Disclaimer: I love Harry Potter. So much. Please ignore these reviews if you want to see my actual, structured reviews which include useful literary analyses of prose. The following review is probably useful only to ignite everyone's love for my personal favourite books and to gush about how much these novels mean to me.
Question. What did I love so much about Harry Potter without Sirius Black and Remus Lupin? I mean, of course i must have enjoyed the hell out of this series or I may not have reached the Prisoner of Azkaban, and undoubtedly, there are some fantastic other parts of the novels but PLEASE - the marauders are just perfection. These are the people I dream of having as friends - cheeky, mischievous, intelligent and loyal (except for Wormtail, obviously).
Lupin, in his tatty robes and understated appearance, outstripped the previous two DADA teachers by a mile. He's so impressive, so compassionate, so helpful to Harry it is hard to imagine that he could ever harbour the secret that he does. The interactions between Snape and Lupin are great for developing both characters, mostly just to make Snape look bitter and Lupin to look calm, rational and collected. He appears as a bit of a father figure to Harry in this book, which creates a kind of moderating character in between the "all knowing" (at this point, at least) Dumbledore and Harry's everyday life.
Hermione, once again, never ceases to remind me of myself in school. Always biting off a bit more than she can chew, this year develops her character into a more resilient teenager - someone who isn't afraid to simultaneously take four times the amount of sensible classwork and yet doesn't have any qualms punching Draco Malfoy in the jaw. Fiercely loyal, she's also shown here to be a bit proud, especially in relation to her quarrels with Ron which appear at this point to be becoming more frequent. Harry is shown to be taking a less moderate position than he does in the later books.
The marauders map makes its first appearance here also - an absolutely crucial part in the later books.
I also really enjoyed how Harry could experience the thrills and utter abnormality of a year at Hogwarts without having to face Voldemort. I mean, the series would have been rather predictable without the introduction of new characters and challenges. If the reader was forever waiting for Voldemort to predictably pop out at the end of every book it would have made the world far less intriguing. This book, instead, weaves a back-story not only to Voldemort, but those who fought him and those who support him.
Rowling also uses Remus and Sirius' characters to portray themes of prejudice and discrimination. Although evidently in different ways - Sirius being an innocent man accused of a horrific crime he never committed and Remus being a feared entity which humans and wizards cannot understand and therefore fear - it is clear to the reader that more meets the eye with these two men. Similarly, threaded throughout the prose is the idea that the whole story must be understood in order to judge good or evil, and that (in the words of Sirius Black himself) the world is not split into two, opposing ideas of black and white. Instead, there is good parts and bad parts in all of us, but it is the choices we make and the aspects of our personality that we choose to nurture which show our true colours.
The only real issue I had with Prisoner of Azkaban was the timeturner. I know it is a complex wizarding artifact and that there is a limit to what can be changed since one cannot expose themselves to their past self (or other past people in the vicinity of the present self) whilst using it. However, it just seems a bit convenient that Hermione got rid of the timeturner at the end of the third year. If she hadn't, think about all the future challenges Harry could have potentially avoided by using it to turn back simple decisions which preceded catastrophic events! However this is a small issue and one which I am definitely prepared to overlook in respect of the book as a whole which was one of my favourites.
Cinque stars. Of course.