In preparation for my upcoming trip to Orlando and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I took some time to read all seven Harry Potter books in a row. It was definitely worth it. I'd forgotten how amazing that whole series is from start to finish!
But with seven different books, all covering a different year in Harry, Ron, and Hermione's life, there have to be some stronger books than others. So with that, I give you my Definitive Harry Potter Book Rankings. (Movie rankings to follow - I'm watching a movie a day!)
#7: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
With the first book comes a whole lot of exposition, and not as much main plot. The actual story isn't as much discovering the importance of the Sorcerer's Stone (or Philosopher's Stone, depending on where you live) than it is Harry adjusting to living in a world of magic and establishing his friendship with Ron and Hermione.
Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher: Quirrell
Best Part: I gotta give it to the Great Hall, and the fact that the food just appears, and it's delicious all the time! I wish I'd had that in high school and college.
Positives: This first book does a great job establishing the Wizarding World, and J.K. Rowling is magnificent at providing great quips in the midst of exposition. However, it's awesome seeing just how much from the first book came back in later books. (Harry's first Golden Snitch, the Invisibility Cloak being in Dumbledore's possession, Griphook the Goblin and Gringott's Bank, etc.)
Negatives: It doesn't get too far in the overall Harry Potter lore - unfortunately, that's just the responsibility of being the first book in a series. This was the only book that I had a hard time motivating myself to read. After this one, I could barely keep the books out of my hands!
#6: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harry's truthfulness is in doubt as the Minister of Magic (and other Ministry officials) doubt him that Lord Voldemort has truly come back. Dolores Umbridge is truly terrible, and always seems to get the upper hand on our heroes. The Ministry takes a center stage here.
Best Part: Dumbledore's Army, led by Harry. Using his knowledge learned in the first four books, Harry teaches the useful information to other students. Especially fun is reading about the different Patronuses of the students.
Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher: Umbridge
Positives: I love the idea of The Order of the Phoenix. Best of all was that all the favorite adults in the series were members of the Order, including Remus Lupin, Kingsley Shackelbolt, the Weasleys, Sirius Black, and Nymphadora Tonks. It was great seeing adults outside of Hogwarts being featured. The O.W.L.S. are also a great way to show how wizards deal with standardized testing.
Negatives: Um, angst much? Harry turns all dark and moody - even during the times when the Ministry and fellow Hogwarts family members aren't suspecting him of fabricating his Voldemort story. He gets all touchy when he's not made prefect - well duh Harry - you're always getting detentions and you don't do your homework and are going where you are not supposed to be. I hated the "romance" between Cho and Harry, even if it was just supposed to show us later how much he really loves Ginny. Also, Sirius is a pretty big jerk for most of the book, and then he dies. That was horrible to read - I had really liked Sirius at the end o book three and all of book four. Then Harry opens up the two-way mirror? How many headaches would that have solved with Umbridge if he'd just opened it right away? There's also a huge lack of Dumbledore because he's being a jerk too. It's not only Harry being a jerk here.
***Bonus: first mention of Aberforth Dumbledore is in this book, during the DA's first meeting at the Hog's Head. I loved rereading these books after finishing book seven - there were so many other Easter eggs to spot.
#5: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
The Chamber of Secrets was opened in Hogwarts by the Heir of Slytherin: Tom Riddle, AKA Voldemort. The second time he does it, he uses one of his Horcruxes - a diary - and possesses Ginny to do his dirty work. Everyone thinks it's Harry, since he can talk to snakes. The origins of the four Houses of Hogwarts are explained.
Best Part: I loved when Lockhardt uses Ron's broken wand - a huge pain for the whole book - and ends up erasing his own memory. Serves him right, the git.
Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher: Lockhardt
Positives: Voldemort's backstory begins to unfold, and the diary plays a HUGE part in later books. I love connections! Dobby at the end of the book is also good. The fact that Moaning Myrtle was the girl killed by the basilisk was genius - she was hanging around them the whole time! If you read the book after you know that Ginny's the one responsible, all the small comments referencing her make even more sense. All the Petrified beings are petrified in different ways: water, mirror, through the ghost, etc.
Negatives: I was never a big fan of the Deathday party - it just seemed way too depressing to celebrate. Every time Lockhardt showed up, Harry wasn't the only one groaning. And Dobby at the beginning and middle of the book was just bothersome. I was annoyed at more things in this book than any other book. (You might think I'd say that about Order of the Phoenix, but I was more irritated while reading that book than anything else.)
