's cloak of invisibility. He could have been recruiting people to the cause. He could have been boning-up on advanced magic to make himself a much better magician and much less of a victim waiting to happen. There were scores of things he could have done but chose not to. I don't want to hear his self-obsessed whining.

Dumbledore's colossal failure with Harry is blatantly obvious here. All he - or anyone at Grimmauld Place - had to do was tell Harry that Voldemort could read his mind and this was why he was being kept out of the loop, but not a single one of these dipshits has the smarts to say this one simple thing to him. The inability of people to say simple things to one another - to communicate - is rife in this series and is such a contrived method of plotting that it's actually plodding.

Dumbledore is a complete jerk, as his atrocious behavior towards Harry at his trial demonstrates handsomely. Dumbledore could have brought Harry to Grimmauld place and started his occlumency training at any time after school was out (as could Sirius), but he stupidly left it to the person Harry hated most, who also hates Harry the most, to do this when he returns to Hogwarts. How brain-dead dumb can you get?

When he gets to school, instead of keeping his head down and working on learning how to be the best wizard he can so he can face the evil that's out there, Harry once again proves himself to be an idiot, a slacker, and a loser. This is how he gets detention with the sadist Dolores Umbridge. Harry could have fixed this accusation of his lying about Voldemort's return by suggesting he be tested with veritaserum in front of the whole school, but he's too dumb to think of it, as evidently, is the entire magical community. They could have taken a time-turner and gone back to the graveyard to spy on events, but they're too profoundly stupid to think of that, too.

Instead he mouths-off in class and gets detention with Umbridge where she literally tortures him, and then he's too stupid to complain and get her thrown out of the school! No one in this entire series is as stupid as The Chosen One! even Hermione fails him be refusing to report this torture. She could have had Umbridge thrown out of the school, but no.

Umbridge's poor teaching results in "Dumbledore's Army", but the sorry thing is that not a single one of the Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers ever actually taught any defense against anything. The closest we came was with Lockhart's dueling club, which actually didn't teach anything during its short life.

Harry's blind stupidity gets him into trouble again when he shows what a lousy and stupid student he is and makes no effort whatsoever at occlumency. Why this was not lesson one, day one, in the first year of school is a complete and utter mystery, but let's face it, Hogwarts truly was a really lousy school and the teachers utterly clueless.

Instead of dealing with Umbridge's insanity, Dumbledore runs away, leaving the kids completely abandoned. Harry, because of his habit of sticking his nose into other people's private business, is thrown out of Snape's private occlumency classes, and then outright lies about it to Hermione. This results directly in him effectively murdering his own godfather by failing to grasp that Voldemort has pulled one over on him. He rushes off to the ministry without telling anyone, necessitating a rescue by the Order, and Sirius's death. Harry failed in a second way to prevent this death, too, as we shall see.

I really loved the fight in the ministry between the Death eaters and harry's gang, but looked at from a dispassionate point of view, it really was the most ridiculous and pathetic piece of writing. There are what, twenty Death Eaters to six fifth year students. The Death Eaters have nothing to lose. They supposedly have no qualms about killing people - as we are repeatedly told - yet not one of them hits any of the six with an avada kadavra spell! Instead they are doing ridiculous joke spells such as first years learn!

The Death Eaters had the element of surprise. All they had to do was hit the students with five avadas, a petrificus on Harry, and an accio orb, and they were done, yet there's this asinine chase through the ministry, and the absurd thing is that the students are winning. Not one of them gets seriously hurt.

Despite the fact that they repeatedly win duels with the Death Eaters, never once does Harry's team even take their wands. Had they broken the wands immediately after stunning the death Eaters, and hit them with multiple follow-up curses to really put them out of the game, they would not have left the order members so many of them left to fight, all armed with pristine wands. Again, Harry's defense against the dark arts failed. But of course Rowling could not write this realistically because all six of the students would have died and there would never have been any million selling sequels!

The saddest thing about this volume was that it all centered on a useless prophecy about Harry. The prophecy was, like all prophecies, Biblical, fictional or whatever, completely useless, and gave nothing to anyone. If it had been destroyed as soon as it was realized that Voldemort sought it, the problem would have been averted - but of course there would have been no story, just as with the Philosopher's stone. Had Dumbledore told Harry this is what Voldemort was after and warned him not to go anywhere near it, the crisis would have been averted, but of course there would have been no story.

The rule that Harry was the only one who could get it made no sense. What did that mean - he was the only one who could hear it? Who could lift it off the shelf? Who could carry it away? Who could understand it? it seems like the only one of these rules that applied was physically lifting it off the shelf. Clearly he could have given it to the Death Eaters once he took it off the shelf. Even had Voldemort heard it, it would have made no difference, so putrid a prophecy was it - like all so-called prophecies. He was out to kill Harry anyway, so it made no difference to anything.

This book had the most pathetic plot ever! And still Rowling made a best seller of it - or rather, her desperate readers did. despite all the problems I had with it, I still enjoyed reading it, especially the battle at the end. I love that kind of thing, but I must admit even when I read this the first time I was rather disappointed in the execution there.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (index)

This is another Harry Potter novel that opens with no Harry Potter in sight to begin with. This is also the novel which Rowling herself felt best about in the entire series from what I've read: the one which she liked the most, and which she spent a lot more time in planning, having learned a lesson from the difficulties she had with volume four, which necessitated an extensive rewrite.

This time we get Bellatrix Lestrange, arguably the most powerful witch in the entire seven volume series (aside from Molly Weasley, of course!), and her kid sister Narcissa Malfoy apparating to a location close to where Severus Snape lives in a rather run-down neighborhood. Why they don't apparate somewhat closer to his house than they do is slightly mysterious, but I guess you can explain that away by their desire to remain unobserved by Muggles, but this begs the question as to why they would even care.

It's a rather bigger mystery as to why Wormtail is staying with Snape. Draco Malfoy has evidently been tasked by Voldemort with working on a cabinet hidden away in the Room of requirement. This cabinet has a twin in the Borgin and Burkes dark magic shop off Diagon Alley, which Harry encountered in Chamber of Secrets - another example of Rowling's intensive long-range planning of her seven book series. Death Eaters plan on using this to get into Hogwarts. Why? Seriously, why?

The ostensible plan is to murder Dumbledore, but they could have done that at any time. Throughout their entire novel, Dumbledore is traveling, it would not have been hard for the death eaters to track him down and "do him", but once again we're locked into Rowling's one-year plan, so to kill him off earlier would have failed her scheme of things, but this still fails to explain why Dumbledore was considered so far advanced beyond any other wizard in his power that he was the only threat to Voldemort. I find it hard to credit that out all the witches and wizards on the planet, there was quite literally no other wizard even approaching Dumbledore in power, and who was also a good person. It beggars belief.

Evidently Draco is now a Death-Eater and getting others into Hogwarts, and killing Dumbledore, is how he will prove himself. Why get Death-Eaters in if Draco is going to kill Dumbledore? They did nothing when they arrived so what was the point? The main problem is two-fold here, from what I can see. First of all, why Draco? Snape is already there. He could let Death-Eaters in any time he wanted. If they absolutely have to use the cabinet, he could have fixed it and presumably far faster than Draco did. So why Draco? I have no idea except that once again we're writing to formula instead of to a realistic plot pace and authenticity, and so we have the adventure play out over an entire school year and employ one of Harry's rivals rather than an adult.

The second issue is: why would anyone actually want to join Voldemort? They're wizards. They can do and have anything they want, quite literally, so where is the impetus to subjugate themselves to a psychotic wizard? Voldemort's motivation is criminal, but at least he has one. He wants to dominate the Muggles, kill-off the "half-breeds" and rule the rest, but to what end? He's no better off then than he is as a plain, ordinary wizard, and he has the added headache of all that responsibility! It makes no sense, but then Voldemort didn't have to.

Voldemort doesn't need a goal since he's completely loony tunes, but you would think others do. I mean there would no doubt be other psychos who would join him because like attracts like, but this fails to explain why so many people would actually volunteer for his crusade. What would it net them that they don't have already? It's the same problem with some of the James Bond stories. Why would criminal "masterminds" spend billions to set up something which would only serve at best to recoup the billions they've spent? None of it makes any sense!

Harry appears when Dumbledore once again uses him in much the same way, since we've already made the comparison, that 'M' employs James Bond: as a blunt instrument to achieve his ends, but at least Bond gets the facts; Harry never does! In this case, the job is to recruit Horace Slughorn as potions master, yet we never learn why Dumbledore was so obsessed with hiring Slughorn. Yes, Slughorn had this knowledge about what Voldemort was up to way back when, but Dumbledore could just as readily have got that by doing some magic on him and reading his mind. This elaborate farce was nonsensical.

The bigger question is why didn't Dumbledore, who himself dabbled in the dark arts when he was younger, already know about horcruxes? It beggars belief to think he would be ignorant, given his history. Besides at this point, Dumbledore already knows that Voldemort has made horcruxes. So we have this whole story built around retrieving information from a character which ultimately tells us nothing that we didn't know already. The most crucial piece of information was how many horcruxes Voldemort had made. This was the key to defeating him since every one of them evidently has to be destroyed, but Slughorn did not have that knowledge. The simple use of a time-turner would have been ideal for tracking Voldemort's actions, and identifying the horcruxes and their secret locations, yet never once is this put forward as a solution! Plot hole!

It's a bit obvious from the start that the potions book which Harry gets hold of belonged to Snape and that, therefore, he had to be the Half-Blood Prince, and who cares anyway? It's not like unraveling this "mystery" actually solved any dark problem or brought any evil-doers to book. I think this is why I disliked this book perhaps more than even Goblet of Fire (although the two are close!). It really wasn't a story like the others were, it was more like six hundred pages of exposition. And Rowling got away with it!

And what about the staff shuffle? Suddenly, Snape is now absolutely fine as the teacher of the Defense Against the Dark Arts class? Why now after sixteen years is it perfectly fine to give him the job he's most qualified for, but not at any time prior to this? Again, Rowling offers absolutely no explanation whatsoever for this. Plot hole!

Why Hermione gets so angry with Harry is a bit of a mystery, too. Yes, she has a valid concern about his use of the half Blood Prince's potion-preparing tips, but to get so bent out of shape is overkill. It's a school text book, not a dark arts book, and the tips work. Besides, how come she didn't simply come up with a spell to show who used that book over the years? She was always magically on top of things at other times, why not now? She does pull out a spell to test if for dark influences, but she never thinks about tracing its history? Again Hermione is made to look dumb.

His newfound 'facility' with potions does help win him the bottle of Felix Felicis, and it's cool how he tricks Ron into thinking he got lucky in quidditch, but the fact that Harry's sudden excellence in potions trips no one's alarm bell is a complete mystery. Wouldn't McGonagle have wondered, even vaguely, how a poor student - which is, let's face it, what Harry was at best - could have risen to brilliance over the course of one summer with no practice? Once again wizards and witches are shown to be amazingly blind and stupid. And what's with Harry's "acceptable" being unacceptable for pursuing a higher education? The scoring system makes no sense!

In this volume, Dumbledore suddenly has time for Harry, but he still won't tell him what's really going on. Once again, Dumbledore is shown to be a complete a jerk - and a moron, too. So his hand is cursed - so what? Cut it off. This is never put forward as an option, not even to shoot it down with some magical explanation. It's merely left hanging there which again makes wizards and witches look clueless and inept. And if this is a deadly spell, why isn't it included along with the other unforgivable curses?!

We do get to see some interesting history and enjoy the pensive once again, which I always thought was cool in the movies, although if they were a person's memory, it was completely ridiculous that we never saw the imagery from that person's PoV. This is a mistake made frequently when exploring memory, but it's really, really bad in Rowling's case. If it was person X's memory, then that memory would never show person X from a third person perspective. And what's with the idiotic Muggle clothing - the guy wears a one piece swimsuit under an overcoat? Where did he even get that idea? This merely serves to highlight how profoundly stupid and moronic the wizards and witches are in Rowling's world. It's not even funny.

We learn, during the course of these visits, that there are at least three horcruxes, two of which are already destroyed. The first was down to Harry stabbing Tom Riddle's diary with a basilisk fang in Chamber of Secrets and the second was Dumbledore's sole contribution to bringing down Voldemort. He destroyed the locket at the cost of his own life - or more accurately at the cost of his own pointless death, but he never once explains to Harry how to destroy the horcruxes, verifying yet again what a swine Dumbledore truly was. None of this tells them how many more horcruxes Voldemort has created or where they are - so how does Dumbeldore know that four remain? (There are actually five, but once again he's lying to Harry about that because he's a manipulative a jerk).

It's in this volume that Ron and Hermione finally hook up, although what she sees in him is a complete mystery. Harry also gets it on with Ginny, who's had the hots for him since volume one, according to Ron, but none of this really goes anywhere or contributes anything to this story.

Dumbledore shows what a weak wizard he is by being utterly unable to figure any way around the potion guarding the locket. He couldn't get an inferi to drink it? He couldn't magically line his alimentary canal to prevent harm, and drink it himself? Clearly Voldemort here has defeated the supposed most power wizard in the world. This is the price of Rowling's determination o weaken and kill off Dumbledore, but it makes him look stupid again. He has to be killed off at any price, so there you go.

One thing I never did get at the end was why the movie people changed Rowling's original story. In the book, Dumbledore freezes Harry (who is hidden under his invisibility cloak) and he literally cannot do a thing, yet the movie has him hiding one floor below the top of the tower, where he could have helped, but failed to do so. In short, the movie made Harry look like a coward and a loser, which is completely adrift from how the book had portrayed him. Go figure! I don't get why Rowling allowed them to get away with such an abusive change to her story.

This is how Harry gets to see Draco disarming Dumbledore, and thereby unknowingly taking possession of the Elder wand, before Snape comes up and carries out Dumbledore's instruction to kill him. It's also here that Harry proves himself once again to be a self-centered jerk when he abandons Ginny, who is fighting for her life, in his blind-rage pursuit of Snape. He could have donned his invisibility cloak and taken down several of the Death-Eaters, but he fled the scene, ignored the needs of his supposed friends and the Order of the Phoenix members, and ran away. Jerk.

