HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN By J.K. Rowling Scholastic Press 435 pp., $19.95 Ages 8 and way up
J.K. Rowling's books about a young wizard-in-training have become so popular that reviewing them is almost beside the point. But for those who haven't yet met Harry Potter, you're in for a great friendship.
Rowling has described the series as one very long story divided up for the reader's conven-ience. That level of continuous thought shows in the way it has so far avoided the plot holes that sequels frequently tumble into.
All the books follow Harry's school year: summer vacation with his dreadful Aunt and Uncle Dursley, followed by a little back-to-school shopping, for wands and whatnot. Then it's off to school, where he swats down sneering snob Draco Malfoy, plays a little Quidditch, does more than a bit of homework, and solves the mystery of what evil is stalking Hogwarts in time for vacation.
This time, it's Sirius Black, a murderous prisoner who escaped and is reportedly after Harry. But Harry can't help thinking the Dementors sent to capture him are far more scary than any archcriminal could be. (Younger children are likely to agree - they're pretty nasty.)
What's so impressive is how Rowling continues to delight - and fool - the reader within her strict schedule. This third book improves on its predecessors, adding a layer of symbolism to an adventure so nonstop that I sat up until 3 a.m. frantically turning pages.
As Harry and his comrades Ron and Hermione grow up, so do their adventures. The third delves deeper into Harry's father's past and the nature of justice, while providing plenty of momentum for the next book.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society