Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne

26 August, 2016 Reviews 15 comments

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack ThorneHarry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne
Series: Harry Potter #8
on 31st July 2016
Pages: 320
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Paranormal Fantasy
Format: e-Book, eBook
Source: Purchased
Amazon Good BooksBook Depository
Goodreads
one-half-stars

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

‘Hi my name is Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way and I have long ebony black hair (that’s how I got my name) with purple streaks and red tips that reaches my mid-back and icy blue eyes like limpid tears and a lot of people tell me I look like Amy Lee (AN: if u don’t know who she is get da hell out of here!). I’m not related to Gerard Way but I wish I was because he’s a major fucking hottie. I’m a vampire but my teeth are straight and white. I have pale white skin. I’m also a witch, and I go to a magic school called Hogwarts in England where I’m in the seventh year (I’m seventeen). I’m a goth (in case you couldn’t tell) and I wear mostly black. I love Hot Topic and I buy all my clothes from there. For example today I was wearing a black corset with matching lace around it and a black leather miniskirt, pink fishnets and black combat boots. I was wearing black lipstick, white foundation, black eyeliner and red eye shadow. I was walking outside Hogwarts. It was snowing and raining so there was no sun, which I was very happy about. A lot of preps stared at me. I put up my middle finger at them.’

Forgive my opening with the easiest joke that I could have possibly made about this book. But it feels appropriate, and if you’re not sure what I’m referring to above, it’ll make sense later. And, yes, I’m going to be using quotes from it throughout. I am so sorry.

Also, this review is going to spoil things, so keep that in mind.

First, a confession: I had this finished the day after it came out. Why, then, has it taken me nearly a month to finish my review?

I’ll be honest: I really didn’t want to write one. What I’d really like to do is move on with my life and accept the fact that the Harry Potter series is, in fact, over. As it should be, and as it should stay.

Like a lot of you, I grew up with these books. They got me into reading in the first place, and they will always be near and dear to my heart. It’s been a long time since I read the seventh book, admittedly, so I’m not sure how I would respond to it these days, but I’ve always thought that Deathly Hallows was a satisfying ending. Yes, even with that epilogue and the whole ‘bravest men I ever knew’ bit.

And though it pains me to admit it, the series has sort of fallen from my graces in recent years. This is mostly due to J.K. Rowling, who apparently cannot keep herself from releasing a constant stream of new, nagging details that miss the mark for me more often than not. It’s a mixed blessing, really. Getting new content from a supposedly ‘finished’ series allows the characters and the world that you fell so hard for in the past to continue to live on beyond the constraints of a finite number of novels. It gets to breathe and grow and thrive. It’s a wonderful opportunity that very few series get.

Then again, you also run into the very real possibility of tarnishing things. The more you put out, the higher your chances of something falling flat. Sure, the original seven books aren’t perfect by any means, but there’s a certain, gilded nostalgia to them that I would personally like to keep intact. They may have their faults, but, wow, do they still excel.

So now we have Rowling posting new tidbits every few months, and some of them have been interesting and fun. Certain essays helped patch up plot holes from the main installments, and others just provided fun insight into beloved witches and wizards who never really got to shine during Harry Potter‘s heyday.

But then you get pieces like the infamous reveal of Dumbledore’s sexuality. Then comes the recent controversy that arose over a difficult-to-swallow description of America’s magical past and its not-so-nuanced use of Native American culture. Then we see a very, very white cast for the new Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them film, and a poor job on the author’s part at ‘justifying’ the lack of characters of color.

And then you have this.

I will say that I’d love to see this story in a theatre proper, which is obviously the ideal here. From the stage directions and descriptions (not to mention the reviews), it sounds like quite the spectacle. Who wouldn’t want to see the how a play visually pulls off the complexity of time-traveling spells and living bookcases? Having Dementors pop out of the audience sounds like it would be a treat to witness.

And, yes, this is only a screenplay, so we’re missing out on a lot of the context that would help flesh the dialogue and story out. Reading lines on paper is very different from hearing them performed and complemented by costumes and lighting and music.

Still…

I’ll be blunt: I don’t consider this canon. Yes, it’s ‘the eighth story’ and whatnot, so it’s supposed to be, but I’m not accepting it. I’m perfectly happy with ending things with the epilogue of Deathly Hallows, and relegating this to the status of ‘big-budget fanfiction.’

