Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
Published in 1998
Genre: Fantasy, magical realism
“Not for the first time, an argument had broken out over breakfast at number four Privet Drive.”
While Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a good follow-up to the first Harry Potter book, it fails to pack the same intensity as its predecessor. There isn’t much that is earth shattering as far as the plot goes and it often falls victim to familiar tropes from the first novel; however, there is some further character development and we are able to delve deeper into the connection between Harry and Voldemort.
Someone, or something, is petrifying (putting people into a comatose state, unlike the word’s use in the Gloria Gainor song “I Will Survive”) the students of Hogwarts and it is up to Harry to find the cause. In his attempts to solve the mystery, Harry’s insecurities really come to the fore. Those who read the first book will remember the scene with the Sorting Hat in which the he is nearly placed in the house of Slytherin. This plays a large part in the story when the Chamber of Secrets can only be opened by someone called Slytherin’s heir and Harry spends much of the tale wondering if it might be him.
Much of the evidence points in his direction. Some of the early (At first I was afraid, I was) petrified victims were people that Harry had gotten upset with shortly before they were found and his ability to speak to snakes, known as Parseltongue, is a characteristic that the founder of Slytherin also shared. We see Harry struggle with this knowledge for much of the book as he tries to unravel the mystery of the Chamber. He is a young boy trying to find his place in this magical world that is still so new to him and it is only made more difficult by the tragedy that seems to follow him around.
While the book does put Harry in a dark place at times (pun intended) it does also have lighter moments, some of which are found through the way J.K. Rowling uses alliteration in names. It only takes a couple of pages to realize this. Salazar Slytherin, Godric Gryffindor, Minerva McGonagall, Bertie Bott, and Zaphod Beeblebrox are just a few examples of the character names that can be found using this technique. That last one might not be hers…
Rowling has an immense talent for naming objects and places with alliteration that make them memorable. I think we can agree Polyjuice Potion is more enjoyable to read than Shapeshifting potion. Also the Womping Willow not only describes what the tree does, but is aesthetically superior to Willow Tree that Beats Up Anything Nearby. I think the names that Rowling chooses for her characters and places really bring another dose of magic to the stories, showing not only how different the wizarding world is from the Muggle world, but how fantastic it is as well.
However, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is not without its flaws. The plot is extremely similar to that of the first book, which doesn’t necessarily detract from the story but does make it a bit too familiar. Also, the dreaded adverbs are back. I didn’t notice many for the first half of the book, but they came back with a vengeance in the latter half. I would sometimes find as many as five on one page and they would often be one or two sentences away from each other. I know I’m probably knit picking, but it did become distracting as I continued reading.
I also found some pacing issues in that the mystery flows pretty well up until the third act, where revelations suddenly rush forward and we’re at a *Spoiler alert* very quick confrontation where the villain reveals his evil plan and everything Harry got wrong about it before being defeated after Harry is grievously wounded and saved miraculously (sound familiar HP and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone?). At this point, I wonder if being saved at the last second is Harry’s real super power. The ending is also abrupt with all relevant loose endings tied up and a hopeful look toward summer.
I really did enjoy reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (it has taken all of my concentration not to “accidentally” type Chamber Pot of Secrets throughout this review, so I feel some applause may be deserved) and think that, as far as sequels go, there are many that are much worse. It is almost a self-contained story in that it doesn’t do much to set up the next book but, as far as I can tell, that is Rowling’s aim. I’m sure there will be a payoff in later books, but as of now, I can say that Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a fun read that will make you look forward to the next book in the series.
Verdict: 3 of Fawkes’s phoenix feathers out of 5
Recommended for: Anyone, everyone, people of all ages, fans of flying cars, snake whisperers, adventurous youth, bespectacled children with lightning bolt scars, lovers of western mythology, and fans of the first Harry Potter book.
Not recommended for: Tom Riddle, people who don’t like enchanted journals, Ginny Weasley, Draco Malfoy, sequel haters, those who always avoid alliteration, the Dursleys, Nearly Headless Nick, or Mrs. Norris the cat.