Status: Complete, Word Count: 327,400, Pairing: Unknown, Genre: Adventure/Mystery
Read the Fic Here: https://archiveofourown.org/works/15829326
Author’s Summary: Harry Potter returns to school after a first year filled with peril, brotherly battles and a changing world. Conflict follows from school to Privet Drive and back to school, where an altogether too mysterious man of fame and fortune is their new Defence teacher – and it only becomes worse when the Petrifications start.
Characterization: Oh boy….remember how long this section was in the Prince of Slytherin review? Well there are even more characters this time, so buckle up. Let’s start with Harry, who is still great. If the first book was about him figuring out how to not be a total jackass, in this book he gets his ass handed to him and learns a valuable lesson in humility, and it’s great. He makes mistakes, and miscalculations, and almost dies over and over again, and…it’s so fucking refreshing. Too many fanfics lack tension because Harry is written to be completely infallible and perfect, so having a Harry who makes mistakes and, ultimately, fails at the end of the book is such a balm for the soul. Give me more flawed characters who do dumb shit sometimes, because I love it. Speaking of flawed characters who do dumb shit, James is amazing in this book! He’s much less of a cartoon antagonist like he was in book one, but he’s still a total fucking prick sometimes, and watching him continually try to do the right thing, while only understanding parts of his motivations, and fail repeatedly is so interesting. It becomes even more interesting when you reread with knowledge about book three’s events. James is one of the most complex characters in PoS, and I’m so glad that he’s so much more interesting than in book one. Speaking of more interesting than in book one, Theo fucking Nott! He gets way more to do in this one, and while I still feel like his actual arc is one of the weaker ones, he’s still very interesting, and I really love reading about him now. The scene where he gives the enmity oath presentation is my personal favorite, but there are a lot of others that are quite fun. Unfortunately, Hermione and Neville are both a little bit underused in this one. Don’t get me wrong, I still like them, but I feel like neither of them have much in the way of character arcs going on, and that’s a bit disappointing. Zabini is definitely way better than he was in book one, and I really like his mother’s introduction scene, but I feel like his character’s still one of the weaker ones. Lily’s an enormous improvement. She gets tons of interesting shit to do in this one, and her character is really fleshed out. However, I’ve been saving the three strongest characters for last. Jim, the Weasleys, and Gilderoy Lockhart. Let’s start with Jim, who goes through what is almost certainly his strongest arc in the entire series (so far). I said this about Harry’s as well, but I fucking love watching characters make mistakes and learn from them, and that’s basically all Jim does in this book. He just fucks up over and over again until finally, in the Chamber of Secrets, he gets that final push needed to begin making amends for his prior errors. It’s so damn good, and I wish more fanfiction writers were capable of writing characters with this level of nuance. Speaking of nuance, Ron fucking Weasley! Wrong Boy-Who-Lived fics have a tendency to bash Ron a lot. I mean, a lot of other fanfic genres do that as well, but I feel it’s often especially egregious in WBWL fics, and The Sinister Man gives every indication that he’s just doing the standard Ron bashing bullshit, until about half way through The Secret Enemy, when possibly my favorite twist of the entire series takes place. TSM manages to recontextualize practically every scene in The Secret Enemy, and also make Ron one of the most interesting characters in the entire series going forward. This all culminates with the scene between Ron and Jim on the Astronomy Tower, which is easily the most emotionally moving scene in all of book two. Ron’s character arc is absolutely perfect, and I would not change a thing about it. Furthermore, Ron’s arc allows for other Weasleys to also have really strong characterizations! George and Percy are both fucking amazing in this book! Neither of them can compete with Ron, but practically nobody can. Unfortunately, Ginny kinda sucks in book two. I’ve never been a fan of the whole “Ginny gets sorted into Slytherin” trope, and even though I think TSM executes the trope competently, he doesn’t really do anything interesting with it besides add fuel to Ron’s arc. It’s a shame, really, because Ginny gets a lot to do in some of the other books, but she’s just kinda boring here. Last but not least, we have Gilderoy Lockhart. I have never seen a version of Lockhart that I like better than this one, and I am very much including canon when I say that. This version of Lockhart is funny, he’s complex, and he’s part of another incredible plot twist at the end of this book. In fact, I’d argue that the best chapter in The Secret Enemy is the Gilderoy Lockhart backstory chapter that happens near the end of the book. It’s emotional, it’s exciting, and it’s full of original ideas. In short, it’s everything that I love about The Sinister Man’s writing. While it doesn’t nail every character, Harry Potter and the Secret Enemy does an overall fantastic job with characterization, especially when you consider how many characters it has to juggle, and how few of them are boring to read about.