Because that’s exactly what Cursed Child reads like: as a polished fan story that got picked up by a production company and given the ol’ razzle dazzle to make it fun. As an amusing sort of ‘what if?’ exercise in alternate universes? Sure, I’ll take it. As a legitimate grand finale to an iconic franchise? No, thank you.

‘“DRACO!” I shouted. “What the fuck do you think you are doing?”

Draco didn’t answer but he stopped the flying car and he walked out of it. I walked out of it too, curiously.

“What the fucking hell?” I asked angrily.

“Ebony?” he asked.

“What?” I snapped.

Draco leaned in extra-close and I looked into his gothic red eyes (he was wearing color contacts) which revealed so much depressing sorrow and evilness and then suddenly I didn’t feel mad anymore.

And then…………… suddenly just as I Draco kissed me passionately. Draco climbed on top of me and we started to make out keenly against a tree. He took of my top and I took of his clothes. I even took of my bra. Then he put his thingie into my you-know-what and we did it for the first time.’

Let’s break down the reasons why this book makes me angry:

 

Reason #1: There’s No Point to It

As a direct continuation of all of the mayhem and (Enoby) darkness (Dementia Raven Way) of Deathly Hallows, this story should have been a genuine examination of the consequences of that plot. What happened to all of the dark creatures that rallied to Voldemort during his return to power? What was the political situation like immediately following his defeat? How was the Muggle world impacted? How have Harry, Ron, and Hermione handled things since? You don’t go through trials like those in their seven years at Hogwarts and not come out the other side permanently changed in significant ways. And what’s become of all of their classmates and professors in the years since? How have they moved on? Where are they now?

None of this is addressed in Cursed Child, really. Some of it is sort of referenced, but only in a few throwaway lines. Instead, 98% of the plot is concerned with a ludicrous time travel plot that involves revisiting the events of Goblet of Fire. So, ultimately, the book mostly revolves around a ‘What would have happened if…?’ gimmick that the fanbase has already mulled over for years now.

What if Voldemort had won the Battle of Hogwarts? That’s the cornerstone of the plot, and it’s really not one that I think needed a canon answer. Why couldn’t this have just been left to the army of endlessly creative and talented readers, many of whom have already written stories in this exact vein that were much longer and more nuanced? Why did this ‘one last ride’ through Harry’s world have to be devoted to theoretical possibility and a retconning of the main series, instead of a genuine follow-up to the things that were left unexplained by its end? It’s one big missed opportunity.

Oh, sure, there’s emphasis on Harry’s relationship with his son. Just Albus, mind you. His other children ─ Harry has other children, you might recall ─ are more or less ignored for the sake of Albus, who spends most of the story being surly to Harry. Don’t get me wrong: it’s probably the most genuine thing about the plot, because it actually does a fairly reasonable job at examining a good question left by the last book: What would Harry’s children have to deal with, after all of his fame (and infamy) had been made legendary? Albus being put into Slytherin and becoming close friends with Draco’s son is sort of predictable, admittedly, but it’s a fun twist that is mostly handled well.

‘“Hi.” he said in a depressed way. “Hi back.” I said in an wqually said way.

We both looked at each other for some time. Harry had beautiful red gothic eyes so much like Dracos. Then……… we jumped on each other and started screwing each other.

“STOP IT NOW YOU HORNY SIMPLETONS!” shouted Professor McGoggle who was watching us and so was everyone else.’

Everything else, though? His relationship with his other children? With his other classmates? The impact of the Battle of Hogwarts on the Ministry of Magic and Muggle relations? It’s shoved to the side to focus on an absolutely ridiculous time travel plot that’s used as a flimsy base for reconciling Harry with his son ─ something that could have been done parallel to any other, more engaging (and important) storyline. Instead we get…

 

Reason #2: A Story That Comes Off Like a Certain Bad Fanfiction (You Know the One)

The first act starts off fairly well. We get to see Albus on his first day at Hogwarts, becoming friends with Draco’s kid, and getting sorted into (*gasp*) Slytherin. It’s all pretty straightforward, and mirrors Sorcerer’s Stone in a way that doesn’t feel cheap or lazy.

And then we hit the second act. From there, things start to go downhill, and they go downhill fast. Out of nowhere, Amos Diggory shows up ranting about Cedric, because that’s apparently all he’s been doing since the Triwizard Tournament, and tries to convince Harry that there’s an illegal Time Turner floating about. And not just any Time Turner, but one that can apparently travel back years without any horrific consequences. Convenient!