Harry also shows how weak of a wizard he is - and this is the year after he has been teaching "defense against the dark arts" to students - as he fails to get Snape, but this isn't even the most inexplicable thing here! We have Death-Eaters in the castle, and they have a chance to wreak havoc, yet instead of firing Avada Kadavra killing curses, destroying everything in sight, and perhaps unleashing fiend fire into the school, they're using pathetic high-school level jinxes? Clearly Rowling didn't want to kill off scores of her reader's favorite characters here, but this is a massive plot hole, every bit as big as the one in Order of the Phoenix, where they previously failed to kill anyone.

These are supposed to be death eaters - feared and deadly, dangerous and remorseless, yet every time we encounter them, all they ever do is vomit up weak as weasel-piss amateur magic. Where the hell did they ever get their reputation?! I consider this a major failing on Rowling's part. I can see how she wouldn't want this kind of thing in the very earliest volumes, but these kids are now fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, and yet she still offers us no more danger than she did in volume one!

So the story ends with an unnecessarily dead Dumbledore, and HRH vowing to destroy Voldemort by eradicating all his horcruxes. This, for me, was the most boring book in the series maybe in competition with Goblet, yet it still got a story told and kept my interest in following the series.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (index)

This tome (or even tomb) is the last of the series of course, and finally brings the much-awaited confrontation between Tom, Dick, and Harry - except there's no Dick. What happened to him? No one knows! So it's just Tom Riddle and Harry Potter, but it takes hundreds of pages before we actually get there. For me it's between this and volume five as to which is my favorite of the whole series. The part I like the most is the "road trip" where the three main characters go on the run, camping out in the wilds, enduring a horrible winter, alone and almost rudderless, as they try to figure out where the horcruxes are, and how to get them and destroy them.

The story is quite gripping, and very seductive. The death toll rises rather disturbingly right after we begin with the seven Harry Potters flying out of Privet Drive. Six of his friends and acquaintances drink poly-juice potion so they look like Harry, of course, but why Mundungus Fletcher was included is a complete mystery since he's totally unreliable. How he ever got into the order is an equal mystery. There was no reason that it had to be specifically seven people, so clearly it was done for no other reason than to kill off Mad-Eye Moody. And this volume is all about sevens, isn't it?! Seven Harrys. Seven horcruxes. Sven important deaths: Mad-Eye, Hedwig, Dobby, Remus, Tonks, George, and finally, Voldemort.

The seven Harry pairings were thus:

  • Alastair "Mad-Eye" Moody
  • Mundungus Fletcher
  • Arthur Weasley
  • Fred Weasley
  • Bill Weasley
  • Fleur de la Coeur
  • Kingsley Shacklebolt
  • Hermione Granger
  • Nymphadora Tonks
  • Ron Weasley
  • Remus Lupin
  • George Weasley
  • Rubeus Hagrid
  • Harry Potter

The seven horcrux repositories were these:

  • Tom Riddle's Diary - destroyed by Harry with a basilisk fang in book 2
  • Marvolo Gaunt's Ring destroyed by Dumbledore (with the sword of Gryffindor?)
  • Salazar Slytherin's Locket destroyed with the sword
  • Helga Hufflepuff's Goblet destroyed with a basilisk fang
  • Rowena Ravenclaw's Diadem destroyed by fiend fire
  • Tom Riddle's familiar: Nagini killed by Neville with the sword
  • Harry Potter himself, killed by Voldemort himself

My question about the seven porters and their escorts is: Why didn't they all apparate (to the vicinity of their destination) soon as they saw the death-eaters, and then fly through the protections? This is a huge mystery. So what if they were traced - they were traced by the chasing death eaters anyway! Clearly it was all done for pure drama but it made little sense.

Mad-Eye is inexplicably paired with Mundungus for the transition. The 'logic' here supposedly was that the death eaters would think that the most powerful wizard, Alastair Moody, would be the one protecting Harry, so why did they pair the weakest wizard with him, impersonating Harry? Why not put another really strong wizard there? It would seem that Rowling had decided to kill-off Moody and nothing was going to get in her way, so both Moody and Hedwig were lost, and Harry's ever-growing isolation was maintained at a rolling boil.

I also have to ask why there are always more death-eaters than ever there are good wizards and witches? The story makes it look like it's just a pitiful handful of folks in the order, and in the final stand at Hogwarts, and endless thousands of evil villains. Yes, in a situation like this there would always be more selfish than selfless, but by those proportions?

It seemed unrealistic because it strongly suggests that the overwhelming majority of witches and wizards were either evil or were cowards, which is nonsensical. It makes it look like there was barely another magician in the entire world who had a decent bone in their body. I don't buy that. It's a case of a writer focusing very tightly on a small handful of people and either forgetting or disregarding reality for the sake of making a point

I thought it was interesting how Rowling modeled the take-over of Voldemort's supporters on the rise of the Nazis under Hitler in the nineteen-thirties, but it's sad that she depicted people being just as blinkered and stupid now as they were back them - overlooking or ignoring or being blind to what was really going on, and being utterly unable to fight back even when they knew. Rather a lot of this series depended upon those qualities though, all designed (or ignored) for the purpose of bringing about that final confrontation at Hogwarts between Tom and Harry.

I mean seriously, when you think about it, all that needed to be done at the end was to have someone apparate behind Voldemort and perform a quick avada kadavra (another cool name - perhaps the coolest spell of all the ones Rowling invented). For that matter, why not have seven wizards apparate behind him and perform seven avadas, one to kill each of his horcruxes? If one worked on Harry, then shouldn't seven kill Voldemort? Why didn't avada work directly on the horcruxes for that matter? It was never tried.

Given how quickly and easily the protections on the Burrow fail when the ministry falls makes me wonder what the use was of the protections at all. Recall it wasn't just the ministry who provided the protections. The order did also. How did everything fail so quickly and comprehensively as soon as the ministry fell? Was the magic somehow tied to the ministry? There's no explanation given for this. Even if the fall of the ministry allowed the evil side to figure out what the protections were, that shouldn't mean they could beat them so readily, otherwise what was the point of applying them?!

If the protections were so weak, how come Voldemort couldn't defeat them that night when Harry fled Privet drive for the Tonks's residence? Exactly how did the fall of the ministry weaken the protections - especially the ones which the order applied? None of this was explained, much less made any sense at all, but it did make for a very dramatic appearance of Kingsley's patronus at the wedding, a panic, and a sudden flight for Harry, Hermione, and Ron.

Of course, if these so-called protections were of the weak-as-weasel-piss variety that was given to the sorcerer's stone in volume one, it's no surprise that they fell. It begs the question as to why Harry wasn't secreted at a location protected by the fidelius charm - as was 12 Grimmauld Place. Plot holes and weaknesses! Plot holes and weaknesses!

The wisdom of Dumbledore telling only Harry about the horcruxes is highly suspect. If he trusted Snape, why not have Snape seek them out? If he trusted the other members of the order, why not tell each of them? Sirius Black was on the run for two years before he died. Why didn't Dumbledore set him on the task of finding the horcruxes? Clearly it was because it had to be Harry all the way, but this was still a weakness in the story. It could just as easily have been written in a way that made it clear that Harry was the only one who could find them because of his link with Voldemort.

After a brief spell in Tottenham Court Road, the three travelers resort to hiding out at Sirius Black's (now Harry's) residence in Grimmauld Place, but how is this secure? Again Rowling's inability to set Snape down on one side or the other of this war is what trips the story up. If Snape knew where it was, then why did he not tell Voldemort and his followers? If Sirius's will made it clear that Harry owned the house, and the address was known, how come the Death eaters on guard outside couldn't see it? How come neither Nigellus Black nor any of the other Black family members in those portraits ever revealed the fact that the trio was in residence there? Plot holes!

After too much time passes, the three finally come-up with a plan to retrieve the locket from Dolores Umbridge which is a fun and exciting adventure and starts to build the Harry Potter rebel-on-the-run legend. The problem is that once they possess it, they can't figure out how to destroy it. They do at one point discuss the value of the basilisk fang, but they can't figure out how to get one. Plot hole! Why not have Dobby (or even Kreacher, after he became loyal to Harry) apparate into Hogwarts, grab a few fangs, and return with them? Obviously because the tension has to build, the fights have to ensue, the hopelessness has to make itself felt, before the downhill ride towards certain victory can take place, but it's still a plot hole.

This same solution applies to retrieving the goblet from Gringotts (another great name!). Why can't elves simply apparate into and out of there? Maybe the goblin magic was stronger than elf magic, but elves seem to be able to get anywhere - even "lowly" house elves - so why not there? Again because it would have robbed the story of a rather cool escapade in which the trio could be immersed - a robbery and a dramatic escape on a dragon.

Another issue is the depressing effect of carrying that locket. Why do they do this? It's not necessary. They could simply keep it in Hermione's bag, or wrap it in some sort of charm, but again it's necessary to the story to have the tension and dissension and the disruption, although why Rowling felt it necessary to split Ron away and leave Harry and Hermione together is a mystery.

At a later date Rowling suggested that she'd made a mistake in pairing Hermione with Ron. It should have been Harry and Hermione, she said, but that would have paired Ginny with Ron, which would have been completely out of the question! I think she made the right choice to do it as she did. Pairing Ginny with Harry was an enlightened choice. They simply seemed to fit, and Ginny was a very powerful witch in her own right. We saw nowhere near enough of her in the story, but keeping her romance with Harry largely out of it was a wise decision.

Another option would, of course, have been pairing Luna and Harry since they did seem to bond. I'd like to recommend to Rowling that when she revisits the Potter world, as she inevitably must, that she follow Luna on some adventures! That said, it seems odd that the death eaters would hold Luna Lovegood hostage in volume 7. She really had no tight connection to the Harry-Hermione-Ron triumvirate. Yes, she was in the big fight in volume five, but she never really was part of the Harry entourage like the others (and even Ginny and Neville) were, so the connection/imprisonment felt a bit forced and odd to me.

I don't get the deal with Snape delivering the sword of Godric Gryffindor to Harry. How did he even know where Harry was? We were told that no one can trace those who apparate. If he knew where Harry was, then why didn't he betray him? Whose side is he on? If he's on Dumbledore's/Harry's, then why so hostile to Harry and helpful to Voldemort? If he's on Voldemort's then why so helpful to Dumbledore and Harry? None of this made sense. His loyalty to Lily certainly didn't extend to Harry as he demonstrated repeatedly. Harry was no better than James to him, and he detested James with a vengeance.

There's no explanation in the movie, but in the book we learn that Snape knows where Harry is because Nigellus overhears Hermione talking about going to the Forest of Dean, which is in Gloucestershire (pronounced Gloss-tuh-shuh), and is over forty square miles. Knowing that he's in an area of forty square miles doesn't remove the protective charms Harry and Hermione have been using. Now if Snape knew exactly where they were camping, then he could wait until one of them appeared outside of the charmed zone, but he doesn't have a clue where they are, and they routinely do not come out of the protection! How did he find Harry?

I don't get why Harry isn't completely honest with Griphook when they were planning the raid on the bank vault. They don't need to tell him about the horcruxes, but Harry could have promised him the sword, but when he's done with his task. He could have told him that the sword was crucial to completing the task. In the end it didn't matter, of course, but it seemed an odd piece of writing, and made both Harry and Hermione seem much more duplicitous than they needed to be. To me this betrayed the whole "treat magical creatures as equals, not inferiors" thing which Hermione had going on.

Harry's connection to Voldemort proves to be extremely useful to him throughout this volume, keeping him abreast of what Voldemort is doing or thinking. It also reveals that the next horcrux is at Hogwarts and precipitates the final showdown. I don't get why Harry didn't seek to deprive Voldemort of the Elder Wand. I know he changed his focus back from the diversion into the hallows and onto the horcruxes, but just for the sake of depriving Voldemort and pissing him off, he could have had Dobby or Kreacher go get it as soon as he realized where it was.

It wasn't helpful at all that Dumbledore pushed him off track onto the hallows digression. It made no sense. And speaking of unhelpful, Aberforth - who by then ought to have known what Harry was up to - could have been more helpful - especially when Harry and Co. were captured by snatchers. Another unhelpful character was Lady Helena. I don't get why the Grey Lady is so unhelpful to the point where she gives them a riddle instead of saying it's in the room of requirement. For that matter why didn't Harry simply ask to be shown the location which contained the diadem?!

So wasn't Nagini the true owner of the Elder wand? It wasn't Voldemort who killed Snape, but Nagini. Voldemort must have been really stupid if he thought that he could "win it" by having someone else kill Snape. He must have been even more stupid if he thought he could win it when Snape didn't even physically possess it at the time! Once again Snape in inexplicably helpful in passing on memories to Harry after Voldemort kills him. How come he doesn't immediately die remains a mystery, but then he couldn't have passed on those memories, of course!

But this is how Harry learns that he must die. I'm not sure of the point of bringing back the dead to accompany him through the forest, or how it worked the way it did - without problematic repercussions for Harry or for those he returned - his parents tell him they're with him all the way, but they have been conspicuous by their absence for the last seven years (as indeed was Sirius for the last two), not helping him at all. Nor do they help him now in any meaningful sense. He's never needed them to bolster his courage before, so in some ways it was weird, but in others, understandable.

As if to compound this dun of the dead error, Dumbledore shows up with Harry at King's Cross (another allusion to Harry as the Messiah/savior?!) after he's offered Harry no help at all for the entire last year! Again, dramatic, but senseless, as is Narcissa's sudden siding with him in the forest when she was ready duel with him during his escape from the Malfoy residence. This can be put down to her panic over the welfare of her child, but she has no reason to think Harry had anything to do with his survival.

The final battle royal(!) in which not only Fred Weasley, but also, oddly, the married couple of Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks, all die is quite epic. I preferred the one in the book. Given that they had made the final volume in a two-parter for the movie, it was hard to understand why they changed so much. In the book, everyone gets to see Harry defeat Tom fair and square in the dining hall. Nothing is hidden - there is no room for rumors to begin that Voldemort isn't dead. In the movie, he's robbed of this - defeating him with no witnesses, and then the body devolving into dust that blows away? What's to prevent anyone claiming he's still alive? Nothing! Bad move for the movie makers.

I want to say a final word about what is, in my view, the biggest indictment against Rowling in this whole series. Some would argue that that is the fact that she made Harry male instead of female, and it's a good argument but it's not mine. Big publishing&Trade; would probably have made her change it to a male anyway - they made her change her name to initials (one of which she doesn't even have!). No, the problem is that we have a female writer who has created some great female characters, yet not once in the entire seven book series - 4,100 in the US version, 3,407 pages in the British version (which had a smaller typeface) - was there any bonding between any of the female characters.

