I’d like to start off by addressing the big thing I’ve noticed with this story – while it has 3.5ish stars on Goodreads, a quick scroll through the reviews reveals that’s mostly the average of 1 star reviews and 5 star reviews. There are very few people who “meh” this story. They either love or hate it. My current theory, mentioned in one of my status updates, is that this is because a huge swath of the world (or at least the Anglophile world) grew up with Harry and Co as their buddies. It was both their intro into magical fantasy and a friend who was going through the same age-related issues (until the civil war at the end which would only be relevant for a certain chunk of the world). This didn’t happen for me. I think I was in high school when they started coming out – I was certainly done with college by the time the last books and movies were coming out. So the Boy Who Lived was a well-conceived and well-fleshed out story to me, nothing more. Never waited to get the books at midnight. Shoot, by the time I wanted to read the books, I waited a few more years for Ms Rowling to offer them DRM-free on Pottermore before I’d buy them. So I read them last year or maybe 2015.
So not only was Harry not a part of my life growing up, but the stories were fresh in my head. HP #8 was not the continuation I’d been waiting for…reading through fan fiction to satisfy my need to know whether or not Albus made it into Griffindor or Slytherin. It was just the next book.
I think this book does a pretty good job continuing and updating the themes of the series: friendship and love. It also does what I’ve been calling for in reviews, on my blog, and on reddit: it takes beloved characters and makes them older. If you related to Harry as an 11 year old, well you might be close to 30 now and might even have your own kids. It’s a way of making the character continue to relate to the old fans as well as telling new stories. It also gives us Albus and Scorpius and if this were a new series, they’d be a great way for the kids of Harry Potter fans to have their own wizarding adventures instead of borrowing their parents’ stories.
What this book does with mediocrity is to come up with a new villain. (view spoiler)[It’s Voldemort’s kid (hide spoiler)] Given who everyone else is, it just seems a bit on the nose. Well, (view spoiler)[lack of nose, I guess (hide spoiler)].
What this story doesn’t do well is the Harry Potter and Albus relationship. The idea of not understanding across generations, that’s universal. But the reason for the conflict is never really stated and in the confines of a 4 act play, there isn’t time to explore that, just the consequences. So it never quite rings true. Sure, there’s a scene about how Albus is not good at magic and can’t fly a broom as well as Harry, but it seems a bit underdeveloped and it is what sets the story in motion.
The story eventually becomes a time travel story that ends up being “It’s a Wonderful Life” for a few characters. I always find time travel paradox stories to be fun, particularly if the author is not taking it too seriously – and Brits almost always have at least a wry sense of humor going on.
So why do so many hate it? If it’s not because the Albus/Harry relationship seems contrived, I think it’s because a lot of what makes HP such a great series is missing. All the world building and all the slice of life aspects are gone. A lot of the first few books has Harry and his mates going through all the day-to-day stuff of growing up even as an existential threat hunts them. This book jumps through three years of Albus’ life in one quick montage. After waiting so long for a sequel I can see how long-time fans would find that disappointing. I thought it was enjoyable, but I’m a newcomer to the proceedings.