Well, as for the story line, it really wasn’t a whole lot different from the first book. A mystery is introduced: the Chamber of Secrets has been opened by the mysterious Heir of Slytherin and whatever was locked in the Chamber has been attacking, but not killing, certain students who are not of pure magical blood. Harry and his friends sleuth around to figure out the mystery, breaking a myriad of school rules in the process and nearly (of course) getting expelled. When Hermione is attacked, Hogwarts is on the point of shutting down for good. It’s up to Harry, Ron, and the famous but useless Professor Gilderoy Lockhart to discover where the Chamber of Secrets is located and defeat the evil that lurks within.
I have to say I enjoyed reading this installment in the series quite a bit less than the previous book. The character of the self-promoting Gilderoy Lockhart, while resonating with the publisher in me, was too overdone to be funny--like a Monty Python skit that is shown over and over again until all the humor is thoroughly beaten out of it. Also in this category was the scene with Ron vomiting up slugs. Several pages of such imagery is more than enough for even the most scatologically-inclined juvenile reader.
On the other hand, I did like the character of Ginny Weasley, Ron's younger sister. In fact, I think that a lot of homeschool families would find the Weasleys very sympathetic. They've got seven kids--six boys and a girl. They're poor, so they're forced to make due with hand-me-down robes and second-hand wands. And they're ridiculed by their social "betters" for their financial straits. That Ron and his brothers are quick to resort to fisticuffs rather than hear their family demeaned may also resonate with some.
One thing that particularly irritated me about The Chamber of Secrets was the introduction of some alternate history taken directly from wicca 101. "Hogwarts was founded over a thousand years ago by the four greatest witches and wizards of the time," the ghost of Professor Binns lectures. "They built this castle together, far from prying Muggle eyes, for it was an age when magic was feared by common people, and witches and wizards suffered much persecution" (pg. 150). I've heard similar nonsense bandied about by real, modern, historically-challenged wiccans, so when I saw this, I just shook my head. Not good. To my eye, this looked like a seed planted by Rowling and it seemed to substantiate Amy Welborn's observation:
"There's only one reason the Harry Potter books are in the least bit controversial. Just one. Wicca. That's it. If we didn't have this ridiculous little "religion" bustling around, forming "covens" in dorm rooms and getting army chaplains, I doubt one parent in a million would even think to waste even a minute being concerned about these books."But it is a concern. For the record, there is an excellent article in the Catholic Encyclopedia that gives a capsule scholarly history of witchcraft from the Catholic perspective and it is very effective in debunking wicca and its ridiculous alternate history. I hope that the future books in the series do not contain other such seeds--I'll certainly be looking for them.
The Chamber of Secrets also elaborates upon the differences between the magically inclined and those poor benighted creatures known as Muggles--that is, anyone who is "normal" and non-magical. In Rowling's world, there are those among the magical who despise the "Mudbloods"--anyone who is magical but from a Muggle family--and those good magic-users who are tolerant of Muggles, no matter how awful and nasty they may be. There seems to be an obvious intent on Rowling's part to make this a lesson in tolerance somehow, but it seems peculiarly elitist to me. Even the magical beings who tolerate the Muggles still, for them most part, look down on them as curious and generally pathetic creatures in need of study. One could easily imagine a book of poetry in the Hogwart's library containing "The Magical Man's Burden." I'm curious to see where this tangent ends up in the future books.
The climax of the book was also subpar. The horrible creature in the Chamber of Secrets is fairly inept. It kills no one (and the reasons given for this are ludicrous) and is eventually destroyed almost by accident. Though Harry is the hero, he seems to survive his deadly encounters almost completely by luck and the intervention of an "eye-in-the-sky"--all of which makes you wonder why the "eye-in-the-sky" didn't just deal with the problem in the first place.
I've heard it said that Chamber of Secrets is the weakest of the Potter books. Having read only the previous one, I can't comment on that, yet. However, it was certainly weaker than Sorcerer's Stone. The book also did little to quell my criticisms of the original book. Indeed, it enhanced them and added a few new ones. We'll see where all this leads in book three.