By Less Wrong
Status: Complete, Word Count: 123,100, Pairing: None, Genre: Drama/Humour
Summary: Chapters 38 – 63 of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality
Listen to the Audiobook, Narrated by Eneasz Brodski, Here: http://media.blubrry.com/hpmor/p/www.hpmorpodcast.com/wp-content/uploads/episodes/HPMoR_Part_3.m4b
Disclaimers: Although this fic was uploaded to ff.net under the name Less Wrong, the name of the author is Eliezer Yudkowsky, and I will be referring to him as Yudkowsky for the rest of this review. I should also make clear that the way I experienced this fic is through the official audiobook (linked above.) While this doesn’t change any of the actual text being discussed, it is very likely that an especially excellent voice, or an especially bad voice could colour my judgement on certain scenes and even overall characters. So if this review persuades you to either read or hold off on Deathly Shadows, do keep in mind that all of this is just my opinion, and this is just one instance where that becomes a bit more obvious and quantifiable than it normally would be.
Plot: Well here we are, the section when MoR began taking itself seriously. Deathly Shadows itself contains three distinct arcs. The first is a short, goofy extension of HJPEVLC’s conclusion, in which we get to see another crazy battle scene, then we get the patronus arc, and then we end with Azkaban. So let’s just start at the beginning, shall we? Now that traitors are no longer banned, we follow Harry leading his Chaos Legion through another series of hilariously unconventional, yet effective tactics, until Harry, Hermione, and Draco end up on the roof of Hogwarts, engaged in a three way duel. During this duel, Hermione slips and almost falls off the roof, and both her Draco’s character development thus far is finally cemented, as he actually has an internal conflict between letting her fall and winning the duel, and Hermione is willing to fall if it means Draco will beat Harry. (If you remember from last time, Harry frustrates Hermione and Draco so much that they actually team up against him). Then there’s some more hilarious scenes of eleven year olds pretending to know what romance is, and it’s just a great time all around. If you can’t tell, I quite like this bit. It’s a nice bit of levity before the rest of the heavy stuff, and it’s a fun little continuation of Legion of Chaos.
In the next arc, Professor Quirrell has a dementor brought in and has all of his students attempt to learn the Patronus Charm. Many succeed, and many fail. Harry is one of the people who fails, and as a result, he is forced to relive his parents’ murder—just like he does in canon. However, Yudkowsky puts a little twist on this scene, because the dementor uses Harry’s fervent belief in rationalism against him, as he is forced to watch his parents be murdered, while cynically nitpicking every decision they made that night, and thinking about how they deserved to die for their stupidity. It is one of the most moving scenes in the entire fic so far, and, whether intentional or not, Yudkowsky does an excellent job showing rationalism’s single greatest flaw in this scene. Human beings are not perfectly rational, and if we acted perfectly rationally all the time, we would become emotionless reason robots—just like Harry does in this scene. Like, I get that MoR is rationalist propaganda. That is what it undeniably is, but at the same time, it is commendable that Yudkowsky seemingly nitpicks his own philosophy with this scene. However, where this arc gets very…controversial, is that it fundamentally changes both what dementors are, and how the patronus works. See, in canon, dementors are a metaphor for depression. An obvious metaphor for depression. However, in MoR, they are a representation of death. They are little cracks and errors in the world, where death has managed to seep its way in and take form. The change it makes to the patronus is that it’s actually an imperfect way to shield against the dementors’ power. However, Harry discovers that if he concentrates on a happy belief instead of a happy memory, he can cast what the fic calls the “True Patronus”, which has the power to destroy dementors. The idea he uses is his fundamental belief that one day humanity will conquer death and become immortal, and I think the scene itself works pretty well. However, I do get that being able to destroy dementors with a special, different patronus is a textbook case of Specialest Special-Boy Protagonist Syndrome. So how can I justify liking how it’s done here, when I condemn this shit in basically every other fic ever? Well, it’s basically because I like the ideas Yudkowsky is using during the scene. He doesn’t give Harry this ability because he wants Harry to have some new epic, badass tool to add to his arsenal, he uses it to show us, the readers, something about how Harry’s brain works, and when you look at it from that perspective, I think it works very well. So yes, this is yet another arc in Deathly Shadows that I like. There’s also a charming callback to a very fun Christmas Interlude in Legion of Chaos, which I didn’t discuss in my actual review of it, which makes that previous scene even better. So yeah, well done to Yudkowsky. He actually found a way to give Harry a Special-Boy Protagonist fancy patronus without me hating the entire thing.
