3.5 stars, really . . . Jim Kay''s illustrations are gorgeous, but I must admit that this book was something of a let-down, especially when Mr. Kay took an additional year to work on the art. I had assumed the extra time was to furnish the book with additional illustrations,...
3.5 stars, really . . . Jim Kay''s illustrations are gorgeous, but I must admit that this book was something of a let-down, especially when Mr. Kay took an additional year to work on the art. I had assumed the extra time was to furnish the book with additional illustrations, much as the last three had barely a blank page, and the nooks and crannies were filled with everything from watercolor splotches on the page to tiny art in the corners to full-page spreads. Unfortunately what we have here, in addition to much gorgeous work, is essentially half a blank book. If we didn''t have the precedent of the prior three volumes to set such expectations, I wouldn''t care in the slightest . . . as it is, however, I found myself disappointed as a I re-read the book to discover the art (I''ve made it a point to do this, rather than "peek" at the illustrations.) The funny thing is, even though this book is about twice as long as the first three, Mr. Kay had volumetrically *more* illustrations per book than here, which leaves me wondering why the second year was needed.
All this said, I found myself somewhat chagrined when there were at least five different pages with nothing but buttons / pins on them--the "Cedric Diggory" and "Potter Stinks" and "S.P.E.W." ones. We get several images of the Blast-Ended Skrewts, which . . . I don''t know. I would have been happy with one and then having Mr. Kay''s talent go into a different subject (same with the pins). This situation is repeated as well with drawings of house-elves. While it was nice to see Ginny here, she looks far older than 13 in her portrait (although the portrait itself is gorgeous) . . . compare her to how Hermione (age 14) is drawn, and Ginny looks 16 or 17.
Layout-wise, I feel like the publishers dropped the ball a bit. Several of Mr. Kay''s illustrations here are standalone portraits or little vignettes (i.e. house-elves polishing armor, dusting a mantle . . . ), and they''re almost haphazardly scattered throughout the book. (For example, near the end we get a random "rough" portrait of Hermione, and two illustrations of Rita Skeeter as a beetle . . . and that''s it. That''s how the book closes out, of all things: the image of Rita in a jar.) The other books were laid out with such care, such painstaking detail, that it almost feels like the production team / designers threw in the towel partway on this one.
This having all been said, Mr. Kay''s depiction of Voldemort rising from the cauldron was chilling, and I really appreciated that we don''t get a full-scale color portrait of Mad-Eye until the end of the book (for plot reasons, of course--and this was rather cleverly done). I also appreciated his take on Viktor Krum (true to the book, and a bit of a shock if you pictured him as a muscley, handsome jock from the film).
So . . . I don''t know. The first three books were a little "top heavy" with illustrations, in that near the end of the books they became fewer and further between. This book feels like that, to an extent, but there are also the great many blank pages to contend with . . .
Frankly, I would rather wait 2-3 years between books if it means that Mr. Kay could produce enough illustrations for the subsequent books to be as rich as the first three were. As it is, and as excellent as his art is over all, I have to wonder if he''s just getting burnt out at this point.
[EDIT]: I now see that this book is fluctuating in price from $30 to $50. My personal opinion is that this book is not in any way worth $50.
I would also like to address one reviewer''s comments about how we shouldn''t expect the illustrated editions to be picture books: the first two, generally speaking, were. "Azkaban" began to show signs of what this book would be, with fewer illustrations and generally being more "top-heavy", while the illustrations tapered off at the end. The reason I think many of us are frustrated is simply because the first two (or three) books set us up with expectations that all of the books would be a thoroughly, lushly illustrated, with the same care and attention to detail. As I mentioned before, I would happily wait two, three, four years between these longer books if it meant Mr. Kay and the publisher''s graphic designers would take their time giving each one the same amount of love.
[Edit 2] At the risk of sounding off, I randomly looked up Mr. Kay''s Instagram, having heard that he''ll occasionally post glimpses of his works-in-progress. What I found was interesting, in that he noted being excited to work on the book but also mentioning (in public, which is the only reason I say it here) that he''s been struggling with mental health issues for the last couple of years or so. To that end, I really hope the publisher (while obviously concerned with keeping the books "on schedule") gives him all the time he needs to deliver larger amounts of illustrations, at his own pace, so the books can be worth the price the publishers will no doubt ask.
Which then has me reconsidering if the editorial / design team flaked out--or if the issue was simply with volume, and what illustrations Mr. Kay could provide at the time for this book. (Perhaps this explains the increase in "sketchy" or small-scale illustrations scattered throughout as well?) I''m more inclined to think, after reading Mr. Kay''s comments on Instagram, that it''s the latter--which isn''t a negative judgement on him. To that end, I think the publisher would do well to make sure that their illustrator is alright, and relieve some of the pressure by letting him have an extra couple of years if he needs it, rather than trying to hurry the next book (incidentally, the longest in the series) along. From a financial standpoint, yes, I completely understand wanting to move things along as quickly as possible--but if it''s going to result in situations like this, where the quality of the books is arguably deteriorating--is that really worth it?
And / or: What if Mr. Kay were to collaborate with someone? Maybe that''d help take some of the pressure off as well.
In any case, Mr. Kay''s illustrations are lovely; I just hope that he''s able to take care of himself, continues to find joy in his work, and that "Phoenix" through "Hallows" will be more complete. :)