Yes, there were females shown talking together and hanging out together, such as the Parvati sisters, and some brief interactions between Ginny and Hermione, but out of the three main female characters towards the end, Hermione, Ginny, and Luna, who fought together in volume five, not a one of them was ever shown doing anything of significance with any other female character. it was all harry and Hermione or Harry and Ron and that was it. Shame on Rowling for denying women any bonding at all in over a million words.

These carps and the others listed by volume on my blog, aside, I have to rate this series overall as a worthy read, because it does have a story to tell despite the holes and issues, and it did a monumental job of getting middle grade and YA literature back into children's minds and, more importantly (especially given the issues I raised!), hearts.

The His Dark materials trilogy by Philip Pullman
  1. The Golden Compass
  2. The Subtle Knife
  3. The Amber Spyglass

Golden Compass (index)

This is book one of the 'His dark materials' trilogy, and it's one which I've read at least thrice, twice for myself and once for my kids as bedtime stories. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It's brilliant!

I have to add, too, that the audio book is a treat. I think it's without doubt the best audio presentation to which I've ever listened. The whole thing is performed like a radio play, with a cast of some two dozen, including the author, Philip Pullman himself, narrating. All of them, including Pullman, do an exquisite job. Here's the cast list:

Sean Barrett............Lord Asriel/Iorek Byrnison
Andrew Branch...........Kaisa/Able Seaman Jerry
Douglas Blackwell.......John Faa/Iofur Raknison
Harriet Butler..........Bella
Anna Coghlan............Bridget McGinn
Rupert Degas............Pantalaimon
Alison Dowling..........Mrs. Coulter
David Graham............Jotham Santelia
Stephen Greif...........Martin Lanselius/Sysselman
Garrick Hagon...........Lee Scoresby
Andrew Lamont...........1st Gyptian Boy
Fiona Lamont............Martha
Alexander Mitchell......Hugh Lovat
Arthur Mitchell.........Charlie
Hayward Morse...........The Butler/The Chaplain
John O'Connor...........The Dean
Philip Pullman..........Narrator
Anne Rosenfeld..........Mrs. Lonsdale
Liza Ross...............Stelmaria/Billy
Suzan Sheridan..........Serafina Pekkala/Roger
Jill Shilling...........Ma Costa
Stephen Thorne..........The Master/Farder Coram
Rachel Wolf.............Annie
Joanna Wyatt............Lyra
Other parts were played by members of the cast

Because it's a book, this original novel can go into far more detail than the movie ever did, and every bit of the extra detail is well worth the reading. It gives a much richer experience, and offers several important differences.

Lyra Belacqua is a girl on the cusp of her teens in an alternate reality where the world is very similar to ours in many regards, but very, very different in others. The most immediately evident of these is in the fact that each of the humans in Lyra's world have a dæmon - an animal companion which represents their soul, and which is inseparable from their human. Lyra's dæmon is named Pantalaimon, but she exclusively refers to him as 'Pan'. The dæmon is nearly always of the opposite gender to their human and Pan is amazing, funny, and engaging.

Lyra's parents, we're told, are dead, and she was placed at Jordan college at the University of Oxford, by her uncle, Lord Asrael. She loves the college and is fiercely loyal to it, but is hardly the best student in the world, despite the fact that she is quite obviously precocious and quite smart. Instead she runs wild around the college grounds and in the city, "warring" with her Jordan friends against other colleges, and with other colleges against the townies, and with the townies against the Gyptian travelers who periodically come through the city on their barges.

Lyra loves to explore the college, and when the novel begins, she's in trouble in that she's in a part of the college where women are not allowed, much less children, but she cannot escape, and is reduced to hiding in a wardrobe. From there, she can spy on events through a crack in the door. She watches a meeting between some of the college faculty and Lord Asrael, where she learns about Dust - with a capital D. This isn't your pain to clean and polish kind of dust, but some species of elementary particle which Lord Asrael believes is entering their universe from a parallel world in a separate universe. He asks for and receives funds to go to the north to further investigate this.

This is where we get a significant change from the novel. In the novel, it's the master of Jordan college who tries to poison Asrael by putting something in his favorite drink (Tokay, pronounced Toe-ky - rhymes with sky), whereas in the movie, it's the recognized bad guys, the magisterium - in effect the church authorities, who try to poison him. Lyra is the one who saves his life.

One of Lyra's fears, and the source of some of her games, is 'Gobblers'. These are mysterious shadowy people who are said to abduct children, and she learns that they've arrived in Oxford. In short order, one of her friends amongst the Gyptians, Billy Costa, and her close friend at Jordan, a servant boy named Roger Parslow both go missing and no one seems to care.

Lyra is indignant, but before she can get too far with her rage, she's rather distracted by the arrival of a woman who rapidly becomes her hero, Mrs Coulter. The latter is exotic, and traveled, and mysterious, and is a "friend" of Jordan college. Lyra is offered the opportunity to go and live with her and become an 'assistant' to her, so she can continue her education, but also learn the ways of women, with which the stodgy and largely male population of Jordan college cannot help her. Lyra leaps at the opportunity, but soon comes to regret it.

Before she leaves, the Master entrusts Lyra with 'the golden compass' a truth-divining device powered by Dust. It's golden in color, with cryptic symbols around the circumference, and four hands on its dial, three of which Lyra can set to point to the symbols, posing a cryptic question. The fourth then starts rotating and twitching between other symbols, thereby delivering an answer. No one seems to know how to operate this 'alethiometer' but Lyra, to her credit, slowly figures it out. The master tells her that it was a gift to the college from Asrael, and Lyra imagines that the Master wants her to return it to her uncle. He warns her sternly not to ever reveal its existence to Mrs Coulter.

Her time with Coulter is longer in the novel than in the movie, but the termination of it is very similar. She realizes, eventually, that the Gobblers is nothing more than a corruption of the acronym GOB (General Oblation Board) and she and Pan, having suffered somewhat at the hands of Coulter's evil golden monkey (Coulter's dæmon) sneak out one night when Coulter is holding a party. It's quite as precipitous and dramatic as the movie makes it look! They wander the strange streets of London, and end up down by the docks where they encounter some hostile locals, from whom they're rescued by the Gyptians, and they become guests on Ma Costa's barge as the Gyptians travel to East Anglia - the very place I spent several vacations when I was a child! yes, I'm sure that's the reason they went there.

Lyra learns that she is much sought after by the police, so she lays low on the barge until they reach their destination, where she meets the king of the Gyptians, Lord Faa, and his side-kick, Farder Coram. She shows them the alethiometer. It turns out that the Gyptians are big friends of Asrael's because of his kindness to, and support of them, and they have been keeping an eye on Lyra on his behalf. Lyra also learns, much to her surprise and dismay, Lord Asrael and Mrs Coulter are her actual parents. The Gyptian council figures out, with Lyra's assistance, that the children who are being abducted are being taken to a place in the far frozen north called Bolvangar.

On the sailing boat northwards, Lyra does not meet Serafina Pekkala, the witch lover of the younger Farder Coram, but instead meets her dæmon, which is a goose. Lyra is very impressed that the two can be so far apart. She also encounters two 'spyflies' - mechanical creatures which contain a sting with a sleeping potion in it. She and Farder Coram capture one and keep it in a tin for later destruction.

The novel tells a slightly different story to the movie when it comes to Lyra's recruitment of Iorek Byrnison and her meeting with Lee Scoresby. The movie does a better job. Soon the whole crew is heading out onto the ice and traveling the frozen forest.

At one point, Lyra discovers something truly weird in one of her alethiometer readings which precipitates a trip with the bear one night to a village some hours away, where a 'ghost' is supposed to be tormenting the villagers. It turns out that the ghost is actually Tony Makarios (not Billy Costa as the movie has it). He has undergone the 'intercision' process, meaning that he has been severed from his dæmon. The dæmon, "Ratter" is nowhere to be scene, and Tony has a piece of dried fish as a substitute.

He's pathetic and several stops past sad. Despite her fear and her repugnance over his 'condition", Lyra rescues him and returns him to the Gyptian party where he later dies. recalling an experience from her exploratory days at Jordan, and furious that the Gyptians had fed his dried fish "dæmon" to their dogs, Lyra takes one of her gold coins and carves Ratter's name onto it placing it in Tony's mouth before he is cremated.

Lyra smartly asks Iorek to employ his metal-crafting skills create for her a small tin, about the size of her alethiometer, so that she now has two - a real one, and fake one which contains the spyfly which they caught on the ship. Shortly after this, the party is attacked by Samoyeds, and Lyra is captured and delivered to Bolvangar, where she is sold. This part of the story is much more complex than the movie, which completely excludes the entire part covering the storage of severed dæmons, and Lyra's freeing of them with the aid of Serafina Pekkala's goose dæmon.

Knowing that aid is on its way, Lyra evolves an escape plan for the children, but she is caught spying on a meeting (hiding in the false ceiling, not under the table as in the movie), and the staff decides it's high time for her turn at the intercision process. She's rescued at the last minute (not quite as last minute as the movie depicts!) by Mrs Coulter of all people, who takes her back to her own room and comforts her, but Lyra is in no way fooled now by this woman. When Coulter asks for the alethiometer, Lyra lets her take the fake one, and Coulter is knocked-out by a sting from the spyfly. Lyra pulls the fire alarm, and the children flee into the frozen night.

After a melee, this children are finally linked-up with the Gyptians, and Lyra takes off with Lee Scoresby to continue her quest to find her father and deliver to him the alethiometer. Roger goes along with her, and Scoresby's balloon is towed by witches, which is where Lyra first meets Serafina Pekkala in person.

After more incidents, Lyra finally reaches Asrael, who is not interested in her compass, but in her companion. Lyra wakes up the next morning to discover that Asrael has left and taken Roger with him. She realizes that he intends to sever Roger from his dæmon in order to generate sufficient power to make a passageway to the other world which can be seen int he Northern Lights. Contrary to the movie, this is where Lyra crosses the crumbling snow bridge, but she arrives to late to save Roger.

Lyra has a breakdown at Roger's fate and her impotence to stop it, from which she is distracted by her observations of her father and mother reconciling. Asrael tries to talk her into crossing the bridge with him, promising to love her unconditionally if she does, but vowing to forget her completely if she does not. Coulter is sorely tempted, but in the end, she leaves, bound for England, whereas Asrael goes across the bridge he created and into the parallel world which is now opened up. Left alone, Lyra and Pan discuss their options. They decide to pursue Asrael and to try to find the source of the dust before he does so they can thwart any plans he has for it.

This is a brilliant novel, well-deserving of the accolades heaped upon it. I liked the move very much, but this is much more fulfilling and rewarding as are the other two novels in this Dark Materials trilogy.

The Subtle Knife (index)

Will Parry is being sought by bad men, is taking care of his mother, and is obsessed over the disappearance of his father. He thinks that if only he can find his lost explorer father, then all his problems will be solved. He's wrong.

He deposits his mom with a family friend where he feels she will be safe while he goes to Oxford to try and find clues on his father's whereabouts, but the bad guys find him, and sudden;y, having accidentally killed one of them, he's on the run, and he stumbles upon a window into a parallel world. In this world he runs into Lyra Silver-tongue, aka Lyra Belaqua, aka Lizzie, who has arrived in this world by following her father over the bridge he created by killing her best friend.

Serafina Pekkala, Lyra's witch friend who is always (very nearly) known and referred to by her full name for reasons unknown is searching for her and eventually finds her in Cittàgazze, the city where 'spirits' suck the soul from children as soon as they become adults - however that's defined. When one of the local children is killed in such a way, the other children blame Lyra and Will, and it's only through the intervention of the witches that the two of them escape.

By this time, Will has come into possession of The Subtle Knife. This is a dagger-like implement which can cut through pretty much anything, including the thin veneer between worlds. Will was evidently destined to become the knife bearer, according to the old man, the previous knife-bearer who, now that Will has taken charge of the knife, quickly dies.

Before she is forced to flee C'gazze, Lyra has been with Will to our Oxford, and has met Mary Malone, a physicist who has been investigating dark matter, which turns out to be the very Dust of Lyra's world, and it also turns out to have a certain amount of intelligence.

During their sojourn in Oxford/Cittàgazze, Lyra and will were also forced to recover her alethiometer from Sir Charles Latrom, a man she encounters in Oxford, who knew of her device and stole it from her. He's really Lord Boreal, and in cahoots with Mrs Coulter, until, having extracted the secret of the knife from him, murders him and sets off in search of this knife. If Lyra is destined to be the second Eve, then Mrs Coulter vows she will also kill her own daughter rather than risk a second fall.

Will finally encounters his father, known as Jopari or Grumman, and disappointing and unsatisfactory it is, too, but he does finally stanch the bleeding finger stubs where Will lost fingers when the took ownership of the knife.

This volume ends with Will returning to Lyra only to discover that she's been kidnapped. Her guardian witches have been killed by spirits, and her alethiometer er is all that remains of her. That and two angels, Balthamos and Baruch who are insistent upon Will going with them to join Lord Asriel.

The Priscilla Hutchins series by Jack McDevitt
  1. The Engines of God
  2. Deepsix
  3. Chindi
  4. Omega
  5. Odyssey
  6. Cauldron

The Alex Benedict series by Jack McDevitt
  1. A Talent for War
  2. Polaris
  3. Seeker
  4. Devil'sEye
  5. Echo
  6. Firebird

The Vatta War series by Elizabeth Moon
  1. Trading in Danger
  2. Marque and Reprisal
  3. Engaging the Enemy
  4. Command Decision
  5. Victory Conditions

The Kris Longknife series by Mike Shepherd
  1. Mutineer
  2. Deserter
  3. Defiant
  4. Resolute
  5. Audacious
  6. Intrepid
  7. Undaunted
  8. Redoubtable
  9. Daring
  10. Furious
  11. Defender
  12. Tenacious
  13. Relentless
  14. Ambassador

The Alchemyst series by Michael Scott
  1. The Alchemyst
  2. The Magician
  3. The Sorceress
  4. The Necromancer
  5. The Warlock
  6. The Enchantress

The Alchemyst by Michael Scott

This is the first of a series all of which I've read. There are problems with it but I enjoyed it despite those because it does have some interesting stories to tell and Michael Scott, for the most part, tells them well. Sadly, he doesn't know what an archaeologist is, which is a problem since he likes to remind us that that the parents of the main two Characters, Sophie and Josh Newman, are archaelogists, when in fact they are paleontologists. Archaeologist don't go digging up fossils, which is what the parents do (so we're told in this novel). Paleontologists do that (amongst other things!).