#4 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
This is where my rankings start to get harder to sort. Books Four, Three, Six, and Seven are fantastic, so it's hard to figure out which order in which I should put them.
This is the book where everything changes, and the world gets a lot bigger. Harry's name gets drawn for the Triwizard Tournament, but he also has to deal with the new information he has about Death Eaters and the Pensieve and Wizengamot courts. Oh, and Cedric Diggory is killed by Voldemort, who comes back from near-death thanks to Harry.
Best Part: I loved the Quidditch World Cup and everything about it: the Ministry's security, the different countries coming together, the crazy tents that the wizard families have, and hearing how insane the Quaffle flies when the professionals play.
Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher: Barty Crouch Junior, technically. For most of the book we think it's Mad-Eye Moody.
Positives: Anything pertaining to the Triwizard Tournament was fantastic. I could actually picture the scene with Harry and the Norwegian Ridgeback and "Accio Firebolt!" in my head just like it played out in the movie. I loved going in the Pensieve and seeing the different Death Eaters - including Bellatrix Lestrange, who is not named in this book, but you can tell one of them is her. Things also get very serious at this point - like I said before, Cedric is murdered. I remember reading that part as a sophomore in high school, and I actually stopped reading and stared at the page for a long time. I couldn't believe that had just happened. (The problem was, I couldn't talk about it with anyone because I was the first in my family to read the book!) The revelation of Barty Crouch Junior was also a great surprise, and the whole scene with Voldemort and the priori incantatem was marvelous.
Negatives: The Yule Ball was a bore, and really made Harry and Ron look like losers. I loved the Triwizard Tournament, but was bothered that there were only three tasks stretched out over the course of a whole school year - did the Durmstrang and Beauxbatons kids really have to stay at Hogwarts all year? Couldn't they just have come over on those special weekends? Rita Skeeter took over the Lockhardt Annoyance Award. There was a lot of fluff, being that this book was ridiculously huge. Most of it was needed, but there were other parts that could have been eliminated - S.P.E.W. most of all.
#3: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
When I first started to read the Harry Potter books, the first three were out, so I read them right in a row. Prisoner of Azkaban was my favorite of the three by far. Harry finds out one of his father's best friends was convicted of murder and of telling Voldemort where the Potters were hiding back when Harry was a baby. Then he finds out that it was all a ruse - it was his father's other friend that told the secret! Oh, and his father's other other friend taught at Hogwarts...and he's a werewolf.
Best Part: Without a doubt, it's the Time-Turner scene, when Hermione and Harry go back in time and watch themselves handle the evening hours with Lupin, Sirius, Buckbeak, Hagrid, Snape, and Peter Pettigrew. The moment when Harry realizes it was his own Patronus that saved him and Sirius, and he just lets loose with a beautiful stag.
Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher: Lupin
Positives: I was thrilled to see Gryffindor win the Quidditch Cup. Buckbeak the Hippogriff was great, because it showed how to be nice to animals, and I was glad he was so vital to saving Sirius in the end. I loved Lupin, and it was great reading what actually could be studied in a real Defense Against the Dark Arts class. The idea that chocolate could help recover from dementors was a stroke of genius. Peter Pettigrew being Scabbers was a big reveal - I should have figured Rowling had plenty more shocks in store for us in the other books. I also really liked the end - when the Dursleys pick up Harry, and he just casually mentions that his godfather is an escaped convict and just saunters off.
Negatives: Don't get me wrong - I love the Marauder's Map as much as the next Muggle, but I could never figure out how they managed to show the entire school on that piece of parchment. Between all the levels of the school and the hundreds of kids and teachers walking the corridors, wouldn't it be hard to read? I also never liked that no one would let Harry go to Hogsmeade, even if they all thought Sirius was trying to kill him. He just wanted some butterbeer and a trip to Zonko's, for pete's sake!
#2: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
I was shocked to see how much I loved this book as I read it compared to Order of the Phoenix, which I read as fast I could just to get it over with. Harry goes on Pensieve adventures with Dumbledore to figure out Voldemort's complete backstory, and he discovers that Voldemort has ripped his soul into six pieces so that he can conquer death. But before they can start destroying other Horcruxes, Dumbledore is killed by Snape.
