Due to the hype surrounding the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and the fact that I know some people did not get their pre-ordered books yet, I have decided to preface this review with this SPOILER WARNING.
Read at your own peril.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the long-awaited eighth book in the Harry Potter verse, and set nineteen years after the events of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. While it is based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, the book itself, and the play, were written by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne.
The first thing to know about this new Harry Potter book, is that it is not a novel. It’s the rehearsal edition script of the play that opened in London on July 30, 2016, and next to scene settings and minor stage directions, the bulk of the text is dialogue-only. It’s an unfamiliar format, and that can be off-putting. However, the scenes and changes are described with enough details that it’s easy to follow.
Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, has grown up once and for all. He is now the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry of Magic, and his two sons, James and Albus, are attending Hogwarts under Headmistress Minerva McGonagall. And while James seems to fit in neatly, Albus struggles from the very first day. He is the odd one out in his entire family of Gryffindor legends; living in his father’s shadow, and trying to live up to expectations, a name, and a family legacy he never wanted or fully understood. It’s not easy being at Hogwarts when you’re Harry Potter’s misfit son and your best friend is Scorpius Malfoy. Neither father nor son really knows how to talk to or behave around the other.
At the start of Albus’ fourth year at Hogwarts, the Ministry of Magic seizes a time-turner, and when Albus overhears an unlikely person requesting Harry to use the time-turner to bring a long-dead Hogwarts student back to life, Albus sees his chance to prove himself once and for all. But as soon as Albus and Scorpius start meddling with time, they set in motion a chain of events that not only stirs up long-forgotten evil, but also threatens their entire existence. And while they manage well on their own for a while, they soon realise that especially Harry Potter’s legendary feats took a lot more courage, skill, and help than Albus and Scorpius ever appreciated.
Every reader old enough to have gone through puberty, will understand Albus and Scorpius, and their motives for getting involved. Teenage rebellion just gets a little more dangerous for everybody’s well-being when said teenagers are wizards. At the same time, the story also shows that Harry and Draco, who both grew up in loveless homes, both struggle with parenthood and being the father figures their sons truly need.
One thing that makes it obvious that J.K. Rowling did not write this script, is the way the former Golden Trio and now in-laws Harry, Ron and Hermione interact. For such a well-established relationship, their interactions in this book seem off. There is also zero chance that the Potter and Granger-Weasley cousins are not close friends. Personally, I’d like to believe Molly Weasley would have made sure that the entire extended family spends as much time as possible together. Ron is little more than a joke in this story, and I also do not think any of them would be rude to Professor McGonagall, least of all Harry.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child features quite a few unexpected cameos. Most are delightful, though some familiar faces are missing which by rights should have been there or had their absence at least explained, most notably the Weasleys and Hagrid. While Professor Longbottom gets an honourable mention, there is one character in particular it was bittersweet to meet again, albeit in an altered timeline in which the Dark Lord succeeded. I cannot be the only one to read Professor Snape’s dialogue with the late Alan Rickman’s voice still in my ear.
Albus’ bad influence in this story is a girl with questionable (and quite gross, when you think about it) parentage. There’s also the issue of Polyjuice Potion suddenly only taking a few minutes to brew up rather than a month (somebody didn’t turn to page 394), a mistake I don’t think Rowling would have made had she written this book.
There were a few scene changes that were hard to follow, although I am sure they work fine when performed on a stage. It’s a shame that Hogwarts itself barely gets a mention beyond a dorm or office setting, obviously owing to the script nature of this book. A proper novel could have gone into more detail, but I think that’s exactly what’s missing from the story. The setting of Hogwarts was such an integral part of the first six books, that its absence in this story – although the kids attend the school – is palpable.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is nonetheless a delight for Potterheads. It’s a chance to return, meet new characters and meet up with old friends who suddenly try to juggle work and family life. It just goes to show that magic doesn’t solve everything, and a family is always strongest when it stands together, even against old enemies, time, and dark magic. And just as it has always been, a parent’s love turns out to be the strongest form of magic there is.
Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Author: J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne & John Tiffany
Publisher: Little Brown UK
Release Date: July 31, 2016