Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is much more well written than the previous book. The Philosopher’s Stone had a fairly good plot, but it was poorly delivered. You can read my review on the first one if you’re interested. The Chamber of Secrets has the opposite problem. The writing is much better, and it’s more tense and suspenseful, but it’s kind of a mess. It reminds me of my own work, where I’ll write just to write, and then about halfway through I’ll come up with a great plot to go with the settings and characters, and then I’ll do a second draft that focuses around that when I’m done the first.
I’m well aware that Rowling did a lot of elaborate planning for the Harry Potter series, and I’m very happy about that. In fact, it’s actually the only reason I decided to check the books out instead of just watching the movies. I tend toward planning myself, and I wanted to read authors who planned, hoping it would help me out somehow. It always helps to read as a writer… right?
Anyway, I’ll start with the big purple elephant in the room. I said in my other review that the first book took eight chapters to get interesting. This time around, the magic number is thirteen! That’s half the book! Why is there so much dull buildup before the action starts in these books? Luckily it seems I’m not the only person who noticed this problem. I’m partway through the Prisoner of Azkaban and it’s had me hooked since the beginning! I’m so happy the books seem to get better the farther I go! But more on that in my next review.
Speaking of beginnings, this one was really strange. Not because of the house elf, but because J.K. seemingly abuses Harry for no reason. And it doesn’t even get better for him when he reaches Hogwarts. In the Philosopher’s Stone, every time Harry got in trouble it made sense. He did something, broke a rule, stepped out of line. It was justifiable. In Chamber of Secrets, Harry’s just trying to get on with his life and he keeps getting in trouble for unrelated things! The beginning of this book was a frustrating experience because it was so unjust. Oddly enough, when you get deeper in the novel, he keeps getting caught by teachers but stops getting in trouble. Again, it seems like Rowling has picked up on her issue. I wonder why she didn’t fix the mess at the beginning in a later draft?
Just like the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry is very reactionary in this book. He’s a passive character that stuff happens to, and doesn’t become proactive until the end. I get that the books are fairly formulaic. That’s common in children’s books. But listen, don’t put bad elements like having a passive main character into that formula!
Actually, I have another bad element that seems to have returned. Harry is always on the edge of expulsion. We know Harry isn’t going to get expelled in this story, he’s too important. This becomes more of a nuisance than a tension building. Honestly, I think J.K. was experimenting with this one, trying to make more interesting intros and build more tension. She failed at both here, but from what I’ve read of the Prisoner of Azkaban, her experimentation seems to have paid off, because it succeeds at both.
Moving on to the middle chunk of the book, I’m going to address the transformation plan. Can we admit that it made no sense? They could have just asked a Slytherin to go get the information from Malfoy. There were so many alternatives, and in the end, they went through a lot of trouble for nearly no information. And then it happens again! They sneak into the forbidden woods and confront a giant spider and get one small piece of information, sort of. And in return, they have to run for their lives! It seemed nearly pointless, especially since Hermoine was figuring the thing out on her own already.
It seems that the writer is very intent on having sections of her books devoted to Harry having no knowledge about something everyone else knows about. In the first book, that made sense. He was raised by non-wizards and knew nothing about anything in the wizarding world. In this one, again we get Harry thrown out of the loop by being a parseltongue, something everyone fears, but he has never heard of. Not a big issue, but it’s kind of annoying.
Okay, don’t worry, I didn’t hate all of it. I think that this book was better written than the first, I said that at the beginning. I though Gilderoy was a great character, a really interesting addition. Him losing his memories turned him into a hilarious character. A lot of new characters were added and I liked just about all of them. Harry Potter’s odd personality is starting to come into focus, and I’m excited about where it’s going, he seems to have a lot of Slytherin personality traits and I love it. The climax was far more engaging too, and the way that Voldemort was defeated made a lot more sense. It was quite satisfying. But there were a lot of problems. I want you to remember that I liked the second half of this book a lot, and that I really like the first five chapters of Azkaban. But for now, I have more to say on the Secret Chamber.
Gilderoy was a character that needed a huge wake-up call, and an ego deflation. What he got instead, was the honour of becoming fanservice. I was really hoping he’d learn a lesson and become an interesting returning character. Instead, he lost his memories so that the reader could be like, “Yeah! Got what he deserved!” In my opinion, I think he deserved redemption. (After a bit research, it seems that we do briefly hear from him again, but his life is still a mess and he gets no redemption. I really liked Lockheart, and I was hoping to see him sent off to undo all the bad he had done in his greed, to become a changed man!)
Before I get on to the last point I have a few small scraps again. I thought the Voldemort anagram was dumb in the movie, and it was just as dumb in print. Really, that’s a huge stretch. Also, I think that J.K. Rowling should get a new editor. (Maybe she did.) There are a few editing issues, like how the same adjectives are used over and over, and the words “beaming” and “vivid” are seen all over the place. Also, it’s interesting that all of the major victims are female. Moaning Murtle, Hermoine, Ginny, even Mrs. Norris. What’s going on here? Rowling, you’re not using the female in distress trope to get more sympathy, are you? And here I thought we were expanding the kinds of different female character traits we had. Anyway, I’m actually really happy that the Quidditch teams are mixed, seeing as strength isn’t a huge factor it makes a lot of sense. I still have no idea why sports like Archery are still gendered. I mean, really.
Alright, here we go. The climax was too big. I know that sounds weird, but hear me out. If you think about it, we see that all of the major problems in the book were dealt with in one swoop. That’s not really a bad thing, but what ended up happening was a huge infodump. Tom just talked and talked about Ginny and explained a lot of things that would have been far cooler for Harry to have discovered on his own. I think it was a bit of poor execution, but I’m used to that by now. I also didn’t appreciate the Phoenix being a huge, multipurpose plot device. It literally solved all of Harry’s boss fight problems.
Again, I’ll note that while this is inherently biased, I did support a lot of my opinions with examples. I’m not here to hurt feelings, and I noticed that a lot of my friends found the Chamber of Secrets to be odd, and even skippable, other than the Tom Riddle thing. It seems that I’m not alone in my thoughts for once, which is unusual, and even a bit comforting.
To score it, I would say 63/100. One point better than the first. It was an experimental endeavour, and I’m excited to see if it paid off in the next book. I hope to see you next time, it seems that I’ll have lots of good to say about the Prisoner of Azkaban!
As you might be able to tell, I love reviewing things. Books, movies, games, anything really. I intend to review every single Harry Potter book, among other things. Also, it should be noted that I’m listening to the audiobooks as I work, so if I miss neuances, that’s why. My review of the Philosopher’s Stone is here.
Interested in getting the book yourself? You can buy it here, Chamber of Secrets (Amazon Affiliate)