Best Part: It's horrible, I know, but it's Draco Malfoy's character arc. For five books he was this huge annoying prat who insulted non-purebloods and blood traitors and didn't really do anything. Finally, in this book, he is recruited by Voldemort to get Death Eaters into Hogwarts and kill Dumbledore. Over the year he gets withdrawn and pale, and we even see a stroke of his humanity as he cries in the bathroom with Moaning Myrtle. I didn't think he would kill Dumbledore, but the fact that his disarming spell meant that he held the Elder Wand for so long without realizing it was incredible. Malfoy is one of my favorite characters, to be honest. It was nice to see him finally do something worthwhile.
Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher: Snape, Snape, Severus Snape
Positives: Slughorn was hilarious, especially because of the Slug Club and his ability to have so many connections to famous wizards and witches. Ron's fling with Lavender Brown was also fun to read, even if it meant that Hermione and Ron were on the outs for a bit. Harry's kiss with Ginny in front of the whole Gryffindor house earned a fist in the air from me, even though I was sad when he broke up with her at the end of the book. I never liked Snape, so the fact that he killed Dumbledore was, at the time, the worst thing anyone could do in the history of ever. I thought I could never forgive him for that one. Neither did Harry. The Ministry's proactive approach to avoiding Dark Magic was great, too, even if it didn't always work. Harry under Felix Felicis was impressive - I was glad to see how well-written a lucky day could be.
Negatives: I never liked that this was called the Half-Blood Prince, since that plot point isn't integral to the main part of the story. Big deal - Harry uses a note-ridden Potions book and does really well. He could have gotten the Felix Felicis so many other ways. I didn't find the Potions book to be useful to the story at all. I also didn't enjoy the scene in the cave with Dumbledore and Harry - probably because the water-drinking scene and the Inferi made me so uncomfortable. I wish it had gone faster.
#1: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Here it is: everything that has been mentioned in the books now ties up in a (mostly) neat bow. Harry uses the Elder Wand, taken from Draco when he gets taken to the Malfoy's mansion, and kills Voldemort. Lots of awesome characters die.
Best Part: The Battle of Hogwarts. After so many pages of truths and fakeouts and discoveries and escapes, this is what everyone was waiting for. Rowling writes the Battle so well - all the chaos and horrible scenes all happen at the same time, and people show up for a bit but then return to the fray, and sometimes there are quiet points and sometimes all hell breaks loose. And the fact that Harry kills Voldemort with the Elder Wand - but uses "Expelliarmus" to do it.
Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher: Amycus Carrow, but that doesn't really matter
Positives: We see an entire year outside of Hogwarts, which would have been a tiresome setting if they had continued the trend of going there for the book. Instead, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are on the run, looking for Horcruxes most of the time, and discovering the story of the Deathly Hallows. It explains how Harry's father had an Invisibility Cloak (passed down from the first wearer of the Hallows: Ignotus Peverell), and how Dumbledore had the Elder Wand, and that the Resurrection Stone was in Marvolo Gaunt's ring, but then hidden in Harry's first Golden Snitch. Voldemort's name is a tracker for Death Eaters to find supporters of Harry Potter. We see a wizard wedding for the first time. Dumbledore's past is opened up for us to read, and it shows that he was just as conflicted and haunted by his past than the other characters. He wasn't perfect, and I think that makes me like him more. Mrs. Weasley kills Bellatrix. Ron and Hermione finally get together. Crabbe dies because he's an idiot, but Harry rescues Draco in the Room of Requirement. That old busted up diadem in the RoR was the lost Diadem of Ravenclaw. The Grey Lady and the Bloody Baron have briefly told backstories! Neville leads Dumbledore's Army! Neville is a giant pain to the Death Eaters at Hogwarts! NEVILLE KILLS NAGINI WITH THE SWORD OF GRYFFINDOR!
Negatives: I know it would have been easy to keep the story going and wrap up the seventh book in a couple of months, but did Harry, Ron, and Hermione have to spend weeks at a time traveling around Britain, living in a tent? It seemed to be way too long for them to be wandering around, not doing anything. Sure, their moping about was interspersed with Awesome Terrifying Plot-Thickeners (going to the Ministry, breaking into Gringotts, visiting the Lovegoods, getting captured and taken to the Malfoy's mansion), but I feel like it could have been sped up, just a bit. Oh - Hedwig's death was awful. Dobby's too, but Hedwig's was worse. It was just a little white owl! Don't kill it!!!
So there you have it. What do you think? Which is your favorite/least favorite book? Do you agree or disagree with me on any points? I'm excited to see how different my book list is from my movie list! (Stay tuned for that!)