Finally, there’s the Azkaban arc, which I think is probably MoR’s strongest arc so far. From the beginning it’s tense, it’s exciting, it does a good job displaying both Harry’s intelligence as well as his youth and naivety, and it reaches incredible emotional highs. It was honestly fantastic from beginning to end, and it really did a good job building on Harry’s dynamic with Quirrell throughout the entire thing. I really don’t want to say all that much about it, because it’d be a shame to spoil what goes down in it, but it’s one of MoR’s highest of highs, and I absolutely love it.
So overall, I think that this is probably MoR’s highest point so far. While the pacing is arguably worse than HJPEVLC, it definitely has more interesting stuff going on for a lot of it, and I found it to be a pretty entertaining—and at times, dramatic and intriguing—ride throughout. I’d make some remark about how I hope it stays at this level of quality, but I’ve read part four, and I know it’s all downhill from here, so…..there’s that. But for this section, I think it deserves a light top tier. Good stuff overall.
Characterization: I think this section has some very strong characterization, because it makes the very smart decision to narrow its focus a little bit. Sure, characters like Hermione and Draco are still around, but they’re far less prominent, and the main focus goes to Harry and Quirrell, which allows for both of them to develop in far more detail than they do in parts one and two. I genuinely don’t want to say much more than this, because I think a lot of it hits much harder if you go in not knowing what to expect, but pretty much everything related to what Harry goes through with the dementors, as well as his evolving dynamic with Quirrell during the Azkaban arc, is absolutely top notch character work, and it is a fantastic glimpse into what this fic could have been if Yudkowsky didn’t have his head stuck up his own ass for so much of the time. Seriously, Harry’s breakdown in Azkaban is fucking fantastic. This is also probably the best portrayal of Azkaban I’ve ever seen. Seriously, it’s horrifying, and I love it. Well done Yudkowsky, you’ve finally written yourself a crusade-worthy element.
Dialogue and Tone: Yeah this is also fantastic. It starts out all quippy and fun like it usually is, and then slowly transitions into a much darker and more intense tone as the section progresses. The transition is flawless, and the tone really helped to grab my attention as the Azkaban arc started. The dialogue is also very, very good, especially Harry’s interactions with Quirrell. But even beyond that, it’s very good. Hell, the quips in the opening battle sequence are awesome as well. Top tier stuff all around.
Action: This is the first proper action we get in the entire fic. This far, we’ve had the campy, incredibly entertaining battle scenes, and the occasional school yard shenanigans, but this is when shit starts getting real. The Azkaban break in is a very long, very well done arc that has some genuinely heart-pounding action sequences throughout. I love how powerless Harry feels throughout the entire thing. It’s a fantastic blend of action and characterization that works really, really well. Overall, it’s absolute great. Yet another top tier section.
Writing Mechanics: HPJEVDS is just as mechanically sound as the previous two sections, although it’s definitely worth mentioning that the pacing is much closer to Legion of Chaos in pacing than Methods of Rationality. I’ll place this firmly into the Great Tier.
Overall: Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres and the Deathly Shadows is yet another step in the right direction. Honestly, it’s fantastic for a lot of the time. With great character work, an engaging story, and nail-biting action, I don’t really know what more you could want from a story like this. It’s honestly great. I had a blast reading it, and I bet you will as well.
Final Thoughts: Well, that sure was awesome. I sure hope the quality doesn’t suddenly drop in the next section, because that sure would suck, wouldn’t it?
Tier: Top Tier
Written on 08/09/2021