Status: Complete, Word Count: 68,400, Pairing: Harry Potter/Daphne Greengrass, Genre: Horror/Fantasy
Summary: “Downward Spiral Saga 4:Sequel to HP and year of broken chains. Lord Voldemort plans to announce his return to the world at large, while the Triwizard Tournament is taking place at Hogwarts. Harry’s godfather struggles to build a relationship with him, while Pansy wants to get out of one. And a meddling ex-auror has his eye on Harry. Dark!Harry Sequel is up. HP and the Dirge of Hope”
My Thoughts: I shouldn’t even need to introduce this fic to you at this point. If you’re reading this or you read the summary, then you know what it’s all about. Once again, I found this fic to be decidedly a lot, and I’m probably more torn on this one than any of the previous parts. You see, on the one hand, it has some very high highs. The characterization still stands out as the strongest part, but I found the dialogue to flow pretty well, and the prose were a big step up from the last three books. The plot was also really interesting and a lot of the ideas explored were good ones. However, this fic was also very poorly paced. Probably the worst paced entry in the series since the nightmare that was book one, and I found that there was a lot of filler. Like, a lot of it. Also, the torture and corruption shit was handled way worse than last time, although not in the way those of you familiar with this fic’s reputation probably expect. So let’s get into this shit, and unpack the weird contradictory mess that is book 4 of the Downward Spiral Saga.
So let’s start with the least surprising part of this whole review, the characters are still great. In particular, I am honestly shocked that I continue to find this version of Harry as compelling as I do. But man, there’s something oddly endearing about the little shit. This fic sees Harry make some slight upward progress, as he’s forced to visit a mind healer and talk about his feelings. He’s no longer fantasizing about raping his classmates, and after an incident near the beginning of the year in which he almost murders someone, he makes a tad bit of upward progress, which is both nice and a bit sad to see, because we do know that it won’t help in the end. This fic also sees Harry building a relationship with Sirius, and he faces true internal conflict for the first time since book one. Honestly, I know I bitched about Sirius in my book three review, but he’s one of the best parts of this book. There’s a great tragedy to his character, as we all know that he’s doomed to fail, yet we’re forced to watch him come tantalizingly close to forming a true bond with Harry. It also helps that his characterizations holds up super well outside of the context of his relationship with Harry. He feels like a very human character, nothing like the caricature he’s reduced to in so many of these edgier fics, and I am 100% here for that.
However, with that being said, I still find a large majority of the cast of Slytherins Harry’s age to be supremely uninteresting. Which is fine in theory, as the series is much more about Harry and Voldemort than it is about kids in Slytherin, but it feels like the fic expects me to care about them, and I just don’t. Especially Nott and Zabini. Good lord, I praised Nott in my book three review for finally having some characterization, but he’s completely relapsed into a nothing boring character again. Far worse than that, however, is that Draco takes a serious backseat in this fic. He was one of the main characters up until this point, but it feels like he’s been majorly sidelined, and I honestly found myself missing his dynamic with Harry.
Luckily, as a replacement for Draco of sorts, we finally get properly introduced to Daphne Greengrass, and I’m happy to say that I really liked her here. Now admittedly, I found it weird how the story acted like she and Harry had been great friends up until now, when she was really only a name up to this point, but once she and Harry were dating, I was honestly sold. Is she perhaps a little bit too perfect for Harry? Maybe, but I don’t really mind all that much. It’s in line with the world-building, at the very least, and their dynamic is too much fun for me to bother poking holes in it. They’re both such psychotic assholes and they play off each other so damn well. And honestly, it makes perfect sense for Harry to go out with another person strongly effected by dark magic. So….I guess this fic also gets the Haphne stamp of approval.
Unsurprisingly at this point, I still like both Dumbledore and Voldemort. We finally get to see Dumbledore taking action in this fic, doing a bit of spicy law breaking, getting the order back together, failing to build a relationship with Harry, and all that jazz. And on the Voldemort front, we just get to see more of what he’s like to his followers, as he lays the groundwork for his return to be made public. It’s pretty funny, because I’ve never really liked it when Voldemort is too many steps ahead of Dumbledore, but I feel like that’s normally because it’s done in a context where Dumbledore’s being bashed. But here, Dumbledore knows his shit and is incredibly intelligent, it’s just that Voldemort is better. Snape’s still fun too. Not much more to say that I haven’t already mentioned before, to be honest. So yeah overall, great characterization.
This isn’t much of a change either, but I found myself really digging the dialogue this time. One thing that I find a lot of otherwise talented authors often find themselves struggling with is how and when to use dialogue tags, but Bolshe has it down and the result is some really dynamic and fun dialogue. Harry’s internal monologue still provides an amusing contrast to his actions a lot of the time, and his banter with his friends proved to be a consistent high point for me.
