I waited a few months to buy the illustrated Sorcerer's Stone after it was published in October 2015 (here's my review), but I wasted no time with the Chamber of Secrets. I pre-ordered it and had it shipped to my door step on publication day. Similar to the first book, I resisted temptation and didn't leaf through the pages to look at the illustrations before I started reading. I wanted to experience the illustrations in time with the story the way Jim Kay intended. This has proven both times to be a wonderful strategy because it adds a whole new layer of wonder to the reading experience. Not only am I reading a fantastic story with Kay's beautiful illustrations, but I have no idea when the next image will appear or what it will be. Towards the beginning of the book I turned the page and was surprised to find two ginormous eyes peering out at me from behind the text. After a moment of shock I remembered they were Dobby's eyes, and Kay was revealing them to the reader the way Harry would have seen them peeking from behind a bush. The whole book unfolded this way, one wonder after the other.
Now, for your convenience, I'm going to simply list out my favorite bits and bobs from the book, as well as a few critiques.
-Just like Sorcerer's Stone, Chamber of Secrets devoted four pages to the streets of Diagon Alley, and they were gorgeous. I spent a long time reading all of the shop signs and looking in the windows. It honestly felt like I was exploring Diagon Alley.
-The use of full black pages with white text to represent darkness throughout the book was extremely effective in drawing the reader into the physical space of the scenes. For instance, when Harry, Ron, and Hermione go to Nearly Headless Nick's Death Day party, the pages go dark allowing the ghosts to glow and luminesce on the page. The technique was also employed for the Forbidden Forest scenes and when Harry goes into the Chamber of Secrets.
-The first book provided portraits of the characters as a way of introducing them to us, so it was fun this time around to see the character's in action. We were able to see two different illustrations of Mrs. Weasley helping Ron go over his school list and bringing in the floo powder for their trip to Diagon Alley. Also, I loved the pencil sketch of Hermione with a determined look on her face and a stack of books heading off to study. Kay was able to dive more into the character's personalities this time around, and it showed.
-One image I loved was the portrait of Draco Malfoy on page 169. We got an illustration of Draco in the first book wearing his Slytherin robes and looking positively diabolical. However, the portrait in COS showed another side of him. Draco looked almost miserable in the image, and his pale blue eyes were piercing. I still hated Draco in this book, but that image was haunting.
-One of my favorite full spread illustrations was of Harry falling into Tom Riddle's diary on pages 182 and 183. The vibrant colors exploded off the page. Basically, I would kill for a print of that image to hang on my wall.
-From the first chapter to the last, Dobby was illustrated perfectly. He had a grotesqueness to him that was hard to ignore, but his giant ears and bulging eyes were endearing. The final image of him clutching Harry's dirty sock to his chest broke my heart in the best possible way. (Here's a link to a short video of Jim Kay working on the illustrations for the first two books. In it, you'll see a clay model Kay made of Dobby to help with his illustrations. It's adorable.)
Now, my critiques of this book are less about what was on the page and more about what was missing. There were several images I was really looking forward to seeing that apparently didn't make the cut. This could be because of the time allowance Jim Kay had for this book. In the video I linked above he mentions that he spent two and a half years illustrating the first book and only eight months illustrating the second. With the books growing longer and longer as the series progresses, I'm hoping we don't begin to see less illustrations.
-First and foremost, it seemed like this book had less illustrations than the first. I didn't tally the number between the two books, but there were several times in COS where I flipped ahead while reading wondering when the next illustration would appear, and I don't remember ever doing that with the first book. For instance, Chapter 11 goes ten pages without a single illustrations and Chapter 17 is fifteen pages long, yet there is only one illustration (aside from the illustration that accompanies every chapter heading) and it is a full layout image of Harry fighting the Basilisk. It's a wonderful image, but it felt a little lonely in the chapter that is meant to be the climax of the story.
-Speaking of the climax, there wasn't a single image of the inside of the Chamber of Secrets, which was really disappointing. I had been looking forward to seeing Jim Kay's take on that space. The book is, after all, called Harry Potter and the CHAMBER OF SECRETS.
-Also Jim Kay didn't do an illustration of Tom Riddle or of Ginny in the chamber or of Harry stabbing the diary. All of these things are HUGE plot points in the book, yet they weren't represented in the illustrations. It just felt like a missed opportunity to me. We've been able to see Kay's version of all of the main characters, but somehow Tom Riddle didn't make the cut? I mean, spoiler alert, but Tom Riddle is the reason this story is even happening. He set the entire plot into motion. It would be like if Jim Kay hadn't provided an illustration of Professor Quirrell in the first book. It wouldn't have made any sense, and the decision to leave Riddle out made zero sense to me.
-Now, on a smaller scale, I was disappointed that there wasn't an image of any of the petrified students, particularly Hermione. One of the main characters was attacked by the basilisk and it didn't make it into the illustrations? What? It would have been heartbreaking to see Harry and Ron visiting her in the hospital wing, and again, it seemed like a missed opportunity.
-Finally, one of my favorite locations in all of the books has always been The Burrow. I grew up loving the idea of the Weasley's lopsided living quarters, and I adored every second we were able to spend in their space, so it was a tad underwhelming to be given two images of The Burrow that I didn't feel provided any detail. The first being on the cover of the book where The Burrow is seen in the distance in an aerial shot; the second being an illustration of The Burrow at dusk, so the majority of the house is hidden in shadow. The Weasley's house is described so richly in the books, and it would have been really fun to see Kay's spin on the beloved landmark. Fingers crossed it makes it into one of the later books.
Overall, the book was amazing. Re-reading these books with full color illustrations has been a wonderful way to reconnect with a beloved part of my childhood, and I know I'm going to be eagerly anticipating a new illustrated release every October until the last one is published. Though I did have some criticisms, I highly recommend these books to every Harry Potter lover. They are a magical spin on our favorite magical world, and they shouldn't be missed.