Well this, the fifth book in the series, was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, to say the least. One minute I was laughing and the next I was virtually screaming at the book in frustration. Then, to finish it all off, I was unbelievably sad for Harry and yet again had to open the sixth book straight away to check he was OK. I know, I know, I’ve become overly-attached to Harry!
Harry, having just turned fifteen at the start of this book, is about to enter his fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Any letters he’s received over the holidays, care of the owls which the wizarding community use instead of the standard postman, have been frustratingly lacking in detail and he’s keen to know what’s been happening in his absence. He soon learns about the Order of the Phoenix, an organisation that's been established to thwart Lord Voldemort in his attempts to regain power. Soon after learning this he returns to Hogwarts where the running of day-to-day life takes a dramatic shift as the threat builds. Amidst all this, Harry is about to sit his OWL examinations, kind-of like G.C.S.E’s for wizards.
This book really felt like a step-up from the previous instalments. Maybe it was something to do with the frame of mind I was in while reading it, or maybe it was just a simple case of its longer length (it was over 800 pages), but regardless, it felt more immersive than its predecessors.
As is the norm, there were a few new characters in this book and one in particular that was, rather frustratingly, there a lot and who managed to change the whole landscape of Hogwarts for a time. Anyone who’s read the book will know I’m talking about the dreaded Umbridge! I didn’t like her to begin with, but God how my hatred was cemented when poor Harry’s had to take detention with her. I understood why Harry didn’t report her for what she did to him in detention, but his explanation did nothing to abate the angry voice in my head that kept screaming at him to do something!
Regardless of my distain for Umbridge her edition was well-handled and extremely effective in demonstrating how far-reaching the effect of ignorance can be. In this way, topics of significance took form in the narrative and a maturity took hold that I hope continues.
As the characters grow they continue to deal with ever more weighty issues and have taken on a complexity that is highly satisfying to see. Characters who have had smaller roles in the past had more of a part here as well and I think the length was justified in consideration of this and the aforementioned complexity of plot. That doesn’t mean that younger readers shouldn’t read the latter books in the series, I actually think that’s one of the most fantastic qualities of it, that it would still appeal to a younger audience, but manages to also bring things to the table that can be appreciated by older readers too.