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Net takes Potter fans on magical, frustrating ride

As the latest Harry Potter book is delivered all around the globe, some say the plot is being spoiled online.

Michelle Meyers
Michelle Meyers wrote and edited CNET News stories from 2005 to 2020 and is now a contributor to CNET.
Michelle Meyers
4 min read
Behold the wizardry of the Web.

The very thing that helped millions of Harry Potter fans around the globe get the latest book delivered to their doorsteps Saturday is also a source of frustration for some who don't want the plot spoiled--the Internet.

In one of the most eagerly anticipated book launches ever, J.K. Rowling's just-released "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" has been breaking online sales records. Some 1.4 million readers preordered the book from Amazon.com alone, where it's been on the best-seller list since it was announced last year.

But as the post office and other delivery services are busy making good on Saturday's guaranteed shipping date, the Internet is already abuzz with reviews of the book, stories from last night's launch parties, speed-readers' plot details and complaints about postings that divulge too much information. Between 11 a.m. and noon PDT Saturday, Harry Potter was the No. 1 search term on blog search engine Technorati and "Harry Potter Spoilers" was No. 9.

Amazon customer Charles Zwilling of New Jersey marveled that there were 37 reviews up on the site early Saturday from people who must have stayed up all night reading.

"Unless you are just one of those people who has to be the first at everything or even worse, someone who likes to ruin things for others, stop writing," he wrote.

Pete Cyclone, of Washington, D.C., asked Amazon readers to boycott the reviews until Monday "in protest of spoilers."

"While free speech is important, Amazon should put a warning on this set of comments so that the rights of others are not trampled upon," he wrote. "At the very least, reviews here should be moderated for the next few days. That way I wouldn't have an inconsolable 14-year-old sister to deal with right now."

Of course, readers could always choose to simply resist going online. But that didn't keep some of the hard core Potter sites, like Mugglenet.com and the Harry Potter Automatic News Aggregator from shutting down their message boards for a couple of days before and after the launch, knowing full well that some members wouldn't be able to resist chatting about the plot.

Early online reviews of the book appeared mixed, with Harry likened to everyone from Luke Skywalker, Henry V and King Arthur, as well as evil afoot in the plot to recent bomb attacks in London. Some are calling it the darkest Potter book yet, some are calling it the best.

M.G Alcat of Buenos Aires, Argentina, was one of countless readers who just couldn't wait until daytime Saturday to curl up with the book. Alcat battled rain and cold weather to get a copy at 12:15 a.m. at a local bookstore, then went home to read, according to an Amazon posting.

"I just finished it, and I can sincerely say that it is simply outstandingly good. Yes, the other books were awesome too, especially the 4th and the 5th, but I think that Harry's world is becoming more defined with each book, and that makes for a thoroughly engaging reading experience," Alcat wrote.

The British Broadcasting Corp.'s Web site featured its own Harry Potter "review blog," with a staff member updating readers on his thoughts even before he reached the end of the hardback tome.

"I've just finished the last few words of the book," he wrote at 5.30 a.m. (4:30 GMT), five hours and 30 minutes after the book's official launch.

"In many ways this book has been a mere staging ground for Rowling's final narrative to come," the review continues. "Too much of the book was either a repeat of what we have seen before, or bogged down by Rowling's attempts to maneuver plot lines and characters into position. After a while all magic tricks begin to lose their impact."

The New York Times ran a lengthy review within hours of the book's release, likening Rowling's achievement to the works of author J.R.R. Tolkien of "Lord of the Rings."

"As the story proceeds...it grows progressively more somber, eventually becoming positively Miltonian in its darkness," the generally favorable write-up said.

Its main criticism was of Rowling's handling of plot developments needed to set up readers for the seventh and final installment.

Meanwhile, a writer for the "We Are Not Sheep" blog and her husband are probably still waiting for the UPS delivery person. She was one of many bloggers who, unable to write about the book, talked about the book's anticipated arrival.

"Starting at 7:30 this morning, (my husband has) been looking out the front door every five minutes (or less)...He?s also looking at the tracking system every few minutes as well," she wrote. "I was going to title this post 'I married an 11-year old,' but I don't think I want the kind of Google-juice that would provide."

Reuters contributed to this report.