After trashing the first two Harry Potter books here and elsewhere, I'm a little abashed by my reaction to J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban , the third book in the series. Because, the thing is, I kind of liked it.

I didn't start out liking it. I started out inwardly fuming about a tabula rasa beginning that all but threw out the events of the previous book to stick Harry back at the Dursleys again for no good reason; I rolled my eyes at lame retcons whose purpose was seemingly to enable a plot that didn't involve Voldemort; I was irritated again by plot devices which rely on characters stupidly ignoring major clues, or dismissing rational courses of action with flimsy excuses.

But, somewhat despite myself, I was largely won over by the end. The plotting was interesting and unpredictable enough that there was actual suspense in the book; the writing (as in the previous books) continues to be breezy and well-paced; and there are small hints that perhaps the characters might eventually become more than the two-dimensional cardboard figures they are now. This is still not a great series, but with this third book, it's at least turned into a decent one.

I don't feel ashamed about having read this book. This doesn't constitute high praise, but it's a sign of improvement, at any rate. My secret hope is that with the fourth book, Rowling will actually have matured into a writer worthy of, if not her superstar popularity (very, very few writers could possibly be worthy of that), at least some unqualified praise.

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