Action: Now this is more like it! The Sinister Man is so fucking great at writing action sequences, and it shows in this book. Overall, there are three action sequences that stand out above the rest. The first is Harry’s first Quidditch match, the second is battle in the Chamber of Secrets, and the third is the action sequence with the werewolves in the Gilderoy Lockhart backstory chapter. They’re all great in their own way. The Quidditch match is a fast paced, exciting, complex chase sequence that is, in my opinion, one of the best Quidditch sequences ever written. It has real stakes, the writing keeps you on the edge of your seat, it has splashes of humour throughout that don’t detract from the tension, it’s just….it’s absolute gold. The Chamber of Secrets scene is a slow burn. It cuts back and forth between Jim fighting the basilisk and Harry slowly figuring out how to stop Riddle by verbally sparring with him. These scenes are both tense and exciting, but in practically opposite ways, and this difference makes for an incredibly interesting and satisfying read. It also goes on for what I think is a perfect amount of time. It’s not so short that it’s unsatisfying, and it’s not long enough to become boring or repetitive. There’s also a brief sequence that involves Jim arguing with a hat that is absolutely hilarious. This is my personal favorite type of action when done well. Finally, there’s the werewolf sequence in the Lockhart chapter that’s just….heartbreaking. This is emotionally charged action at its absolute finest. It’s horrifying, it gets your nails just digging into your palms, and leaves you an absolute mess by the end. It’s fucking fantastic. The action in The Secret Enemy is fantastic. I cannot think of a way for it to be improved on, and it blows me away every time I reread it.
Plot: Now this is a proper mystery. While I think Prince of Slytherin did a decent job retelling year one, there is only so much that can be done with an AU redo of Philosopher’s Stone. In fact, I’d argue the best a year one AU can do is not suck. Year two, on the other hand, has potential for greatness, and oh boy does The Secret Enemy live up to that potential. There is just so much stuff going on throughout the year, and the way it all comes together at the end is fucking fantastic. Now, I’m not going to go into too many details, because I don’t want to spoil anything for the two people reading this who haven’t read The Secret Enemy, but I’ll just quickly mention a few of the plot highlights for me. You have everything going on with Luna, which culminates in one of the best pensieve memory sequences I’ve ever seen (which is, admittedly, a field with some exceedingly dogshit competition). You have the heir of Slytherin mystery and the Lockhart mystery which complement each other brilliantly. There’s way more going on as well, but I just can’t really get into it without spoiling things. However, I think I’ve made my opinion on this fic’s plot abundantly clear at this point.
Dialogue: Once again, the dialogue’s really great. It flows naturally and can really carry some fantastic emotion behind it (like the scene on the Astronomy Tower near the end). However, there are still a few moments here and there that fall flat for me, such as the Drake Malfoy stuff. I just think it’s written kind of awkwardly, I suppose. Those of you who’ve read this fic know what I’m talking about.
Writing Mechanics: I shit you not, this is one of the most mechanically sound fics out there. I criticized year one for having a few errors here and there, and it’s shocking how much better year two is in this regard. While there are definitely still errors here and there, it has one of the most impressive word/error ratios you’ll ever see in a fanfic.
Overall: Harry Potter and the Secret Enemy takes everything that was good about Book I and makes it better. The mystery is more complex, the stakes are higher, the villain is craftier, there are new compelling protagonists (such as Luna Lovegood, Ginny Weasley, and Amy Wilkes) and multiple characters go through new fantastic arcs. Watching Harry grow into his own is almost as entertaining as watching the author’s five separate plot twists all converge in the final few chapters. This fic has so much shit going on throughout it that I’m almost 100% sure that I missed something when writing this review. In fact, I just realized that I left Luna out of the characterization section, so let me address her character here. I don’t like a lot of the tropes TSM uses for her, but I also understand the entire point of this fic is trope subversion, and I think he subverts them well, so I can’t get too mad about it. Her character gets very reluctant thumbs up from me. Overall, The Secret Enemy is an incredibly rewarding book to read, and I love it a lot. In fact, the only thing more rewarding than reading it is rereading it, and that is not something I get to say very often.
Final Thoughts: If you liked Prince of Slytherin then you’ll like this even more. If you didn’t like Prince of Slytherin, DM me on Discord and I’ll give you a summary of it so you can read this anyway. If you like action adventure, this fic is for you. If you like mysteries, this fic is for you. If you like characters that are good and interesting to read about, this fic is for you. If you breathe air, this fic is for you.
Written on 05/20/2021