On July 16, 2005, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince—the sixth installment of the wildly popular series—came to bookstores around the world. It had been two years since the release of the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and fans were buzzing with impatience and speculation. Security around the book was tight, to make sure that no information about it would get out until everybody had a chance to read it. Many bookstores were open for business at midnight on the long-awaited release date, so that readers could get started on it immediately.
As has become the norm for Harry Potter, publishing records were shattered. American publisher Scholastic Inc. printed an unprecedented 10.8 million copies in the first printing, and sold an amazing 6.9 million in the first 24 hours. (The entire first print run of the previous book had been 6.8 million copies.) British publisher Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. sold more than 2 million copies, also a record. In another first, the UK edition was released in Braille and large-print editions at the same time. It usually takes months for a Braille edition of a book to be made available, if it is done at all.
At 672 pages (607 pages for the British edition), this book is shorter than Order of the Phoenix and Goblet of Fire. In an interview with TIME Magazine, Rowling granted that the previous book could have been shorter, but said "I think I really planned... this one. I took three months and just sat there and went over and over and over the plan, really fine-tuned it, looked at it from every angle. I had learnt, maybe, from past mistakes." It shows. The book is more focused than those before it, less sprawling: we've had the setup, and now the story gathers steam toward its conclusion in the next book.
This is not to say that there are no more suprises. That would be very far from the truth. We learn much more about Volde—umm, You-Know-Who's history, and about what needs to be done in order to stop him. We also learn more about Malfoy and Snape. There's the matter of the Half-Blood Prince, whose identity and significance are revealed. Romance blooms, fulfilling the predictions of some fan communities while disappointing others. And it's probably not giving away too much to say that somebody important dies. It is, once again, a dark book, but a very good one. The reader is left sad that there will be only one more book in the series, but desperately wanting to read that book as soon as possible.
It'll be awhile. Rowling has said that she intends to spend the rest of the year caring for her children; she plans to begin writing the final book at the start of 2006. In the meantime, fans will no doubt reread the books, discuss the new developments, and try to predict what will happen in the end.