The subtitle of the novel is the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, which has led some people to believe this novel is about him, but it's not. He's in it, but as the subtitle makes quite clear, it's about his secrets, not so much him. So if you first learned of his name in Harry Potter, first of all, shame on you, and secondly, no, Michael Scott isn't Jo Rowling and this isn't Harry Potter and Hermione Granger. Don't expect it and you won't be disappointed. besides, you're older now, and you should be demanding something more sophisticated!

The basis of the novel is situated upon two things: a dangerous codex (note that it has to be a codex or a scroll - 'book' just doesn't have the oomph!) and twins with secret powers. Yes, Sophie and Josh are fraternal twins - why fraternal and not sororal? Pure genderism! But their twin-ness means they are important to the powers that be.

The main antagonist is John Dee, a charlatan and a scholar from the English Elizabethan era. On Josh and Sophie's side is Nicholas Flamel, a seven hundred-year old Frenchman. He has charge of the codex, which can be used to end the world. Why he has not completely destroyed this book goes entirely unexplained, which is a huge weakness in this story. Of course, if it were destroyed, then the series would never have got off the ground!

Some might argue that Flamel needs the codex because he uses it to make gold from base metals, and to create a potion for himself and his wife Perenelle, which is what grants them immortality, but then you're arguing that after seven hundred years, he still hasn't memorized these 'recipes' - things he does once a month? For seven hundred years? You're arguing that he has never once thought of simply tearing out just those two pages, or copying them, and destroying the rest of the book?? This tells me that Flamel is a moron and every bit as evil as Dee is supposed to be.

The story begins with Sophie and Josh working for the summer in San Francisco, staying with their antiquated aunt, and working summer jobs down town while their "archaeologist" parents are off on a dig. Sophie works at a coffee shop which happens to be directly across the street from where her brother works - in a book store.

Everything is fine until one day John Dee turns up with a couple of golems in tow, having finally tracked Flamel down (his mistake was to keep opening bookstores and using names like Nick Fleming!). Now Dee is demanding the codex. He gets his wish, but as Nick, Sophie, and Josh escape, Josh realizes that he has the last two pages of the codex, without which Dee cannot complete his sorcery. The chase is on!

Dee manages to capture Perenelle, and the other three resort to a friend of Nick's named Scathaich, a warrior woman who teaches martial arts. She's kick-ass but is in the story - and the series - far too little. The story pursues Dee and the codex and is very entertaining if you don't take it too seriously. I recommend it.

The Honor Harrington series by David Weber
  1. On Basilisk Station
  2. The Honor of the Queen
  3. The Short Victorious War
  4. Field of Dishonor
  5. Flag in Exile
  6. Honor Among Enemies
  7. In Enemy Hands
  8. Echoes of Honor
  9. Ashes of Victory
  10. War of Honor
  11. At All Costs
  12. Mission of Honor
  13. A Rising Thunder

The Young Wizard series by Diance Duane
  1. So You Want to be a Wizard?
  2. Deep Wizardry
  3. High Wizardry
  4. A Wizard Abroad
  5. The Wizard's Dilemma
  6. A Wizard Alone
  7. Wizard's Holiday
  8. Wizards at War
  9. A Wizard of Mars
  10. Games Wizards Play

So You Want to be a Wizard? (index)

The author began this series in 1983, so it long precedes the recent craze for wizardly YA fare. Do not under any circumstances read this if you want or expect retreaded Harry Potter. It’s not. It’s more mature, better written, and much more intelligent. Unfortunately, this means it’s doomed to failure because the bulk of the YA audience does not want intelligent and thoughtful - they want dumbed down and formulaic.

Given how appalling American youth is in math and the hard sciences, you're much more likely, statistically, to be in the majority who will be unable to handle something as intelligently and thoughtfully written as this is. There is no simple solution here, no love triangle, no air-headed heroes.

That doesn’t mean it’s perfect by any means. There are goof-ups and plot holes, but you will not be treated like you're the lowest common denominator here. In this series, miraculously powerful magic isn’t achieved by waving a twig and saying two Latin words and getting major results out of nothing. Here, magic is like any other force of nature: it’s not free. It has to be bought and paid for, and it has to be worked at.

It does, however, begin with a sad YA cliché - the bullied teen. Juanita (Nita) Callaghan is being chased by a pack of school bullies and finds sanctuary in the library where she thought she'd read all the books in the children's section, only to discover one which grabs her attention. It’s titled, So you Want to be a Wizard? and after reading a few bits, she takes it home and discovers that it's actually not a joke. It contains a wizard's oath, which she reads, and some introductory material, and a gazetteer of local wizards in which her own name and address appears the very next morning. That's when she finds out that she can hear the voice of nature, and happens upon another young wizard who is trying to cast a spell using The Speech - special wizard lingo which is used to describe and define things far more precisely than can be achieved in any other language, and which is necessary for the successful execution of a spell.

The guy's name is Christopher (Kit) Rodriguez, and he has been a wizard only slightly longer than Nita. The two become fast friends. The spell they successful cast together casts them together, and accidentally liberates a white hole, an amusing which hangs with them for a while and with whom they can converse using The Speech. They're forced to look up a wizard adviser to find out what to do with the hole, which they name Fred, and this is how they meet Carl and Tom, with whom they also become friends. They realize there is a darkness to wizardry, in the form of the Lone Power - the being which created death in the beginning, and 'The Book of Night With Moon' is curiously missing, too. Each new wizard faces an ordeal before they can get through their probationary status, and retrieving this book and confronting the Lone Power becomes the test for Nita and Kit.

On the down side, I found it unbelievable that Nita comes home sporting a huge black eye from a beating dealt to her by Joanna the school bully and her five friends, and yet neither Nita's father nor her mother do a single thing about it. The only response to bullying is zero tolerance. No bullying is ever stopped by hiding the truth about who the bully is, and what they are.

And now onto some problems I had with this! I could not find it credible in any way that there is a book which describes the universe, from which senior wizards have to read periodically in order to keep the universe from unraveling, or that there is an 'anti'-book which undoes the universe and is especially potent if the other book goes missing. if either side destroyed the book from the other side, game over. that was too fairy tale for my taste, but it did provide the basis for Kit and Nita's ordeal.

On another topic, I could not for the life of me see the point of the huge disconnect between Nita being portrayed as being bullied, and Carl and Tom's routine and violent punching in the beak of their pet fortune-telling macaw. That struck me (!) as bizarre.

Also the wizard's raisin d'être of slowing-down universal entropy seemed absurd, but at least the ideas the author has are rooted in science, and not hand-waving and nonsensical magic, so you have to decide how much you're willing to let slide. For me, given the underlying solidity of this world, and the quality of the writing in general, I decided to let a bit more slide by than I would in a less well put-together novel.

The novel series isn't written to a regular time-line (nor was it published to one: it’s spanned thirty years!), so it’s a little bit hard to follow in some ways because you're never exactly sure if the next book to come out is actually chronologically the next event, and Nita and Kit never seem to age. the first few novels in the series do seem to be sequential.

Not all of the stories are focused on the Lone Power - he's not like Voldemort, and he actually does make sense. The stories are all over the place in topic, too - covering parental death, friendship, autism, war and peace, and a host of other ideas. The stories take place all over, too, including under the ocean and on Mars as well as on planets way outside this solar system. Volume three, for example, brings Nita's sister to the fore, as she too becomes a wizard, and she is way out in left galaxy.

Perhaps the coolest part of this book is the ordeal, where Kit and Nita end up unexpectedly in an alternate and nightmarish parody of new York City, and realize that they have to find the evil book in order to use it to locate the good one. This is a world where there appear to be no people, butt here are animated mechanical objects, all of which are hostile, such as the predatory helicopter, which nests (and has three young helicopters!) on the roof of a building, and the voracious yellow cabs which stalk the streets - and Nita and Kit.

Interestingly, the good book is protected by a dragon, rather like the episode in Harry Potter, where the dragon guards the vaults - but remember that this novel was written over two decades before Rowling's effort - and both are derivative of The Hobbit.

I highly recommend this novel.

Deep Wizardry (index)

This particular volume is probably my least favorite in this series. It takes place two months after the original, and it takes place in the ocean, which is why I think it's a bit boring, because it seems like it has nowhere to go but down - so to speak! Fortunately, the third novel in the series bounces right back and is probably my favorite.

Nita and her family (mom, dad, and kid sister Dairine) as well as her good friend kit, are on vacation on the North Atlantic coast when kit and Nita discover that their wizard status has been rudely activated instead of indicating they're on vacation. They make contact with a group of cetacean wizards of various species, including a dolphin (I used that term on porpoise...). Apparently the Lone Power is up to his tricks again, trying to set off an undersea volcano, and there's a ritual to be performed, and Nita ends up being designated as the sacrifice, but it all works out.

The best part is at the end, when unbeknownst to Nita and Kit, Dairine discovers that they have wizard powers, and she wants in! This sets up the third novel. Dairine is yet another YA character who is secondary, and yet who I prefer to the main characters. She's strong, feisty and fascinating.

I recommend this novel as part of this complete series!

The Eve of Destruction series by SJ Day
  1. Eve of Darkness (2009)
  2. Eve of Destruction
  3. Eve of Chaos

The Jenny Casey trilogy by Elizabeth Bear
  1. Hammered (2005)
  2. Scardown
  3. Worldwired

The Frontier magic series by Patricia Wrede
  1. Thirteenth Child (2009)
  2. Across the Great Barrier
  3. The Far West

The Fearless FBI series by Francine Pascal
  1. Kill Game
  2. Naked Eye
  3. Agent Out
  4. Live Bait

The Witch series by Carolyn MacCullogh
  1. Once a Witch
  2. Always a Witch

The World Weavers series by Alma Alexander
  1. Gift of the Unmage
  2. Spellspam
  3. Cybermage

As I've mentioned elsewhere, I really can’t get into fantasy stories with witches and wizards, and fairies and dragons, elves and dwarves, etc. That is to say, it has to be something particularly special and appealing before I’ll get into it, because most of that stuff turns me right off. So it was curious then that I got into Jim Butcher's series, and entirely uncurious that I don’t read his wizard series. What the difference is between the two in terms of why the one attracts me and the other repels, I can’t say! It pretty much boils down to: I may not know much about fantasy but I knows what I likes!

I got reading this when a friend of my wife loaned her the first book in the series, and she asked me if I was interested. Of course, I leaped at the chance, but then I found out she was talking about reading the book, so I was a bit less enthused, but I was not so turned off by the lesser offer that I couldn’t get into it, which was a bit of a surprise. The story was written well, which is always a big plus with me. Butcher is very skilled at what he does.

The problem with this series is that it wasn't finished when I began it, so once I caught up to what was last written, I had to wait for the next installment, which was, I think, the 5th book. Waiting is never a good thing with me! I lost my steam and got into reading other things and it wasn't until after the whole series had been published that my interest in it resurfaced. At that point we bought the entire series in hardback and once that had been procured, I embarked upon a mega-read of the whole series. This comprised six of the fifty or so books I read last year.

It was at that point that I became addicted and pretty much turned into a Codex Alera evangelist! I don’t know what it was that brougth this on, but it just caught me and that's when I fell deeply in love with Kitai (don’t worry, my wife never reads this stuff so my marriage is safe!).

I can go back in there even now and re-read the Kitai scenes and love them just as much as I did originally - and probably more. That time in vol. 1 when they first encounter each other and go through their challenge is outstanding to me, and I wrestle with this, but I think it’s only exceeded by the next time they encounter each other in vol. 2 after a separation of a couple of years. That encounter in vol. 2 is classic literature as far as I'm concerned. I want to hug Butcher and clap him on the back and shake his hand for writing that scene.

Anyway, enough of this sappy crap, let’s look at the individual volumes (but a few words of explanation for the series is in order before we do that).

The legend is that Butcher wrote this series when challenged by someone in his writing group to create a good story based on a really crappy premise. Butcher, so the legend goes, said he could meet such a challenge based on two crappy premises, and the premises with which he was inflicted were: Pokémon and the Lost Legion!

He decided to set his story on another planet where some power of which we learn nothing, allows for, or forces, races from different planets to arrive on the same planet. The Pokémon element is, of course, the furies (more on this anon). The Lost Legion is the Alerans, a human race with strong Roman legion influences.

The planet on which Alera resides is also occupied, as we learn through the volumes, by a race of ice giants in the north, the Marat, a completely different species of humanoid life, in the south, and across the ocean two more races: the Canim - a race of sentient and aggressive wolf people, and the Vord, an aggressive, insectile and sentient race which is, as the name might suggest, like Star Trek's Borg: compelled towards assimilation and domination.

1. Furies of Calderon (index)

I see Amazon is asking $400 for this book in hardback! Woah! Who says organic books are on their way out?!

Vol. 1 introduces us to the main characters of course, and there's a lot of chopping back and forth as we meet them all and start to learn who they are and why, and what they're up to. Normally I don’t like this approach and have been known to get confused by so many introductions so quickly (who me?!), but Butcher again excels at this and clearly sets out who's who and what's going on without writing reams of tedious or confusing exposition. I don’t know where he learned to write but I want to take that course!

The main character (ostensibly, because I'll have to disagree in a minute or two) is 14-year-old Tavi, which as usual I mispronounced. I started thinking it was Tah-vee, but evidently, as becomes clear over the course of the entire series, it’s really Tay-vee, because (and we don’t learn this until much later), it's short for Octavian. In a world where the citizens all have at least one 'fury', Tavi has none.

A fury is a connection with a natural power or spirit, which can manifest itself as a ghostly animal (hence the Pokémon element!). This connection allows those who have it to manipulate the 'elements'. Normally this is where I would check-out, because these elements are, as usual in this kind of story, earth, wind, and fire, along with water, metal, wood, and air. I stayed with this because Butcher again has a way of describing these powers and showing their use without it looking like some juvenile magic. Out with his uncle Bernard, a tough giant of a man, Tavi encounters a Marat warrior and his uncle is injured. The latter arranges for himself to be carried back home to "Bernardholt" - a kind of homestead - using his earth fury.