Then some more things happen, mostly involving family drama that sets everything up like a soap opera. Draco’s son Scorpius (what a name) is being bullied because there’s a rumor that he’s Voldemort’s son. He’s in love with Hermione and Ron’s daughter, who won’t give him the time of day. Albus is being resentful and gets into a fight with Harry that shakes his beliefs. Eventually, we end up with the worst idea that could have possibly come out of this setup:

Albus decides that he’s going to help Amos get his son back by stealing the Time Turner that ─ surprise! ─ totally exists. He and Scorpius travel back to each of the different tasks in the Tournament in various failed attempts to ensure that Cedric doesn’t end up in the graveyard with Harry. Each time they do, however, they manage to change things about the present, because that’s how time travel works.

This all leads to a grand finale that reads like a companion piece to ‘My Immortal.’ (See? There was a reason for those quotes. If you haven’t read it, please fix that immediately.) Because, get this:

By getting Cedric to fail miserably during the second task in the lake, Albus and Scorpius ensure that Cedric is so humiliated by his loss that he decides to become a Death Eater. Sure. Which leads to Voldemort overcoming Harry at the Battle of Hogwarts. Okay. Which leads to Certified Bad Future™ so over-the-top that it’s impossible to take seriously. Great. Here are some things that would have apparently happened at Hogwarts if Voldemort had taken over:

-Scorpius would have become the most popular student at school, being dubbed the ‘Scorpion King.’
-‘Voldemort Day’ would have been an annual celebration.
-There would have been a ‘Blood Ball’ to commemorate this.
-Wizards who weren’t purebloods would have been locked in the dungeons and tortured by the other students. You know, for kicks.

I don’t know. It would have been interesting, coming up with a genuinely compelling look at how the wizarding world would have changed had Voldemort succeeded in his plans. Instead, we get this apparent homage to an infamous fanfiction.

But it gets better. After more time-traveling shenanigans to fix things (which involves a very weird underground rebellion headed by Ron, Hermione, and Snape), it turns out that Voldemort actually had a daughter with Bellatrix, and that she has been manipulating Amos to get her hands on a Time Turner. Her goal is to travel back to the night of the Potters’ murder and prevent Voldemort from falling from power at all, so the two can reign together. Which leads to Harry, Ron, Hermione, Draco, and their assorted children to traveling to Godric’s Hollow to that time to stop her. (Flying via the power of darkness is involved.)

It’s just too much. Every twist and just about every character interaction reads like something a fan would have come up with for kicks. It’s almost a checklist for all of the simplest forms of wish-fulfillment that could have sprung from the series’s shortcomings: ‘What if the Time Turners hadn’t been destroyed?’ ‘What if Harry was a bad father to his own son?’ ‘What if Draco and Harry were almost friends, but then not, but then were again?’ ‘What if the Trolley Witch was an immortal being that could shape-shift?’ And instead of actually exploring any of these possibilities to their fullest extent, they’re solved almost as soon as they’re introduced through some convenient reveal or another and promptly left behind. (And I really don’t know about that last one. The thing with the Trolley Witch is probably the weirdest element in the play.)

‘“B quiet u guys.” I said sexily. Mi plan waz working oot great. Now I kood make Voldement good wivout doing it with him! Now Vampire’s dad wood never die and “OK Satan and Hedwig, u guys can start making out.” I said and I started 2 film dem wiv da ipod.

“Kool.” said Serious as Voldemort and Hedwig started 2 make out sexily. We watched as tdey started 2 take each odderz cloves off sexily. Samaro, Serious, Snake and Lucian all watched koz dey wer prolly bi. I noo Snape was bi.’

Beyond this, though, my biggest concern is that…

 

Reason #3: The Continuity is a Mess

Rowling spent seven books and an endless number of short pieces fleshing out her world, its mythology, and its cast. All of that is promptly blown in a couple hundred pages for the sake of a gimmicky plot and the shiny flash-in-the-pan appeal of revisiting old scenes. As a result, most of the characters and lot of the story points just feel…off.

First is the Time Turner. Introducing them in Prisoner of Azkaban already risked punching all sorts of holes into the story due to the nature of time travel, which Rowling sort-of resolved in Order of the Phoenix when the Ministry’s cache of them was destroyed. Her later Pottermore writings also helped explain why they’re so strictly monitored, and why going back any further than a few hours is so dangerous. Case settled.

Then comes Cursed Child, which decides to pull a lazy ‘because magic’ excuse to undue all of that. Here’s a Time Turner that can go back years with little more than the usual butterfly effect consequences! Why does it exist, and why does it work? Because magic, you dolt.

