The Story: [from GoodReads:]
All Harry Potter wants is to get away from the Dursleys and go back to Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. But just as he’s packing his bags, Harry receives a warning from a strange, impish creature named Dobby – who says that if Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts, disaster will strike. And strike it does. For in Harry’s second year at Hogwarts, fresh torments and horrors arise, including an outrageously stuck-up new professor, Gilderoy Lockheart, a spirit named Moaning Myrtle who haunts the girls’ bathroom, and the unwanted attentions of Ron Weasley’s younger sister, Ginny. But each of these seem minor annoyances when the real trouble begins, and someone–or something–starts turning Hogwarts students to stone. Could it be Draco Malfoy, a more poisonous rival than ever? Could it possibly be Hagrid, whose mysterious past is finally told? Or could it be the one everyone at Hogwarts most suspects… Harry Potter himself.
My Take: Remember how awesome I said Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was? Well, after I read it for the very first time back in 2006, I promptly started its follow-up novel, Chamber of Secrets, to see if the lightening-shaped scar struck twice.
For me, Chamber of Secrets took everything I loved about the first novel and multiplied it. That’s not to infer that Sorcerer’s Stone is subpar as it’s anything but. However, where that novel had to take time to acquaint us with the major characters and the Wizarding world, Chamber of Secrets launches right into it. Granted, we get a little bit of background but it’s only to set the stage. Also, this entry doesn’t suffer from second book-itis where it acts like it doesn’t know where to go, what to do with its characters, or how to not be a carbon copy of the first book. Instead, the plot is well-defined, the characters are given specific goals, and it actually improves upon the mystery formula used in the first novel.
Once more, the concrete plot here is a star. This time around, we’re confronted with a mystery of a different sort: a little house elf named Dobby warns Harry that great danger is in store for him should he return to Hogwarts.
Thinking this cryptic warning about Hogwarts is just a bunch of hogwash, Harry goes anyway despite some rather peculiar obstacles that seem determined to keep him stuck in the Muggle world. Yet it isn’t long until some very eerie things start happening at school and Harry lands right in the thick of it.
Much like Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets contains a mystery plot though, instead of trying to catch a potential thief, this time it’s all about who has opened the dreaded Chamber of Secrets and, more importantly, why. While the mystery plot in the first novel was very concentrated, this plot is a little more expansive as it focuses on a series of events as opposed to a who(might have)dunit structure. In this novel, we get a great build up as, once again, Harry, Hermione, and Ron assume the role of detectives and will do anything to try to crack the case. Twists and turns come from all sides and you’re left guessing until the mystery’s finale. Overall, this novel was a lot of fun and takes the first novel’s format and improves upon it in little ways, especially regarding the use of more misdirection and an awesomely epic final reveal.
And, of course, let’s not forget about the characters. Joining the already awesome Potter cast are the aforementioned Dobby; a morose ghost named Moaning Myrtle; and Professor Gilderoy Lockheart, a teacher so horrendously big-headed that you can’t help but laugh. I enjoy these new additions, Dobby and Lockheart most of all. Dobby initially possesses an air of is-he-or-isn’t-he in terms of whether he’s a friend or a foe to Harry. This is a narrative tactic Rowling uses often in the series with great aplomb and I love her for that. Because these novels are told almost exclusively from Harry’s POV (save for a few isolated chapters later on in the series), what he believes about other people and the world is what we assume to be true, too, until or unless we’re both proven otherwise.
But one character who doesn’t need any convincing that he’s a dunderhead is Lockheart. From the start, I knew he was going to be the type of character I’d love to hate. Not that he’s a bad character (he’s not), but his personality is purposely over-the-top so you know he’s supposed to be seen as a bit of a joke to the rest of the characters. I love the polarizing viewpoints we get regarding Lockheart, which makes his development fun and plays into the appearances may-or-may-not-be deceiving device.
As it were, most of the female characters tend to fancy Lockheart (such as Molly Weasley and Hermione) in a very fangirl-esque way (think Twilight fans fawning over the movie’s male leads only Lockheart keeps his shirt on and doesn’t glitter in the sun. Though his smile might blind you.). In contrast, the male characters (i.e. Harry, Ron, Snape, etc.) loathe him and assume he’s a phony.
Regardless whether he really is a phony or not (that counts as a spoiler and, no, I’m not tellin’ – you can’t make me!), Lockheart is a great addition to the cast and adds to the book’s moments of cleverly-timed comic relief.
Make no mistake though – Chamber of Secrets is not a comedy and is slightly darker than its predecessor, setting the stage for events that are vital to Harry’s overarching journey. However, for now it’s not so dark that it will scare its core audience but it’s not afraid to delve into some of Voldemort’s evil schemes. Here, we get to witness the lengths Lord Voldemort will go to destroy Harry, but the question is why. While this novel doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, don’t expect to know the nitty gritty of the Potter-Voldemort connection (which isn’t anything like “The Rainbow Connection,” trust me). But this novel makes for a great appetite-wetter while still offering up a clear beginning-middle-end plot.
As stated in my review for Sorcerer’s Stone, I’ve found that the Harry Potter novels possess strong Christian themes and symbols yet it tends to be on some Christians’ no-read lists, which is a real shame. (For the record, I myself am a Christian and I find a lot of value in these books.) As this is a book review and not a textual analysis, I won’t delve much into themes and symbolism here. But I do think Lord Voldemort is one of the best Satan figures I’ve seen in a very long time: Voldemort is the chief villain; he lies and deceives; he plans destruction; he’s associated with and speaks to snakes; and he makes a rather lofty claim in this novel, proclaiming he is his own “past, present, and future” and refers to himself as “I Am [Lord Voldemort]” (perhaps a reference to Satan’s attempts to be like God, who is called the Great I Am). Again, this is a book review, not an analysis, so I don’t want to take up space examining and explicating this novel (make sure to check out Dr. John Granger’s books on Potter, which are very well-crafted analyses and I respect his views a great deal). But part of my enjoyment factor is due to the deeper themes at work here. The Harry Potter novels definitely possess meat on their bones, and it only gets meatier as it progresses.
Content: Content-wise, this novel is still perfectly fine for its middle grade target audience and anyone older (again, intended for ages Alive to Dead).
Language – There are minimal, PG-level profanities (along with some British profanities) though they’re sporadically dropped.
Violence – Violence falls squarely into the fantasy violence lane where magic is used as opposed to weapons, and though Harry does eventually lay claim to a weapon, he uses it to fight/defeat an evil being with minimal blood.
Sexual Content – None. There are some references to characters being caught kissing off-page but nothing further is discussed.
Overall, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets continues the awesome factor in its strong story, page-turning mystery, and great cast. If you’ve only read the first novel but fear to tread further, fear no more. Chamber of Secrets is an even more magical ride that’s totally worth the price of admission (which I believe is two Galleons?).