Tavi is to follow, but of course, Tavi goes astray and encounters a cursor - an official messenger of the First Lord (effectively, the king) of Alera, Gaius Sixtus - right when a deadly wind storm, powered by wind furies, comes hurtling down off the mountains. He saves Amana's (the cursor's) life by hiding with her in the memorial to the dead son of Gaius Sixtus: the Princeps Septimus. Those who are a lot sharper than I was may see where this is going at this point!).

Eventually, Tavi gets the injured cursor home to Bernardholt where his aunt Isana, Bernard's sister, who has a water fury and is therefore a healer, fixes her up, and eventually she and Bernard (whom Isana also fixed up) fall in love. Meanwhile out and about on another occasion with an apparently simple-minded servant who has a story all of his own, Tavi and the servant are captured by the Marat, deadly foes of the Alerans, a people who should not be in the Calderon Valley. The warrior who captures him is of a different tribe from the one he initially saw with his uncle, and Tavi is not killed, but held prisoner.

This is where Tavi encounters the real protagonist of this series for the first time. Her name is Kitai. This is another thing fro which I hate Jim Butcher immensely because the name is kick-A! I wish I’d thought of it first! Kitai appears to be male and is very hostile to Tavi. So, of course, the two of them are sent upon a trial, the winner to decide both Tavi's fate and the question of whether this Marat tribe will side with the Alerans or with another and hostile Marat tribe which wishes to eject the Alerans from the valley.

The trial involves them stealing a species of mushroom which has healing properties, but which is in a deep crater harboring a Vord infestation. In the course of this theft, Tavi discovers, as Kitai raises her smock to keep it out of some water, that she's a girl. She denies this! She's a whelp, she insists, and it isn't until she comes of age and is assigned to a tribe that she will become a girl. She desperately wants the horse tribe, whereby she will bond with her horse and take on some of its qualities and it some of hers, resulting in a lifelong pairing as a warrior team.

Kitai is seriously injured by the Vord during the theft, and she urges Tavi to leave her, telling him hoarsely (which is funny because she wanted the horse tribe!) that his plan was a good one, and he must apologize to her father, on her behalf, for her failure. Tavi refuses to abandon her. He realizes that one of the two mushrooms he has stolen will heal her, and he pours some of its juice onto her wound, and makes her drink some too, and as he does so, suddenly, there is a frozen moment where they become completely and intimately aware of each other, and Kitai's eyes, which had been of mixed coloration, suddenly resolve to match Tavi's green eyes. Kitai has bonded with Tavi. Never has this happened before! I'm sorry, but I have to quote this!

Tavi dropped the knife, slid down the rope, and ran to Kitai He seized her and began dragging her back toward the ropes, grunting with effort but moving quickly, jerking her over the ground.

"Aleran," she whispered, opening her eyes Her expression was pained, weary.

"Aleran Too late Venom My father Tell him I was sorry."

Tavi stared down at her "No," he whispered. "Kitai, no We're almost out."

"It was a good plan," she said.

Her head lolled to one side, eyes rolling back.

"No," Tavi hissed, suddenly furious "No, crows take you! You can't!" He reached into his pouch, fumbling through it as tears started to blur his vision There must be something She couldn't just die She couldn't They were so close.

Something stuck sharply into his finger, and pain flashed through him again The crows-eaten mushroom had jabbed him with its spines The Blessing of Night.

Fever Poison Injury Pain Even age It has power over them all To our people, there is nothing of greater value.

Weeping, Tavi seized the mushroom and started tearing off the spines.

with his fingers, heedless of the pain. Shrieks rose all around him, came closer, though the still-blazing branch seemed to have confused some of the Keepers, to have temporarily slowed their advance.

Tavi reached down and slipped an arm beneath Kitai's head, half-hauling her up. He reached down to the wound over her thigh and crushed the mushroom in his hand.

Musty-scented, clear fluid leaked out from between his fingers and dribbled over the wound, mixing with blood and yellowish venom. Kitai's leg twitched as the fluid touched it, and the girl drew in a sudden breath.

Tavi lifted the rest of the mushroom to her lips and pressed it into her mouth. "Eat it," he urged her. "Eat it, you have to eat it.".

Kitai's mouth twitched once, and then began to chew, automatically. She swallowed the mushroom and blinked her eyes slowly open, focusing them on Tavi.

Time stopped.

Tavi found himself staring down at the girl, suddenly aware of her, entirely aware of her in a way he never had been aware of anyone before. He could feel the texture of her skin beneath his hand and felt the abrupt compulsion to lay his fingers over her chest, to feel the beat of her heart beneath it, slowly gaining in strength. He could feel the surge of blood in her veins, the fear and regret and confusion that filled her thoughts. Those cleared as her eyes focused on him, widened, and Tavi realized that she had felt his own presence in the same way.

Not moving her eyes from his, Kitai reached out a hand and touched his chest in response, fingers pressed close to feel the beating of his heart.

It took Tavi a frozen, endless moment to separate the beating of his own heart, the rush of blood in his own ears, from hers. They beat together, perfectly in time. Even as he realized it, his own heartbeat began to speed, and so did hers, bringing a flush of heat to his face, one answered in her own expression. He stared at the wonder in her eyes and saw that it could only be a reflection of that in his own.

The scent of her, fresh and wild, curled up around him, through him like something alive. The shape of her eyes, her cheeks, her mouth. In that single moment, he saw in her the promise of the beauty that would come in time, the strength that had still to grow, the courage and reckless resourcefulness that matched his own and flamed wild and true in her.

The intensity of it made his eyes blur, and he blinked them, tried to clear the tears from them, only to realize that Kitai was blinking as well, her eyes filling with tears, going liquid and blurry.

When Tavi had blinked the tears away, his eyes returned to hers-only to find not opalescent swirls of subtle, shifting color, but wide pools of deep, emerald green.

Eyes as green as his own.

"Oh no" Kitai whispered, her voice stunned, weak. "Oh no" She opened her mouth, started to sit up-then shuddered once and slumped in his arms, abruptly overwhelmed with exhaustion.

The frozen moment ended.

Tavi lifted his dazed head to see the first of the Keepers edging past the blazing blanket and branch. Tavi hauled himself to his feet, lifting Kitai, and stumbled toward the ropes. He stepped into the loop at the base of one, then reached over to the other, and wrapped it around his waist, around her legs, tying her to him. Even before he was finished, Doroga had started hauling the rope up the face of the cliff. The other rope came in as well, where Hashat must have been pulling it along to keep it tight.

Tavi held on to the rope, and to Kitai, not really sure which one he held tighter. He closed his eyes, overwhelmed, and did not open them again until he and Kitai sat at the top of the cliff, in the cold, fresh, clean snow. When he opened his eyes again, he sat with his back against a stone and idly noted the fresh earth beside him, where Doroga had uprooted the boulder and hurled it down.

A moment later, he realized that Kitai lay against his side, beneath one of his arms, warm and limp, half-conscious. He tightened his arm on her, gently, confused-but certain that he wanted her to sleep, to rest, and to be right where she was.

(Furies of the Calderon by Jim Butcher pp 306 - 308)

When they finally get out of the crater, Kitai's aunt, of the horse tribe, demands of Kitai's father, Doroga, that he do something about this, but he is adamant that the bond has been made and cannot be changed. Moreover, he's beholden to Tavi for saving his daughter's life. While Kitai realizes what this means, Tavi is clueless (as we discover he often is during this series). He thinks no more of it.

Unfortunately, Kitai doesn’t appear any further in vol. 1, which means that the story goes downhill somewhat from there! But Butcher is just teasing us for her triumphant return in vol. 2.

The rest of the story consists of assorted subterfuges and misleading plays by a guy called Fidelias, who used to be a trusted cursor, but who is now a rebel against the First Lord. The climax of vol. 1 is an assault by Atsurak, a bloodthirsty leader of a Marat tribe, upon a fortification which is supposed to be protecting the Calderon Valley. Lead by Bernard and Amara, and with the aid of Dorog, Kitai's father, who is even more massively built than Bernard, the garrison successfully holds off the attack.

In gratitude, the First Lord declares Bernard and his new love Amara to be the new Count and Countess of the garrison, and Isana is granted the right of steadholder in Bernard's place - the first woman in Aleran history ever to be a steadholder and gain her citizenship of Alera in her own right. Tavi is granted a scholarship to the academy, despite his having no fury powers.

And therein lies volume 2!

2. Academ's Fury (index)

The next episode in Jim Butcher's Adventures of Kitai in Alera takes place two years after the events of Furies of the Calderon. This is solely to give Tavi time to grow up somewhat so he's at least a bit more on par with Kitai, although, of course, he never actually succeeds in becoming her equal on in holding his own against her formidable feminine force.

The book begins with a prolog, which frankly annoys me, and I tend to ignore such things: introductions, prologs, etc? Bleccch! (Yes with 3 c's). If it’s important enough to read, make it chapter 1 for goodness sakes! What’s with the prolog crap? Seriously. Call it chapter 0 if you have to, just get it done.

Having said that, I once again reverse myself and advise you to read this prolog, but only the part where it details the interaction and amusing discussion between Kitai and her father, Doroga, chief of one of the Marat tribes, and rider of some sort of giant ground sloth. In fact, I'm going to quote that small section right here because I laughed out loud when I first read it, and it still tickles me immensely. Kitai is so unapologetically feisty!

She and her father have come, at Kitai's urging, to visit what the Alerans call the wax valley - the site of a Vord infestation, not to be confused with the Calderon Valley. The Vord had occupied this small valley and coated it in their 'croach' - a living substance which breaks down organic material and converts it into food the Vord can use.

It was in this valley, treading carefully over the croach so as not to break it and awaken the Vord, that Kitai and Tavi came in vol. 1 to get the mushrooms, and where, at the end of their trial, they became bonded inextricably. Since that time, neither one of them has seen or been in contact with the other. Tavi is clueless about what their bonding means, but Kitai is not, and she resents it immensely, feeling robbed unjustly of her heart's desire to join the horse tribe of the Marat.

As her father overlooks the valley, he sees what Kitai has already discovered: the Vord have gone, and the valley is now dead:

Wind howled over the rolling, sparsely wooded hills of the lands in the care of the Marat, the One-and-Many People. Hard, coarse flecks of snow fled before it, and though the One rode high in the sky, the overcast hid his face.

Kitai began to feel cold for the first time since spring. She turned to squint behind her, shielding her eyes from the sleet with one hand. She wore a brief cloth about her hips, a belt to hold her knife and hunting pouch, and nothing else. Wind threw her thick white hair around her face, its color blending with the driving snow.

"Hurry up!" she called.

There was a deep-chested snort, and a massive form paced into sight. Walker the gargant was an enormous beast, even of its kind, and its shoulders stood nearly the height of two men above the earth. His shaggy winter coat had already come in thick and black, and he paid no notice to the snow. His claws, each larger than an Aleran saber, dug into the frozen earth without difficulty or hurry.

Kitai’s father, Doroga, sat upon the gargant’s back, swaying casually upon the woven saddle cloth. He was dressed in a loincloth and a faded red Aleran tunic. Doroga’s chest, arms and shoulders were so laden with muscle that he had been obliged to tear the sleeves from the red tunic-but as it had been a gift and discarding it would be impolite, he had braided a rope from the sleeves and bound it across his forehead, tying back his own pale hair. "We must hurry, since the valley is running from us. I see. Maybe we should have stayed downwind."

"You are not as amusing as you think you are," Kitai said, glowering at her father’s teasing. Doroga smiled, the expression emphasizing the lines in his broad, square features. He took hold of Walker’s saddle rope and swung down to the ground with a grace that belied his sheer size. He slapped his hand against the gargant’s front leg, and Walker settled down amicably, placidly chewing cud.

Kitai turned and walked forward, into the wind, and though he made no sound, she knew her father followed close behind her.

A few moments later, they reached the edge of a cliff that dropped abruptly into open space. The snow prevented her from seeing the whole of the valley below, but for the lulls between gusts, when she could see all the way to the bottom of the cliff below them.
"Look," she said.

Doroga stepped up beside her, absently slipping one vast arm around her shoulders. Kitai would never have let her father see her shiver, not at a mere autumn sleet, but she leaned against him, silently grateful for his warmth. She watched as her father peered down, waiting for a lull in the wind to let him see the place the Alerans called the Wax Forest.

Kitai closed her eyes, remembering the place. The dead trees had coated in the croach, a thick, gelatinous substance layered over and over itself so that it looked like the One had coated it all in the wax of many candles. The croach had covered everything in the valley, including the ground and a sizeable portion of the valley walls. Here and there, birds and animals had been sealed into the croach, where, still alive, they lay unmoving until they softened and dissolved like meat boiled over a low fire. Pale things the size of wild dogs, translucent, spider like creatures with many legs once laid quietly in the croach, nearly invisible, while others prowled the forest floor, silent and swift and alien.

Kitai shivered at the memory, then forced herself to stillness again, biting her lip. She glanced up at her father, but he pretended not to have noticed, staring down.
The valley below had never in her people’s memory taken on snow. The entire place had been warm to the touch, even in winter, as though the croach itself was some kind of massive beast, the heat of its body filling the air around it.

Now the Wax Forest stood covered in ice and rot. The old, dead trees were coated in something that looked like brown and sickly tar. The ground lay frozen, though here and there, other patches of rotten croach could be seen. Several of the trees had fallen. And in the center of the Forest, the hollow mound lay collapsed and dissolved into corruption, the stench strong enough to carry even to Kitai and her father.

Doroga was still for a moment before he said, "We should go down. Find out what happened."

"I have," Kitai said.

Her father frowned. "That was foolish to do alone."

"Of the three of us here, which has gone down and come back alive again the most often?"

Doroga grunted out a laugh, glancing down at her with warmth and affection in his dark eyes. "Maybe you are not mistaken." The smile faded, and the wind and sleet hid the valley again. "What did you find?"

"Dead keepers," she replied. "Dead croach. Not warm. Not moving. The keepers were empty husks. The croach breaks into ash at a touch." She licked her lips. "And something else."


"Tracks," she said in a quiet voice. "Leading away from the far side. Leading west."
Doroga grunted. "What tracks?"

Kitai shook her head. "They were not fresh. Perhaps Marat or Aleran. I found more dead keepers along the way. As if they were marching and dying one by one."

"The creature," Doroga rumbled. "Moving toward the Alerans."

Kitai nodded, her expression troubled.

Doroga looked at her and said, "What else?"

