08/01/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT
By J.K. Rowling
The verdict's in: If nothing else, J.K. Rowling's 5-lb., 652-page sixth book is a blockbuster—one that pulled in $100 million over the July 16 weekend, topping the hit films Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Wedding Crashers, combined, in the same two-day span. Rowling's first book in two years and the penultimate in the series, Half-Blood Prince also delivers a dramatic punch that matches the frenzy surrounding its release.
In this go-round Lord Voldemort's violent campaign against good wizards has spilled into the Muggle world. Harry, now 16, is the key figure in the war on evil—lionized for his role as the Chosen One who will kill Voldemort or die trying. Harry accepts his fate but vows to take as many of the Dark Lord's followers with him as he can. And "Voldemort too if I can manage it," he announces.
Is this the guy who stuttered through Goblet of Fire? The sullen teen in Order of the Phoenix? The boy wizard has become a young man—a fact not lost on Hogwarts' females. When a slew of newcomers sign up for Gryffindor's Quidditch team, Hermione puts Harry straight: "It's not Quidditch that's popular, it's you! You've never been more interesting, and frankly, you've never been more fanciable."
Charisma or no, Harry still faces hard lessons. The most important involve guided journeys into the Pensieve, a device that lets Harry see events from the Dark Lord's past, learning what they do—and don't—have in common. These sessions set up an explosive finish, but can Rowling top herself? This book is the most intense—and absorbing—yet.