This, of course, is slapped over some bad characterization. Hermione and Ginny are solid, and Draco isn’t terrible, but Ron is turned into this awkward continuation of his movie self (which had a whole host of problems) that’s combined with traits of the twins, to the point where he essentially becomes a stand-in for them. Harry has his decent moments, but then gets ridiculous near the end when he promptly decides to play dictator to his son’s friendships and abruptly reverts back to a schoolyard mentality stating that he and Draco must always make snide comments at one another while incessantly bickering. We’re meant to believe that Voldemort would actually conceive a child in order to ‘ensure his legacy,’ Snape and Dumbledore show up briefly so that they can attempt a last-minute redemption/justification for the crap they pulled with Harry, and everyone else gets reduced to cameos or one-off mentions. It’s a mess.

‘“Foolish ignoramuses!!!!!!” yielded Voldemort from his broomstick. “Thou shall all dye soon.”’

Now, this review has gotten too long, so let’s wrap things up with my last issue:

 

Reason #4: The Representation Isn’t Great

I have a lot of issues with Rowling’s treatment (or lack thereof) of marginalized groups. No, I don’t think that her big reveal that Dumbledore is gay counts for anything substantial so far as LGBTQ representation in fiction is concerned. No, I don’t believe that her whole ‘I never said that Hermione was white!’ response to the casting for the character was genuine. I think she’s trying to pay lip-service to inclusiveness through halfhearted retcons that mostly require you to read between the lines. She’s trying to make us believe that the absence of something proves the existence of something else, and that’s nonsense.

And if she really were so concerned about these things, she really did a bad job at following through here. Cursed Child provides a prime (and final) opportunity to diversify the Potter cast, and it’s squandered.

Albus and Scorpius (who is easily the best thing about this entire affair) have a nice friendship that establishes the perfect foundation for an LGBTQ pairing, with plenty of talk about how much they care for one another and the like. But no, we instead get awkward and half-baked romantic interests for the two of them that don’t go anywhere. One of these is Hermione and Ron’s daughter, Rose, who gets to do nothing in the plot except act haughty and disapproving in select scenes. Sure, we do get Hermione as the Minister of Magic being capable and refreshingly to-the-point, as she tends to be, but that’s one character out of a cast that’s ballooned over the years. And it’s not enough.

 

So… Should I Read It?

Probably. I don’t particularly like it (clearly), but I know that a lot of fans have enjoyed it, and I’m happy for them. I don’t want to look down on anybody because they found something to appreciate here that I didn’t.

And I do wish that I loved this last story. I really do. I don’t like the idea of the Harry Potter series ending this way ─ not after so many years and fond memories. But I think that I have to face the fact that I’ve moved on. I wasn’t exactly excited for this new work, even before I learned of the details, and I can’t say I’m anticipating the movies, either.

It happens, I suppose. I’ll always treasure the original seven, of course, but that may be the best I can do from here on out.

So I hope that you like this, and I hope that you remain excited about the future of the franchise. I love seeing others happy over stories. But I think that I’ll have to watch from the sidelines from now on.

(But, no, really ─ what was with the Trolley Witch?)

Monteverdi
A reader who doesn't pick up his books nearly as often as he should, but who would like to offer the occasional review when he can nonetheless. Find me on Goodreads here.
Monteverdi
Were we aware that this was happening? I know the both of you must be excited, @_KatKennedy and @Sailor_Stephie. https://t.co/MZyFBKHo6y - 5 days ago

15 Responses to “Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne”

  1. Sydney S.

    Thank you for this review! I think you legitimately captured all of my main issues with the plot of this mess of a novel, but in more eloquent terms. I think the only other thing that needs to be mentioned (because honestly it made me so uncomfortable with the whole book) was the fact that Voldemort had a kid. No. Just no. I cannot look at him as a sexual character, as ‘preserving his legacy’. He was too selfish to have a child, and I have always viewed him as an asexual being. And oh 1000% they blew it on the Scorpius and Albus relationship. Again, great review.

    • Ayanami Faerudo
      Twitter:

      I agree with you about Voldemort having a child. ‘Preserving his legacy’? He wouldn’t have gone to great lengths to try to be immortal. When I learned that he had a kid in this ‘alternative world’ (I refuse CC as canon) I went “Eewwwww~!” XDD

    • Monteverdi
      Twitter:

      Agreed, Sydney. The big reveal with Voldemort is ridiculous on its own, but made even worse by the fact that it just doesn’t fit the character (especially as a last-minute reveal). Like with most of the cast, it feels like they shoehorned him into a new persona that just feels off from what we remember from the previous books.