"His satchel. The pack the valleyboy lost in the Wax Forest during our race. I found it on the trail beside the last of the dead spiders, his scent still on it. Rain came. I lost the trail."

Doroga’s expression darkened. "We will tell the master of the Calderon Valley. It may be nothing."

"Or it may not. I will go," Kitai said.

"No," Doroga said.

"But father-"

"No," he repeated, his voice harder.

"What if it is looking for him?"

Her father remained quiet for a time, before he said, "Your Aleran is clever. Swift. He is able to take care of himself."

Kitai scowled. "He is small. And foolish. And irritating."

"Brave. Selfless."

"Weak. And without even the sorcery of his people."

"He saved your life," Doroga said.

Kitai felt her scowl deepen. "Yes. He is irritating."

Doroga smiled. "Even lions begin life as cubs."

"I could break him in half," Kitai growled.

"For now, perhaps."

"I despise him."

"For now, perhaps."

"He had no right."

Doroga shook his head. "He had no more say in it than you."

Kitai folded her arms and said, "I hate him."

"So you want someone to warn him. I see."

Kitai flushed, heat touching her cheeks and throat.

Her father pretended not to notice. "What is done is done," he rumbled. He turned to her and cupped her cheek in one vast hand. He tilted his head for a moment, studying her. "I like his eyes on you. Like emerald. Like new grass."

Kitai felt her eyes begin to tear. She closed them and kissed her father’s hand. "I wanted a horse."

Doroga let out a rumbling laugh. "Your mother wanted a lion. She got a fox. She did not regret it."

"I want it to go away."

Doroga lowered his hand. He turned back toward Walker, keeping his arm around Kitai. "It won’t. You should Watch."

"I do not wish to."

"It is the way of our people," Doroga said.

"I do not wish to."

"Stubborn whelp. You will remain here until some sense soaks into your skull."

"I am not a whelp, father."

"You act like one. You will remain with the Sabot-ha." They reached Walker, and he tossed her halfway up the saddle rope without effort.

Kitai clambered up to Walker’s broad back. "But father-"

"No, Kitai." He climbed up behind her, and clucked to Walker. The gargant placidly rose and began back the way they had come. "You are forbidden to go. It is done."

Kitai rode silently behind her father, but sat looking back to the west, her troubled face to the wind. (Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher pp 1 - 5)

Of course she ends up going. But more about that anon, with another quote! I love the moody way she behaves here, but I have to admit this piece isn’t exactly clear about what’s going on. I think Doroga means for her to watch Tavi, but not go to talk to the master of the Calderon Valley, who happens to be Tavi's uncle, the Count Bernard. Doroga has met Bernard, fought at his side, and become friends with him. Kitai has never met him, so Doroga visits Bernard.

We find Tavi in Alera's capital Alera Imperia, home of the First Lord. He's attending the academy. He still has no furies, but he has friends, and he has a job as a page to the First Lord. He also has a school bully who is only important here in that he allows us to learn of Lord Kalare, one of those who have their eyes focused jealously upon the First Lord's position.

The capital is vastly different from the rustic background from which Tavi hails. It’s all ruthless politics, and since the First Lord is both gaining in years and heirless, his son having been killed in a battle against the Marat many many years before, there is much jockeying for position amongst the lesser lords to see who will take his place when Gaius Sixtus dies.

Tavi is in training to be a cursor - an official messenger of the First Lord and part time spy. His best friend is Max, a black sheep, and disowned son of one of the Lords of Alera. Max can impersonate the first Lord, but he is very much a ladies man and when he gets himself into trouble and tossed into jail, and the First Lord becomes incapacitated, Tavi comes up with the improbable idea of having Max impersonate Gaius in order to keep the kingdom stable until the First Lord can recover.

To acheive this end, Tavi has to break Max out of jail, which is pretty much impossible since this is fortified military tower, not some little down-town lock-up. Tavi can think of only one person who could help him. There is a thief at large in Alera Imperia known as The Black cat, who seems to be able to come and go as he pleases, lifting whatever goods he wants, by-passing all the fury-crafted alarms and barriers, and never getting caught. Tavi has been assigned to try and figure out who this thief is, but he has not yet succeeded. Now he decides to recruit him, to gain his aid in breaking Max out of jail. Here’s how he captures The Black Cat, and I have to say that I think this is my all time favorite portion of any novel:

A sudden quivering excitement filled him for no reason whatsoever, and Tavi abruptly felt certain that his instincts had not led him astray. He found a pocket of deep shadows behind a chimney and slipped into it, crouching into cautious immobility.

He didn't have long to wait. There was a flicker of motion on the far side of Crafter Lane, and Tavi saw a cloaked and hooded figure gliding over the rooftops just as lightly and quietly as he. He felt his lips tighten into a grin. He recognized the grey cloak, the flowing motion. Once again, he had found the Black Cat.

The figure eased up to the edge of the roof to stare down at the vocalists, then dropped into a relaxed crouch, hands reaching down to rest his fingers lightly on the rooftop. Beneath the cloak's hood, the Cat's head tilted to one side, and he went completely still, evidently fascinated by the singers. Tavi watched the Cat in turn, an odd and nagging sense of recognition stirring briefly. Then the Cat rose and ghosted down to the next rooftop, his covered face turned toward the bakery, with its tables piled high with fresh, steaming sweetbread while a red-cheeked matron did a brisk business selling the loaves. A quality of tension, of hunger, entered the Cat's movements, and he vanished over the far side of the building upon which he stood.

Tavi waited until the Cat was out of sight, then rose and leapt to the roof of the bakery. He found another dark spot to conceal his presence just as the dark-cloaked Cat emerged from between the two buildings across the street and walked calmly through the crowded street, feet shuffling in a rhythmic step or two as he passed the vocal ensemble. The Cat slowed his steps by a fraction and passed the table just as the matron behind the table turned to deposit small silver coins into a strongbox. The Cat's cloak twitched as he passed the table, and if Tavi hadn't been watching carefully he would never have seen the loaf vanish under the thief's cloak.
The Cat never missed a step, sliding into the space between the bakery and the cobbler's shop beside it and walking quietly and quickly down the alleyway.

Tavi rose and padded silently along the rooftop, reaching to his belt for the heavy coil of tough, flexible cord looped through it. He dropped the open loop at the end of the lariat clear of his fingertips, and opened the loop wider with the practiced, expert motions his hands had learned through years of dealing with the large, stubborn, aggressive rams of his uncle's mountain sheep. It was a long throw and from a difficult angle, but he crouched by the edge of the roof and flicked the lariat in a circle before sending it sharply down.

The loop in the lariat settled around the Cat's hooded head. The thief darted to one side, and managed to get two fingers under the loop before Tavi could snap the line tight. Tavi planted his feet and hauled hard on the line.

The line hauled the Cat from his feet and sent him stumbling to one side.

Tavi whipped the cord twice around the bricks of the bakery's chimney, slapped it through a herder's loop in a familiar blur of motion, then slid down the roof to drop to the alley, landing in a crouch that bounced into a leap that carried him into the Black Cat's back. He hit hard, driving the Cat into the wall with a breath-stealing slam.

The Cat's foot smashed down hard on his toes, and if he hadn't been wearing heavy leather boots, it might have broken them. Tavi snarled, "Hold still," and hauled at the rope, trying to keep his opponent from finding his balance. There was a rasping sound and a knife whipped at the hand Tavi had on the rope. He jerked his fingers clear, and the knife bit hard into the tightened lariat. The cord was too tough to part at a single blow, but the Cat reached up with his free hand to steady the rope and finish the cut.

The lariat parted. Tavi slammed the Cat against the wall again, seized the wrist of the thief's knife hand and banged it hard against the bakery's stone wall. The knife tumbled free. Tavi drove the heel of his hand into the base of the Cat's neck, through the heavy cloak, a stunning blow. The Cat staggered. Tavi whirled and threw the thief facedown to the ground, landing on his back and twisting one slender arm up far behind him, holding the Cat in place.
"Hold still," Tavi snarled. "I'm not with the civic legion. I just want to talk to you."

The Black Cat abruptly stopped struggling, and something about the quality of that stillness made him think it was due to startled surprise. The Black Cat eased away the tension in the muscles that quivered against Tavi, and they softened abruptly.

Tavi blinked down at his captive and then tore the hood back from the Black Cat's head.

A mane of fine, silvery white curls fell free of the cloak, framing the pale, smooth curve of a young woman's cheek and full, wine-dark lips. Her eyes, slightly canted at their corners, were a brilliant shade of green identical to Tavi's own, and her expression was one of utter surprise. "Aleran?" she panted.

"Kitai," Tavi breathed. "You're the Black Cat?"

She turned her head as much as she could to look up at him, her wide eyes visible even in the dimness of the alley. Tavi stared down at her for a long moment, his stomach muscles suddenly fluttering with excited energy. He became acutely conscious of the lean, strong limbs of the young Marat woman beneath him, the too-warm fever heat of her skin, and the way that her own breathing had not slowed, though she had ceased to struggle against him. He slowly released her wrist, and she just as slowly withdrew her arm from between their bodies.

Tavi shivered and leaned a little closer, drawing in a breath through his nose. Strands of fine hair tickled his lips. Kitai smelled of many scents, faint perfumes likely stolen from expensive boutiques, the fresh warmth of still-warm sweetbread and, beneath that, of heather and clean winter wind. Even as he moved, she turned her head toward him as well, her temple brushing his chin, her breath warm on his throat. Her eyes slid almost closed.

"Well," she murmured after another moment. "You have me, Aleran. Either do something with me or let me up."

Tavi felt his face flare into a fiery blush, and he hurriedly pushed his arms down and lifted his weight from Kitai. The Marat girl looked up at him without moving for a moment, her mouth curled into a little smirk, before she rose with a thoughtless, feline grace to her own feet. She looked around for a moment and spotted her ill-gotten loaf of sweetbread on the ground, crushed during their struggle.

"Now look what you've done," she complained. "You've destroyed my dinner, Aleran." She frowned and stared at him for a moment, annoyance nickering in her eyes as she looked him up and down, then stood directly before him with her hands on her hips. Tavi blinked mildly at her expression and stared down at her. "You've grown," she accused him. "You're taller."
"It's been two years," Tavi said.

Kitai made a faint, disgusted sound. Beneath the cloak she wore a man's tunic of dark, expensive silk, hand-stitched with Forcian nightflowers, heavy, Legion-issue leather trousers, and fine leather shoes that would have cost a small fortune. The Marat girl had changed as well, and though she was obviously little taller than before, she had developed in other, extremely interesting ways, and Tavi had to force himself not to stare at the pale slice of smooth flesh revealed by the neckline of the tunic. Her cheek had a reddened patch of abraded flesh sharing space with a steadily darkening bruise, where Tavi had first slammed her into the wall. There was a similar mark upon her throat, though it was slender and precise, from where Tavi's lariat had caught her.

If she felt any pain, it didn't show. She regarded Tavi with intelligent, defiant eyes, and said, "Doroga said you would do this to me."
"Do what?" Tavi asked.
"Grow," she said. Her eyes raked him up and down, and she seemed to feel no compunction at all about staring at him. "Become stronger."

"Um," Tavi said. "I'm sorry?"

She glowered at him, and looked around until she spotted her knife. She reclaimed it, and Tavi saw that the blade was inlaid with gold and silver, the handle set with a design of amber and amethysts, and would probably have cost him a full year's worth of the modest monthly stipend Gaius permitted him. More jewelry glittered at her throat, on both wrists and in one ear, and Tavi gloomily estimated that the value of the goods she had stolen would probably merit her execution should she be captured by the authorities.

"Kitai," he said. "What in the world are you doing here?"

"Starving," she snapped. She poked at the ruined loaf with the tip of her shoe. "Thanks to you, Aleran."

Tavi shook his head. "What were you doing before that?"

"Not starving," she said with a sniff.

"Crows, Kitai. Why did you come here?"

Her lips pressed together for a moment before she answered. "To stand Watch."

"Uh. What?"

"I am Watching," she snapped. "Don't you know anything?"

"I'm starting to think that I don't," Tavi said. "Watching what?"

Kitai rolled her eyes in a gesture that conveyed both annoyance and contempt. "You, fool." She narrowed her eyes. "But what were you doing on that roof? Why did you attack me?"
"I didn't know it was you," Tavi said. "I was trying to catch the thief called the Black Cat. I suppose I did."

Kitai's eyes narrowed. "The One sometimes blesses even idiots with good fortune, Aleran." She folded her arms. "You have found me. What do you want?"

Tavi chewed on his lip, thinking. It was dangerous for Kitai to be in Alera at all, much less in the capital. The Realm's experiences with other races upon Carna had invariably been tense, hostile, and violent. When the Marat had wiped out Princeps Gaius Septimus's Legion at the First Battle of Calderon, they had created an entire generation of widows and orphans and bereaved families. And since the Crown Legion had been recruited from Alera Imperia, there were thousands, tens of thousands of individuals in this city with a bitter grudge against the Marat.
Kitai, because of her athletic build, pale skin, and hair-and especially because of her exotically slanted eyes-would be recognized immediately as one of the barbarians from the east. Given all that she had stolen (and the humiliation she had inflicted upon the civic legion in the process), she would never see the inside of a jail or a court of law. If seen, she would probably be seized by an angry mob and stoned, hanged, or burned on the spot, while the civic legion looked the other way.

Tavi's neglected stomach gurgled a complaint, and he sighed. "First thing," he said, "I'm going to get us both some food. Will you wait here for me?"

Kitai arched an eyebrow. "You think I cannot steal food for myself?"

"I'm not going to steal it," Tavi said. "Think of it as an apology for ruining your sweetbread."
Kitai frowned at that for a moment, then nodded cautiously and said, "Very well."

He had just enough money to purchase a couple of heavy wildfowl drumsticks, a loaf of sweetbread, and a flagon of apple cider. He took them back into the dim alley, where Kitai waited in patient stillness. Tavi passed her a drumstick and broke the loaf in half, then let her choose one. Then he leaned back against the wall, standing beside her, and got down to the serious business of eating.

Evidently, Kitai was at least as ravenous as Tavi, and they demolished meat and bread alike in moments. Tavi took a long drink from the flask and offered the rest to Kitai.

The Marat girl drank and wiped her mouth with one sleeve, then turned to Tavi, exotic eyes glittering. She dropped the empty flask and studied him while she licked the crumbs and grease from her fingers. Tavi found it fascinating, and waited in silence for a moment.

