We finally got the book, and we finally started reading. As promised/threatened, I’ll be recording my scintillating thoughts on a chapter-by-chapter basis. So as not to spoil the book for anyone who isn’t as far along as I am, I’m going to put everything — including chapter titles — after a jump.
So, let us begin:
Chapter 1: The Dark Lord Ascending
Book 7 starts out in the tradition of books 4 and 6, with a chapter that isn’t written from Harry’s perspective: we’re back with the Death Eaters. These “councils of the bad guys” scenes are always kind of awkward to me in fiction. To a certain extent, villains are more evil the more mysterious they are. Voldemort loses some of his sinister charisma when we see him presiding over what is essentially a board meeting. I wonder who’s taking minutes?
The Malfoys are a bit the worse for wear. I don’t remember when Lucius broke out of prison (did that happen at the end of book 6?) but given that Voldemort relieves him of his wand, it’s safe to say his stock isn’t rising. I can’t quite yet muster up any sympathy for Draco, who seems to realize he’s in over his head. Narcissa Malfoy is a bit of a tragic figure, though. I wonder if we’ll learn more about her. Bellatrix and Voldemort need to get a room.
Snape’s status is still ambiguous, although he seems to be accepted by Voldemort. His information on Harry’s movements is believed over that of Yaxley, of whom we’ve never heard before, and who seems like a tremendous tool. Harry’s being moved to the “house of someone in the Order,” which, c’mon, is almost certainly the Burrow. One wonders if Snape could possibly not know this, or if he’s withholding the details intentionally. Voldemort’s planning to move against Harry personally pretty early in this book, so I’d wager we can predict a lot of fighting. And, of course, we are to wonder who Snape’s source is. (Mundungus, perhaps?)
The murder of Charity Burbage would be a bit more effective if we’d ever heard of her before. The hand-waviness about the size of the student body and faculty at Hogwarts will probably continue. I suppose we always knew there must have been a Muggle Studies teacher. Are there any other faculty members left whose existence we can assume but whose names we don’t know?
The biggest problem with this chapter, with all the talk of how the Death Eaters are infiltrating the Ministry is this: what, exactly, is Voldemort’s plan? Is he trying to kill all of the non-magical people? If so, how could the Ministry stand in the way? Are the Aurors so effective that he thinks he can’t make his move without bringing them down from the inside? We haven’t seen any evidence yet that the Ministry can do anything right. This actually speaks to my biggest problem with the books, which is the tension caused by the variance in tone from book to book and chapter to chapter. The Ministry has been generally played for laughs, with its comical bureaucracy (all those departments!) and its genial (until book 5) Minister. But how can our serious villain launch a subtle and detailed attack against a caricature? I’m going to whine about this tension (broad children’s lit satire vs. detailed fantasy novel) again in chapter 2 and, I expect, throughout the book.
Chapter 1 isn’t exciting, exactly, but it does give us plenty to worry about. Onward!
Oh, and mazel tov to Tonks and Lupin. Rachel and I paused for a genuine “awwww.”
No spoilers for later chapters in the comments! Don’t make me come over there.