    • Monteverdi
      Twitter:

      Thanks, Savannah! I’d recommend picking up a copy from the library once it eventually becomes available. It’s not great, but I feel like it’s required reading for ‘Potter’ fans. If only in the sense that you should face it once, just it know what the series stands officially, then do your best to forget about it. I was tempted to ignore it entirely, but I knew that approach wouldn’t last long.

  2. Ayanami Faerudo
    Twitter:

    There were a lot of things/subplots/hints in the books to have been made a play/a book out of, i.e. The Marauders; but noooooo, we’ll always have Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way.

    And the characters were really out of character.

    • Monteverdi
      Twitter:

      Exactly. There’s a lot in the stories already that would have made for a great, additional book or production. Plenty of the characters and events that we’re already aware of could have easily been expanded upon and explored in more detail, and probably would have been simpler to examine while still remaining consistent with the main books.

      Instead, they went with an awkward and too-short continuation that I’m not sure any of us really wanted.

    • Monteverdi
      Twitter:

      I’d definitely see the play if I had the chance. The production design is probably incredible. But everything else would be difficult to look past, so it would be a decidedly mixed back all around.

  3. Alicia O'Carrick

    Great review! I wasn’t thrilled by it either. I think I only gave it three stars because, you know, Harry Potter.

    I actually hadn’t heard of My Immortal until now, though. Now I wish I’d never read it. Good god.

  4. hulo

    YES. oh my god YES.

    i have actually watched the play. And the visuals were stunning. The effects were amazing. The Dementors coming down, the transitions between scenes (especially the dream sequences, oh my god the dream sequences), they were all brilliant.

    But the story itself? That was an utter mess.

    When the reveal first came about Cedric Diggory, I was excited, actually, because – what? Cedric? It was a character I never would’ve expected to play such a major role in the play, and I thought it’d be cool to see how it progressed.

    And then the time travelling began and oh my god that was terrible. If not for the production of the play itself, I would have been so infuriated by it all. As it was, I was still intrigued by the play, but with this nagging annoyance at the back of my mind with every turn of the plot. The characterisation, too, wasn’t the best. Draco was too stiff – he was more Lucius than Draco. Ron was a complete joke. At least Ginny was still good.

    The thing about the play though is that it had a lot of good one-liners – that’s the reason why I bought the book, anyway. But I haven’t gotten down to reading it yet. Because, without the magic of the play itself, I know how bad the book would be. Because after watching the play itself, even with the theatrical value of the play, I can’t bring myself to like it all that much. I like it ENOUGH – the last scene was so emotional, it made up for so much – but the more I think about it, the more angry I get. And the less I like it overall.

    This really is something you have to watch in the theater, but even so it doesn’t mean you’ll dismiss all of its shortcomings. You’ll just ignore it, for a while, until it all comes rushing back.

    And that’s where I am now – stewing in the aftermath. Because seriously, there’s so much more that can be done. and this really isn’t it.

  5. Emma Jacksoon

    I stared reading the Harry Potter series just before the 3rd book was released. Our youngest had heard about HP and was anxious for her turn to read “the Sorcerers Stone. Parents were hearing all sorts of rumors and warnings about the books so I bought a copy and read it. This was a story that my baby needed in her life. She started life as an abused, scared child and was placed in foster care. She and Harry had much in common. I bought ” chamber of Secrets” and she read both books in the few days before “Prisoner of Azkaban” was released. These books are responsible for teaching the values of friendship, loyalty, courage, and so much more.
    I love that Ms. Rowling gave us this last visit with Harry. It’s satisfying to see him in the natural progression of the themes in the series.
    Can’t wait together a chance to see a live performance of the play.
    Emma Jacksoon recently posted…The Girls Emma Cline PDF | Read Download Free BooksMy Profile

  6. Carina Olsen
    Twitter:

    Gah. Awesome review Monteverdi 🙂 I didn’t fully read it, as I haven’t read this book yet, but gosh. It seems a bit bad :\ Sad face. I do love Harry Potter. But unsure about this one. I shall read it one day, though 🙂 Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts. <3 I'm sorry you did not like it much :\
    Carina Olsen recently posted…Review: Metaltown by Kristen SimmonsMy Profile

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