Kitai gave him a slow smile. "Yes, Aleran?" she asked. "Is there something you want?"

Tavi blinked and coughed, looking away before he started blushing again. He reminded himself sternly of what was at stake and that he did not dare allow himself to be distracted when it could cost so many people their lives. The terrifying weight of his responsibility drove away thoughts of Kitai's fingers and mouth, replacing them with twisting anxiety. "Yes, actually," he said. "I need your help."

Kitai's playful little smile vanished, and she peered at him, her expression curious, even concerned. "With what?"

"Breaking into a building," he said. "I need to learn how you've managed to get around all the security precautions in the places you have raided."

Kitai frowned at him. "For what reason?"

"A man is locked inside a prison tower. I need to get him out of the Grey Tower without tripping any furycrafted alarms and without anyone seeing us. Oh, and we need to do it so that no one knows that he's missing for at least a quarter of an hour."

Kitai took that in stride. "Will it be dangerous?"

"Very," Tavi said. "If we're caught, they will imprison or kill us both."

Kitai nodded, her expression thoughtful. "Then we must not be caught."

"Or fail," Tavi said. "Kitai, this could be important. Not just for me, but for all of Alera."

"Why?" she asked.

Tavi furrowed his brow. "We don't have much time for explanations. How much do you know about Aleran politics?"

"I know that you people are all insane," Kitai said.

Despite himself, a low bark of laughter flew from his lips. "I can see how you'd think that," Tavi said. "Do you need a reason other than insanity, then?"

"I prefer it," Kitai said.

Tavi considered it for a moment, then said, "The man who is locked away is my friend. He was put there for defending me."

Kitai stared at him for a moment and nodded. "Reason enough," she said.

"You'll help me?"

"Yes, Aleran," she answered. She studied his features with thoughtful eyes. "I will help you."
He nodded seriously. "Thank you."

Her teeth shone white in the dim alley. "Do not thank me. Not until you see what we must do to enter this tower." (Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher pp 264 - 270)

This marks the only occasion upon which Tavi bests Kitai.

Having successfully liberated Max, Tavi, with the help of another reliable soldier, Captain Miles, sets about his daring subterfuge of replacing Gaius until he's well enough to resume his position.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Tavi's aunt Isana, having heard from Doroga of the apparent Vord interest in Tavi, becomes concerned for her nephew and resolves to go to the capital and plead for his safety directly to the first Lord, whom she detests intensely. Unfortunately, when she arrives, she's unable to really see him because he's not really there, and several attempts are made on her life. Having thus failed with the First Lord, she falls into the clutches of the Aquitaine family, another rival for the Gaius' s position. They promise they will take care of her and her nephew if she will align herself with them and give them her allegiance. This she agrees to do.

Meanwhile, Tavi has befriended the Canim ambassador and learns from him that there is some interesting, dangerous and odd activity underneath the city which turns out to be, upon investigation, the Vord, who are evidently being aided by another of the Canim race.
As Tavi tries to figure out what to do, and to manage his vicarious and illegal impersonation of the First Lord, we find that the other odd couple, Amara and Bernard are not exactly on easy street. Isana resents Amara, and Amara resents herself fro the same reason: she is unable to have children and she feels that because of this, Bernard should ditch her and find a more fertile spouse. Count Bernard isn’t interested.

As the novel draws to a close, we're faced with an assault on the First Lord's palace by the Canim in a coup attempt. Of course, the only people who can defend him are Tavi, Max, Miles, a few palace guards, Kitai, and the Lady Aquitaine, who happens to be present. They fight a running battle which they win, but barely. Tavi passes out, in fear of Kitai's life.
He recovers, and is discharged from his duties as palace page. As his final task, he's required to deliver a letter of welcome to the new Marat amabassador. I leave you with that scene:

He left the First Lord's suites and walked slowly into the north hall. He paused to ask a passing maid where the new Ambassador's quarters were located, and she directed him to a large set of double doors at the far end of the hall. Tavi walked down to them and knocked quietly.
The door opened, and Tavi found himself facing Kitai as he had never seen her before. She was dressed in a robe of dark emerald silk that fell to her knees and belted loosely at the waist. Her hair was down, brushed out into long and shining waves of white that fell to her hips. Her feet were bare, and fine, glittering chains of silver wrapped one ankle, both wrists, and her throat, where the necklace was set with another green stone. The colors were a perfectly lovely complement to her large, exotic eyes.

Tavi's heart suddenly beat very quickly.

Kitai studied Tavi's expression, her own face somewhat smug, and she smiled slowly. "Hello, Aleran."

"Urn," Tavi said. "I have a message for the Ambassador."

"Then you have a message for me," she said, and held out her hand. Tavi passed the envelope to her. She opened it and frowned at the letter within, then said, "I cannot read."

Tavi took the letter and read it. "Ambassador Kitai. I was pleased to hear from the crown guardsman you passed on the way into the palace yesterday morning that Doroga had dispatched an envoy to Alera to serve as an ambassador and emissary between our peoples. While I did not expect your arrival, you are most welcome here. I trust your quarters are satisfactory, and that your needs have been adequately attended to. You have only to inquire of any of the serving staff if you have need of anything else."

Kitai smiled, and said, "I have my own pool, in the floor. You can fill it with hot water or cold, Aleran, and there are scents and soaps and oils of every kind. They brought me meals, and I have a bed that could fit a mother gargant giving birth." She lifted her chin and pointed at the necklace. "You see?"

Tavi saw very soft, very fair skin, more than anything-but the necklace was lovely, too.
"Had I known of this," Kitai continued, "I might have asked to be an Ambassador before now."

Tavi coughed. "Well. I, uh. I mean, I suppose you are an Ambassador, if the First Lord says so, but for goodness sake, Kitai."

"Keep your opinions to yourself, message boy," she said disdainfully. "Continue to read."

Tavi gave her an even look, then read the rest of the note. "In order to help you better understand your duties here, I suggest that you take the time and effort to learn to understand the written word. Such a skill will be an immense advantage to you in the long run, and enable you more accurately to record your experiences and knowledge so that you may pass it on to your people. To that end, I am placing at your disposal the bearer of this message, whose sole duty for the next several weeks at least will be to teach you such skills with words as he may possess. Welcome to Alera Imperia, Ambassador, and I look forward to speaking with you in the future. Signed, Gaius Sixtus, First Lord of Alera."

"My disposal," she said. "Hah. I think I like that. I can have you do anything, now. Your chieftain said so."

"I don't think that's what he meant when-"

"Silence, errand boy!" she said, green eyes sparkling with mischief. "There are horses here, yes?"

"Well. Yes. But…"

"Then you will take me to them, and we will go for a ride," she said, still smiling.
Tavi sighed. "Kitai… perhaps tomorrow? I need to make sure Max is all right. And my aunt. We're having dinner this evening."

"Of course," she said at once. "Important things first."

"Thank you," he said.

She bowed her head to him a little. "And you, Aleran. I saw you against the Cane. You fought well. It was cleverly done."

And then she stepped up to him, stood on tiptoe, and kissed him on the mouth.

Tavi blinked in surprise, and for a second he couldn't move. Then she lifted her arms and twined them around his neck, drawing him closer, and everything in the world but her mouth and her arms and the scent and fever-hot warmth of her vanished. It was sometime later that the kiss ended, and Tavi felt a little wobbly. Kitai looked up at him with languid, pleased eyes, and said, "Cleverly done. For an Aleran."

"Th-thank you," Tavi stammered.

"My disposal," she said, satisfaction in her tone. "This promises to be a pleasant spring."
"Uh," Tavi said. "Wh-what?"

She made a little sound, half of impatience, half of disgust. "When will you stop talking, Aleran?" she said in a low, throaty growl and kissed him again, drawing him back into the room, until Tavi could kick the door closed behind them. (Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher pp 450 - 452)


2. Cursor's Fury (index)

So in volume three of Jim Butcher's Excellent Adventures of the Warrior Goddess Kitai, we find Tavi with the First Lord, who seems to be taking an unseemly interest in Tavi's sex life. Not that he has a complete one from what he reveals. The First Lord proves that despite his awesome fury-crafting powers, he's even more clueless than is Tavi with regard to how deep this bond is with Kitai. He dispenses pretty much the same advice that Norman Osborn offers his son Harry with regard to Mary Jane in Spider-Man: "A word to the not-so-wise about your little girlfriend. Do what you need to with her, then broom her fast."

Tavi is almost panicked at the thought of spending significant time away from Kitai, and to give him his due, he does honestly worry that she might suffer, because of their bond, if she's forcibly kept from him for long periods of time, but in this same concern, he's actually disrespecting her strength and independence, so even though he's beginning to recognize their bond, he's still essentially clueless about her. This will come back to haunt him humorously, as it happens, in the final novel of the hexalogy.

Fortunately he doesn't need to worry. When he arrives at the legion camp and settles in, he gets into the habit of visiting the public baths, run by Cymnea, the brothel keeper. He tosses a coin to a blind beggar girl on his way in, and sitting in the bath later, he thinks, "Crows" and runs outside to discover that, as he's just begun to imagine, the beggar girl is actually Kitai spying on camp activities to learn all she can about what's really going on. She does this routinely throughout the novels from this point on, delivering invaluable information to Tavi because of her excellence in this pursuit. She chides him about taking so long to recognize her.

Before he gets to the camp, however, Tavi is sent to meet a crafting master to try and get his non-existent skills kick-started. There's a reason his skills have shriveled on the vine, but we don't learn of this until later in the series. He's dragged from his crafting lessons by Max, rather like Luke Skywalker is forced to abandon Yoda's teachings to address a problem. Hmm! Come to think of it, there's rather a lot in common between Tavi and Luke, isn't there?!

We learn a bit of Max's past here, because his stepmother who hates him with a vengeance and has tried to kill him, and his step brother who will inherit if Max dies, also join the new First Aleran. What happened to the original first Aleran isn't specified!

Tavis is now supposed to be a fully-fledged cursor, but given that he has no windcrafting - or crafting of any kind for that matter - he's pretty much useless as a cursor. In the legion, they call the newbies 'fish', so this novel really ought to have been called 'Fish's Fury'. Tavi goes under a false name: the bizarre name of Rufus Scipio, which no doubt was all the rage in the real Roman era, but strikes me as one of the most hilarious names I've ever seen. Perhaps that's why Butcher chose it?

Lord Kalare, is the bad guy in this instalment. Because of a letter the First Lord sent, written in a deliberately provocative manner because he knew it would be intercepted by Kalare's spies, the wannabe First Lord has launched a war upon what he considers is the real, but weak First lord. Kalare wants to be First Lord himself. he has kidnapped more than one person in order to hold them hostage and thereby prevent people from doing things he does not want done. One of his kidnappees is a cursor friend of Tavi's - or rather her child, so that she then had to become a spy for him. Another is the wife of one of the other lords of Alera. It is Count Bernard, his wife, the cursor Lady Amara, and the problematic Lady Aquitaine, who are tasked with rescuing her. Lady Aquitaine hold the allegiance of Isana, Bernard's brother. Isana isn't involved since she's spending way the hell too much time trying to revive Fade, her slave (who is way more than that we discover) and who has been poisoned. So focused on him is she that she neglects to help the wounded in the battle.

Tavi is supposed to be garnering military experience for himself as the subtribue in the First Aleran - a brand new army. He discovers that things aren't working the way a well-organized military should be: supplies, for example, are disappearing, so he brings in Cymnea to take charge!

Lord Kalare has made an alliance with the Canim. They are to help him become First Lord in return for his granting them a portion of Alera upon which to live. The reason they need Alera rather than their own land is something to be explored in vol 4 of this series, but in this volume, Tavi is the only thing standing in the way of the Canim running riot. He establishes a front line in a fortified town, and holds the line. Kitai helps immeasurably by riding the land as a spy, at times taking Tavi to show him curious and vital secrets.

One of these secrets is that the Canim have a warrior leader and a spiritual leader, Sarl, and the spiritual leader has a magic of his own. He uses this magic to turn the sky red, and he plans to use it to strike down Tavi when he meets with the warrior leader, but his plan fails, because Tavi has possession of Lady Antillus's Bloodstone which prevents the Canim magic from destroying him. At the start of the novel, Tavi was playing chess with the warrior Cane who is now leading the Canim. During a truce, he's invited to play a game again with this Cane, and he does so, listening carefully as the Cane, who is not at all a friend of Sarl's, passes important information to him in a coded way, which helps him to udnerstand why the Canim came here.

Tavi, of course, holds the line and repels the invaders, and kills Sarl after discrediting him to show the Canim that he, Tavi, was far stronger than their best magician, even though he really isn't. The novel ends with Kitai suggesting that Tavi let her bring in some Marat horsewomen to act as spies and scouts. She, of course, would elad them. She already has her hair shorn with a crest, in the tyle of the horse tribe of the Marat, and she has been at Tavi's side the whole time, so his army is used to seeing a Marat helping them.

Tavi considers this, and reacts by pushing her against the wall in his quarters and kissing her passionately. He forces himself to stop, complaining that the fury-crafted light in there is a signal to his officers that they can come in any time with issues and concerns. He needs to have Max put out the light, but as he says the words, the light goes out, and he discovers that he can command it to turn on and off at will. Kitai is not impressed with this, and at the very end of the last chapter, she tells the light to go out, and it does!

2. Captain's Fury (index)

This takes place two years on from what's come to be known as 'the Night of the Red Stars' which was seen during the great battle at the Elinarch bridge. Tavis has been fending off attacks from the Canim throughout this time. At the instigation of Lady Invidia Aquitaine, Senator Arnos arrives to take over command. Lady Aquitaine's ultimate plan is to have Tavi removed from his command, so Tavi helps that along immensely by meeting with Nasaug, the Canim leader. Dues to spying activities, Tavi knows that Nasaug is trying to build ships so the Canim can return to their homeland, and he arranges with the Canim leader to help him by returning the Canim Ambassador Varg, who is currently imprisoned.

Tavi is arrested for conspiring with the enemy, but he escapes and boards a ship to Alkera Imperia, the capital. traveling with him are Isana, Kitai, Ehren, and Araris. They're pursued by Arnos’s men, but they use fury-crafting to kill the 'witchmen' whose sole value is keeping the violently intolerant leviathans unaware of their presence on the ocean. Once the witchmen are dead, the leviathans trash their pursuer's ship.