My final major positive is the prose. Hey look at that, it’s finally moved out of the negative section! While this fic’s prose is certainly not the strongest I’ve ever read, I feel like it’s finally gotten to the point where it’s passable. The narration is more concise and snappy, and there’s far less awkward blocks of telling. Is it perfect? Not at all. There are still some really weird punctuation mistakes, it still has a general lack of polish, and there’s the occasional cringey line. Particularly one pain-staking reference to how it feels everything’s been going down in a spiral. Like I get it Dumbledore, you’re super clever, but fuck off with that bullshit. So…..checks notes……I think that’s it for the positives. Let’s get into this shit’s problems, shall we?
This fic’s pacing is atrocious and an embarrassment. I don’t even know how else to put it. Think about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for a minute. Think of the two things that drive that book’s plot forwards and make it as long as it is. You have the tournament itself, and the mystery of who put Harry’s name in the goblet. In this fic, Harry’s name is not placed in the Goblet of Fire, which should mean that including the actual tasks themselves is pointless unless Bolshe finds a way to make it plot relevant. Unfortunately, this fic features all three canon tasks, just with Harry as a spectator instead. Two of the tasks aren’t even visible, and the scenes seemingly only exist so Bolshe can take some cheap shots at canon for having the tasks not make sense. Like we get it man, neither the second nor third tasks make sense as a spectator sport, but that means you should just cut the fucking scenes! They add nothing to the characterization, they don’t push the plot forward in any meaningful way, and they take up a large, large number of words. The Yule Ball’s inclusion makes perfect sense because it not only gives us Haphne romance, but it also creates some interesting scenes of characterization. I’ll even grudgingly admit that the third task works well in conjunction with the real climax of the fic, but there is just so much content that could have been cut out. But this is really just a symptom of a larger problems. There are entire interludes that could have been removed, along with large swaths of chapters. I’d say this fic is probably 20k words longer than it needs to be, and that’s saying something. If these fics had better plots than that’d be one thing, but they’ve always been character studies first with plot and story taking a clear back seat, which is fine, but that means that this has to be shorter. Christ, it’s not even that the plot’s bad, because it’s honestly pretty solid, it’s just that it’s stretched out so much that it becomes hard to care about it. So yeah, the pacing is decidedly not good.
Luckily, the plot is sometimes great, and other times absolute shit. The good part of this book’s story is Voldemort slowly maneuvering himself into a position to conquer Europe, and everything that goes along with that. His scheming, various people training Harry and Draco, and a general thread throughout the Interludes all that leads to a genuinely fantastic climax in the final chapter. The bad part is everything else. If I were to name one of my biggest fanfic pet peeves, it’s pointless canon rehash, and as I already mentioned, this fic has a lot of that. It’s such a shame as well, because with the right cuts this could have been really good, but it just isn’t. In fact, I’d say the canon rehash is a large part of why the Durmstrang subplot is so weak here. If less time had been made quipping about how “but the lake isn’t interesting, silly canon” and more time was spent setting up the Durmstrang students as actually interesting characters, this would have done wonders for the story’s overall quality.
Finally, let’s talk about the least controversial part of DSS, the torture. In fact, I’d go as far as to say this is everyone’s favorite part of the story. Luckily, it fucking sucks in this one. I was actually quite positive on the torture on book three, because it was used in moderation and it was very creative. Unfortunately, while it was still used in moderation here, it was fucking boring. The Cruciatus Curse is not an interesting piece of magic in its own right, and generally needs to be used in conjunction with something else for scenes involving it to stand out, and that’s just not done here. There are a couple scenes of Harry or Voldemort crucioing some idiots who do idiot things, and there’s a scene where Harry burns some innocent people alive, but the former are all boring, and the latter is executed extremely poorly. Like for fuck’s sake! At least if it was torture porn I’d have something to talk about! The only thing being tortured here are my fucking eyes. I will say that I still like the world-building concept of the dark arts turning certain people on. I don’t really know why I like it so much, but it’s a genuinely interesting way to keep pushing the whole corruption angle, and I kind of got a kick out of the scene where Harry lets Daphne watch him torture some fool. But overall, the fucked up corruption shit ranged from bad to forgettable in this fic, with only a couple moments standing out as memorable or interesting.
Overall, this fic is alright. I had a decent time reading parts of it, I was bored by other bits, and the ending left me curious to see where it would go next. I’m four books in now and I have yet to see any actual torture porn, which makes me very apprehensive going into book 5. Because think about how intense the torture has to be in these last two books for the entire series to become known as “the torture porn series”. Either that or the edgy dark!Harry fans are actually a bunch of fucking pussies who can’t actually handle their precious protagonist doing things that make them feel uncomfortable. Either way, this fic wasn’t all that good, and it wasn’t all that bad either. If you’ve enjoyed the series up until this point you’ll probably enjoy it well enough, but if you still aren’t sold, this one probably won’t change your mind.
Tier: Average Tier
Written on 11/25/2021
Thoughts on Book V: Harry Potter and the Dirge of Hope (Coming Soon)