I can remember my father reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to me when I was maybe eight or nine — way back when it was still a new release and before what we now know as "Pottermania" had taken hold of the world with its iron grip. Regardless, I was immediately drawn into the story's fascinating world, and little time passed before I had been made into a lifelong fan. I devoured every new novel in the series as they came out and attended my local movie theater to see every film adaptation as those came out. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is also my all-time favourite novel. That's gotta count for something, right?
Deathly Hallows always seemed to me like it would be the last Harry Potter book we'd ever get. And rightly so. It was as spectacular a finale as I could have asked for, with everything wrapped up nice and neat, and J.K. Rowling herself seemed pretty adamant that the story was over and done with. Up until nine years later, that is, when we were presented with a brand new novel in the series after all, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Only, it wasn't really a novel. It was a stage play, and one that was having its script published into book format. It seemed, then, like a bit of a strange choice to advertise it as "The Eighth Story". I think most people, myself included, would have expected a sequel to Deathly Hallows to come in the form of a traditional novel. Still, I loved Harry Potter as much as I always had, so naturally, I was curious to give it a read. Despite the finality of Deathly Hallows, the idea of any sort of continuation was an exciting one.
As a disclaimer, I haven't seen the actual Cursed Child play. This is just a review of the published script book.
A New Beginning for Harry Potter?
It was an unusual decision to do Cursed Child as a play, but I thought it was an interesting idea nonetheless. Still, it was sort of awkward for me to read this eighth story in play format. That might be because I don't have a lot of familiarity with plays. I've read them before, but not very often, and on the occasions when I have, it's usually been for a high school or college assignment.
In fact, Cursed Child is the only time I can remember reading a play strictly for pleasure and not for the purpose of a class setting or a homework assignment. It was a unique experience for sure.
But anyway, onto the story itself.
(A warning that there will be moderate plot spoilers ahead!! If you have any interest in Cursed Child but aren't already familiar with it, I would actually recommend not even reading my review, and just checking the book out for yourself without learning too much about it. The less you know going into it, the better, I think. It does contain a lot of neat surprises. For the sake of this review, however, I just don't know how to talk about the script without discussing its unusual plot in depth.)
Let's Talk Characters
One of the consistent strengths of Harry Potter is how, in spite of having so many characters, they're all so distinct and memorable. It's a tradition that thankfully continues in Cursed Child. I can't think of anyone who didn't stand out in some way. Unfortunately, there are some other issues with the characters' portrayal, and it's much more of a mixed bag this time around.
On one hand, it's neat to see what some of the characters from the first seven books are like, now that they're much older. Harry and Draco are nicely written. Unfortunately, some of the other characters' personalities felt very inconsistent with the original books. Ron in particular felt like a different person altogether.
The new characters are also hit and miss. Despite being the main protagonist, Albus was probably the character I was the most neutral about. I didn't like or dislike him either way. He was just there. I also wish Rose had been handled differently and been given a larger role (more on her below).
I was especially baffled by *spoiler* of all people suddenly becoming a Death Eater. Just, whaa? Really?
Scorpius was the best part. He's an endearing and well-developed character. I like the implication that Draco deliberately raised his son to be a better person than how he himself was raised. As for Delphini, I don't want to give the details away, but I will say that she was a good example of "interesting idea, flawed execution."
Let's Talk Plot
Despite the foreboding title, Cursed Child has a noticeably more light-hearted feel to it. It's often pointed out how the Harry Potter books and films gradually got darker as they progressed. Cursed Child actually goes in the opposite direction. It's not what I would have expected, but it’s kind of refreshing in a way. It brings the tone back to the more jovial feel of the earlier novels.
The storyline, however, is a beast of a different breed.
It starts off as a straightforward continuation of where the previous story ended. Albus Potter, Rose Granger-Weasley, and Scorpius Malfoy are riding the Hogwarts Express, on their way to begin a new era of their lives as Hogwarts students, the same position their parents were in nineteen years before. From there, I would've expected Albus, Rose, and Scorpius to become the new main characters, and to have a retelling of the first-year story from their perspective.
Instead, we're thrown one heck of a curveball. Rose turns out to be a jerk and more or less becomes irrelevant to the plot, Albus' first three years at Hogwarts are completely glossed over, the Trolley Witch reveals herself to be 190-years-old and has exploding pumpkin pasties and spiked hands, and the story subsequently veers off into an almost sci-fi direction with time travel and alternate universes.
I do like the twist of Albus being sorted into Slytherin, and of him forming an unexpected friendship with Scorpius. That was well done. It's everything else I have mixed feelings about.
I can see how the wacky, time travel-oriented, Back to the Future-esque storyline was off-putting to a lot of fans. Although that's not really where my own issue lies. I appreciate what the script was trying to do, and I'm fine with the fact that it did something different. It just needed better execution. Related to that, I really like the idea of a next-generation Hogwarts story, but again, it just wasn't as well-realized as it could've been.
It also needed to be longer. The story felt crammed and rushed in places. I would've enjoyed seeing more of Albus' first three years and more of the alternate timelines.
While I'm not against the script/play format in itself, ultimately I do wish that Cursed Child had been a proper novel written by J.K. Rowling, just like the original seven books. Or, failing that, if she'd simply written the play herself. The fact that she didn't fully write it, only co-contributing to the basic story, explains why some of the characterization feels off, I think.
It's neat that they published the script though. It was a nice way to allow us Potterheads who haven't seen the play to still be able to enjoy the story. And, even if I had issues with the plot, it was still really cool to be able to buy a brand new Harry Potter book from the book store after all these years.
It was okay. There were some things I liked, and some things I didn't, which balances it out to an "eh". One positive thing I can say is that it was never boring. It was definitely an entertaining read. But there were too many oddities and other things dragging it down and keeping it from being a truly great story.
Despite my overall lukewarm reaction, I'd be interested to see if they ever do a Cursed Child film adaptation someday. Maybe they could improve on some of the original script's flaws. And/or maybe they could get the original actors back. It'd be great to see Daniel Radcliffe and Tom Felton and the others again. A fan can dream.
© 2017 Ian Rideout
Alexis on December 11, 2017:
I saw Fantastic Beasts when it came out and loved it. It had all the charm of the original movies, but felt deeper than some. Newt is a fantastic character (unintentional pun) as well as the other characters.
Ian Rideout (author) from Alberta, Canada on December 10, 2017:
Yeah, you're right. It just doesn't feel like canon, despite J.K. saying it is. And a film adaptation does seem unlikely at this point, although it's still something I'd be interested in if it ever did happen.
Did you ever see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? I thought that felt far more in the spirit of Harry Potter than Cursed Child did.
Thanks for reading!
Alexis on December 08, 2017:
You outlined all the gripes that I had with "The Cursed Child". I was disappointed in the portrayal of characters like Ron. It absolutely does feel rushed and it isn't because its a play, it's just too much and doesn't feel like canon. Criticism aside, I loved Scorpious as well as Albus. I liked that the story made their friendship a key plot point and explored it. It is a fast read though and there isn't any real 'down time'.
A movie would be interesting to see, although I have doubts we'll see it, save for a recording of the play. J.K. Rowling is making a sequel series, but without the original trio, so we might see some elements of "The Cursed Child" play into it with some minor characters or allusions to characters in "The Cursed Child."