It's at this point that Tavi's aunt Isana comes back into the story with full force. She finds that her water-crafting has grown immensely. More importantly to her, she has been trying to tell Tavi who he really is. In the end, it was left to Fade, now know as Araris, to tell him that isana is not his aunt - she's his mother. His father is the son of Lord Gaius, the First Lord and therefore, Tavi is next in line to the throne of Alera!

Meanwhile the First Lord himself enters the battle big time, and he arranges for Count Bernard and Lady Amara to travel with him, in total secrecy, to Kalare's lands. Until he gets to where he needs to be - a place where he can quiet the massive fury which Kalare has awoken, and which must be quieted before it kills thousands - he must not use his powers, so everythign is on Bernard and Amara tot ake care of him, including the blister he gets on his feet.

When they arrive, the First Lord does the opposite of what he said - instead of quieting the fury, he awakens it, causing a massive volcanic eruption, which destroys the Kalarean capital and kills thousands. Amara is so pissed off with him that she throws his coin - the one which empowers her to be his cursor - in his face and quits on him on the spot.

Tavi frees Varg and returns him to his people. He choses that moment to declare that he is Gaius Octavian. grandson of the First Lord, and he challenges Senator Arnos to a 'Juris Macto' - a duel of honor. Unfortunately for Tavi, Arnos choses a representative to fight in his stead: Pharygiar Navaris, the deadliest man in Alera.

Fidelias, now known as Marcus, the man who betrayed Amara in vol one of this series, is tasked by the Lady Aquitaine to kill Tavi in the unlikely event that he wins. He does win, but Fidelius now betrays her. He fires the balest - a huge cross-bow like bolt, into Arnos and Aquitaine at once, as they are standing one behind the other. It looks like a Canim assasination, since this is their weapon of choice. Lady Aquitaine survives the wound, but since the bolt has been poisoned, she does not have long to live. Or does she?

Tavi manages to talk the First Lord into allowing the Canim safe passage back to their own land. They build ice ships to travel in, and Tavi and his usual crew go with them.

2. Princep's Fury (index)

Princeps's Fury takes off right after the previous vol. Tavi crosses the ocean on the ice ships and learns of the tragedy which has unfolded in the Canim homeland. Cursor Ehren, Tavi's friend, and the First Lord of Alera take the battle to the Vord, which is now revealed to be the biggest threat to Alera, beyond anything else they've ever faced. On this ame fornt, the Lady Amara and her husband Count Bernard, Tavi's uncle, must try to discover how it is that the Vord can now use fury-crafting! As if they were not an evil enough foe to begin with. Finally, Isana, who is Tavi's mom, is dispatched to the north, where an entire Aleran army is effectively trapped because they must ward off the ice giants from even further north.

Perhaps the most interesting thing in this novel (apart from the always enthralling Kitai, whose humor, devotion to Tavi and skills as a horsewoman, spy, and warrior just keep on growing and growing) is Isana issuing a Juris Macto of her own!. She wins, and forges a truce with the ice men, which frees up the entire army there to battle the Vord, who are no seriously threatening to overrun Alera as they did the Canim homeland.

We learn that the reason that the Vord now have fury-crafting skills is that they've taken the Lady Aquitaine on board. She is effectively one of them and they now have access to her skills. In return, she gets not to die from the poisoned balest with which Fidelius shot her. The Vord queen also has learned skills from Kalarus Brencis, who died at the Frst lord's hand in Captain's Fury so that she cna now turn anyone into a Vord zombie.

The First Lord comes out big time here. He is dying we learn, because of his age, his stressful life, and the fact that his second wife was slowly poisoning him, so when he makes the ultimate sacrfice, and massively degrades the Vord at the same time, it's not surprising. What is surprising is that he has contact with a power which no other Lord of Alera has: he is tapped into Alera herself - the fury of the entire nation. He asks that Alera devote herself to Tavi now - that whatever allegiance she had to the First Lord be transferred to his grandson.

Tavi travels with Kitai (and other Alerans) to the homeland of the Canem (which is not next door to Panem!). He's transporting the Canem home, but upon arrival they discover that Canea has been overrun by Vord. For a while, Tavi and his small traveling team, separated by design from their main party, are held captive (across country from the coast where they arrived) by the leader of last outpost of the Canem, which is on the verge of being wiped out. When he's finally asked for help by the local Cane leader, Tavi is granted access to the battle reports from all the Canem tribes, one of which held out much longer than the rest.

Tavi slowly comes to the realization that the Vord not only operate through direct instructions from a queen, but also that the queen does not operate alone. Each time she moves to a new location, the queen spawns two daughters. This triad then wages war on the local populace until victory is won. Each of the three queens then moves to a new area and re-spawns, making a new triad. Thus the geometric progression of the assault.

The cane leader who held out longest had apparently discerned this pattern and changed his battle plan to address it head on. Instead of standing still and steadfastly trying to repel wave after wave of almost overwhelming Vord attacks, he went after the queen each time they managed to pinpoint the location of one of them, stemming the tide and forcing the Vord to regroup. But even this plan was doomed to failure because he did not have enough troops to overcome the massive attrition rate and he did not know how to overcome the Vord queens' ability to sense and control the thoughts of those enemy who were within a certain close range. He tried to win by sheer force of large numbers applied surgically, but even this was a doomed strategy in the end.

Tavi hatches a plan to overcome the Vord queens' mind-reading abilities, and also convinces his followers and the Cane alike to follow the lead of the successful Cane strategy, modified with his new twists. If you have seen the movie Push, you will recognize Tavi's contribution to the plan, but Princeps Fury was released in December 2008, before the release of Push in 2009. Is it odd that two separate writers both came up with the same idea around the same time?!

Meanwhile, back in Alera, the Vord are also mounting a full scale assault, and slowly beating back the Aleran armies towards their capital, despite a massive battle led and fought by Alera's finest lords and citizens. After Gaius's overwhelmingly massive blast of the Vord ground forces, the defenders suddenly discover that they've been had by the Vord. The local queen never intended the ground forces to succeed, but instead sacrificed them in order to wear down the Alerans and give away the location of Alera's best defensive personnel before unleashing her hitherto unencountered and certainly unexpected airborne force to wipe them out.

Meanwhile, Isana is dispatched by Gaius north to the massive wall designed to hold back the fearsome Ice men. She is to make peace with them (even though after 300 years of war, no peace has ever been struck). She makes far more progress in two meetings than anyone else has made. She discovers that the Ice men have fury-crafting skills and because of these, the natural (and unconscious) reaction of Aleran soldiers to their proximity was fear and loathing on the campaign trail. This irrational reaction is why no peace could ever be struck. Unfortunately, just as she's making progress, Lord Antillus launches a sneak attack upon the senior Ice men leadership, and all but destroys Isana's hard work and the value of her astute insights. Through sheer force of will and expert use of her now more powerful grasp of fury-crafting, Isana defeats Antillus's plan and saves the lives of the Ice leaders.

Amara and Bernard act as spies in this volume, also picking up useful knowledge of Vord practices, but this couple is the least interesting to me of all the various people we follow in this series. I don’t know what it is, but maybe it’s that they are far too sickly sweet, sappy, and intense for my taste, although I respect Amara's skills.

My two heroes, Kitai and the Vord queen aren't that interesting in this volume, either. Kitai is always worth reading about but she has no stand-outs here. The Vord queen becomes really fascinating only in volume six, where she's a treat.

1. Cast in Shadow (index)

You can read chapter one on Michelle Sagara's web site.

When she was in her early teens, Kaylin Neya was an orphan on the street in one of seven fiefs surrounding the city of Elantra. The fief was named 'Nightshade' after its overlord, a Barrani, which is one of a half-dozen species inhabiting the city, and Kaylin was sharing a squat with a guy named Severn and two other girls, all in perfect innocence. Innocence, that is, until Severn killed the other two girls, whereupon Kaylin fled Nightshade into the city, carrying with her a burning hatred of Severn. By a lucky stroke, she found herself with the opportunity to enter service with one of the three arms of the law in Elantra - a city ruled by the iron fist of the dragon emperor.

Kaylin was so young when she began training as a 'Groundhawk' law enforcement officer that she has become a bit of a mascot and is indulged rather more than she ought to be, but despite this she has a tough life, being barely able to make her rent and eat at the same time. Now, as a relatively mature officer, she finds herself faced with returning to Nightshade to investigate the very crimes which were going on when she lived there: the murders of children, all of whom have an obscure language written on their skin - the same language which Kaylin also has on her own body. The crimes died out without a perp beign discovered, but now they ahve started voer again. The problem is that she must investigate this with Severn at her side - Severn who is now also a law enforcement office in a different branch of the Hawks' service.

We first meet Kaylin running late for work - so late, in fact that she has to be called on her mirror communicator by her boss, Marcus, a ferocious Leontine (lion-like race). Kaylin is late because she was up late the previous night helping to deliver a baby to another Leontine. The Leontines are the closest thing Kaylin has to a family, and her healing arts are in demand. Kaylin is called to the dragon tower for her latest mission, and this is where she learns she has to work with Severn. Kaylin's mood isn't helped by the fact that her trip to the tower for her mission instructions is plagued by her having to interact with magic. The doors around the tower are warded by magic "locks" and these always hurt her when she has to press her hand up to gain admission - kinda like a static shock, but worse. Later in the series, she gains a rather charming means of bypassing door wards. Her first reaction upon seeing Severn in the tower is to try to kill him, but despite this, she's dispatched to Nightshade with Severn, a dragon by the name of Tiamaris, and a Barrani friend named An'Teela or Teela for short, who has a soft spot for Kaylin and often is a drinking buddy, along with another young Barrani called Tain.

The dragons look perfectly human - until, as Kaylin later discovers, they have to morph into their true form. Teela is a Barrani: a tall, beautful race who are not at all forgiving and who live by an almost inscrutable code of conduct which doesn't mean they're not very, very dangerous. The Barrani are prideful and immortal, but not invulnerable. Another race is the Tha'alani, who also look human except for their resemblance to the Andorians od Star Trek fame in that they have the same antennae. Kaylin hates the Tha'alani and lives in fear of them because they can read minds. The Aerians can fly, and some of them used to take Kaylin flying when she was younger. Sagara explores each of these races in different novels.

2. Cast in Courtlight

You can read chapter one on Michelle Sagara's web site.

I find that I can hardly remember the details of this one, but rest assured I did enjoy it and found it just as enthralling as book one. As I mentioned before, each novel focuses on one of the six races, and the Barrani get their turn in this one. They are proud and fierce and very attuned to manners, impressions, behavior, and courtliness, so one wrong look or word could get you into serious, even lethal trouble. So why would they have a graceless and troublesome young woman like Kaylin as a guest? Well she's a healer, and one of the most senior Barrani is extremely ill. Kaylin is his last hope, and fix him she does, but not before she has a massive dose of Barrani culture and finds herself undergoing the Barrani entrance exam (as it were), and coming through it with great success, along with her colleague Severn. Now they are Lord Severn and Lord Kaylin, but I didn't get that bit. Kaylin's friend Teela, a female Barrani, is Lady An'Teela, so why is Kaylin Lord Kaylin? Makes no sense! I do recommend this one however, because it is really engrossing and really enjoyable. Sagara's imagination is out of this world.

3. Cast in Secret

You can read chapter one on Michelle Sagara's web site.

When a Tha'alani child goes misisng, Kaylin's love of children is what brings her to the forefront of the investigation. She is the only person whom the Tha'alani will trust to find out what happened. But Kaylin hates the mind-reading Tha'alani. So this is going to be a totally upheaving adventure for both parties.

4. Cast in Fury

You can read chapter one on Michelle Sagara's web site.

Kaylin's assignment in this volume is (please don't laugh) to act as muse to the Emperor's new playwright. because of what happened with the Tha'alani in the previous volume, there is a grave potential for violence towards the telepathic race, and this play is considered to be the way to solve that problem. Only in Sagara-world would this be a solution! As if this isn't bad enough, the nearest thing Kaylin has to a father, her boss, the Leontine police sergeant Marcus is charged with murder and sentenced to be executed. Worse, Marcus admits he did it!

5. Cast in Silence

You can read chapter one on Michelle Sagara's web site.

Trouble is once again brewing in those unruly fiefs, this time in a place with which Kaylin is really well acquainted: Barren. Or is she? She stayed there after she fled Nightshade and the murderous Severn, but she doesn;t remeber Barren behaving back then like it is now - with free time-travel thrown in.

6. Cast in Chaos

You can read chapter one on Michelle Sagara's web site.

This volume sees the arrival of a new race in Elantra. Magi-quakes break out in an area of the city which is known for its charlatans and snake-oil sales people, but this magical outburst is real, and it heralds the opening of a portal. Does this explain how so many different sentient races came to be in Elantra in the first place? Maybe!

7. Cast in Ruin

You can read chapter one on Michelle Sagara's web site.

Women are showing up dead in one of the fiefs, and the new race of giants from the previous volume are the immediate suspects, of course, but there's a serious problem with accusing those people - or anyone else for that matter: the women who are dying are all the same woman, down to the last hair on her head. The funny thing is that this dead woman is going to become Kaylin's new roommate....

8. Cast in Peril

Although up to Cast in Ruin Sagara offered a free read of chapter one as you can see above (current as of when I first posted them), she seems to have discontinued this practice since I can find no such freebie for Cast in Peril or subsequent volumes.

Kaylin and her new roommate (the last known female dragon, named Bellusdeo) are doing fine, thank you very much, until someone unleashes an "Arcane bomb" in her apartment and the only thing which saves their lives is the egg she appropriated in the previous volume - or rather, whatever it is which hatches from the egg right before the bomb goes off. The thing which conveniently hatches at the perfect moment seems to be a baby dragon, and it attaches itself to Kaylin like a limpet.

Kaylin's assignment in this novel is to once again go into the fiefs and investigate several cases of people vanishing in the fiefs. She is assigned to work with Tiamaris once again, and discovers that the mysterious towers in each of the fiefs are actually sentient - and she can talk to one of them. As if this isn't disturbing enough, Kaylin also discovers that she must accompany the Barrani to the West March for their magical story-telling ceremony. This novel contains the beginning of the trip only, but it is more than worth the time to read it. Once again Sagara triumphs in introducing a thrilling and original story with some amazing sights to behold. And you'll want to be holding them.

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