It's hard to put into words exactly what I feel about this book. The Harry Potter series, in many ways, are the books that inspired me to first start to write, and to want to become an author. It's hard to review a book that means so much to you.
That being said, I'll do my best, with a gratuitous use of the word 'magic'.Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
is about a boy who doesn't know he's a wizard. Not just any boy, either - Harry Potter is The Boy Who Lived. And then he goes to wizard school and learns magic. (Which, let's be honest, doesn't sound like it will be the most exciting plot in the world.)
It is, however, wish fulfilment. Let's just say you, a reader, received a letter telling you that you were magical and you were going to be taken away to a magical school to learn magical skills and make magical friends. Sounds a hell of a lot better than normal school! This element of wish fulfilment and living vicariously through Harry, learning all he learns, is perhaps one of the things that contributed to the popularity of the series.
It promises, in short, to be magical, and there is no doubt it delivers.
Broomsticks, potions, a dragon, a three-headed dog and a mirror that shows you your heart's true desire are just some of the many things that make Philosopher's Stone
truly magical. However, it's not just the supernatural elements of this novel that make it so. There's mystery, sacrifice and friendship. Rowling is big on friendship and loyalty, and the groundwork for the important relationships in the series are laid in this book.
Something Rowling is very good at is characters. The characters in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
are nothing if not memorable. Hagrid or Dumbledore, for example. There's something else Rowling manages quite well. Hermione Granger is such an annoying
character in the beginning of book one (and she maintains some of these annoying traits throughout the series), but Rowling actually manages to make her likeable (later in the book). Despite a rocky beginning, Hermione gives people who enjoy studying, and who do well at school, a heroine to look up to. I know that I, for one, found an idol in her.
The story is what makes the book. It's a story I can read again and again, and I never get tired of it.
And, to be honest, the climax of the novel is one of my favourites.
Of course, being a debut novel, it does have its problems.
Probably the most notable problem is the occasional random point of view switching. I hate head hopping, as a rule, unless the book is well-established as a multi-narrator affair. The problem with Harry Potter
and head hopping is that the book (and most of the series, excluding some deliberate first chapters) is told from Harry's third person limited point of view. We are restricted to Harry's head, and what Harry knows. Except when it would be inconvenient, it seems; during the first Quidditch match, we're thrown from Harry's head briefly to Ron and Hermione so that Rowling can set up another piece of her red herring. Whichever way you spin it, this is sloppy writing, and it annoys me every time I read it. However, as I said before, this is a debut novel and this particular mistake is one most amateur writers are prone to make.
Also, JK Rowling's red herrings and misdirection are a little heavy handed. Later in the series, she manages this with a bit more subtlety, but in the first book it's a bit like being hit with a sledgehammer.
Though, of course, there are
things that Rowling manages to include with the greatest subtlety. The mention of Sirius Black in the first chapter, for instance. The little clues to the whole rest of the series, hidden in amongst the rest of the text. These little things are genius. It's a shame all of it could not be that subtle.
In conclusion, this is the first book in an amazing series. Being a debut novel, it has its problems, as Rowling as obviously still finding her literary feet. However, it's a great magical adventure, with a story that stands on its own apart from the rest of the series. :)