NOTE: This review is spoiler free. Well, maybe some very minor ones are in there. At any rate if you’re still reading the book you may want to skip it for now anyway. I wouldn’t want to affect your reading even with general discussions.
Like every other being on the English-speaking parts of the planet, I picked up J.K. Rowling’s new Harry Potter book on the day it came out. This is the final Potter, and after 10 years of following the series I was pretty interested to see how it would all turn out with Harry and his coterie are on the lamb and everything is going to hell now that the chief bad guy is seizing control of the wizarding world.
One of the things that I’ve always admired about this series is how they started off being childish and fanciful, then matured into more and more sophisticated, dark, and –oddly enough– realistic books. The Deathly Hallows takes this trend to its conclusion, and not just because the body count is so alarmingly high by the end. I loved how this book looks full into the face of an issue that every one of us has had to deal with on our road towards adulthood: adults are flawed and fallible. And I’m not just talking about the bad guys here. I mean our friends fail us. Our authority figures fail us. Our parents fail us. But it’s only because they’re real, complex people and we can’t see that until we’ve done some aging ourselves. I loved how Hallows expands on this theme by showing us how people like Dumbledore and even Harry’s dad were, at least once, worse people than we thought they were, and how others like Snape and even the Malfoys are better than we thought they were. Rowling teases apart the simple, bold lines she used to draw her characters in the beginning of the series so that they are now possessed of shades and nuances that weren’t there before. And yet it flows naturally and you can see that the groundwork was often laid thousands of pages ago.
The other thing to love about Hallows is, of course, that it’s a rip-roaring good adventure. Despite the disappointing fact that it falls back on the tired old cliche of the quest to collect all the magicle foozles (actually, there are two sets of foozles in play here) so they can be combined/destroyed lest they save/explode the world, our favorite wizardly teens go from one exciting scene to the next. Well, mostly. I could have done with a lot less of the clomping around in the woods that goes on in the middle of the book, but otherwise it’s just good entertainment. And things culminate in (MINOR SPOILER!!) a battle royale at Hogwarts towards the end of the book in which just about every major and minor character from the series gets called in to take the safeties off their wands and totally cut loose. That was just plain fun.
I did have a few problems with the book, but they were mostly minor. It dragged in the middle, as I said, to the point where it seemed like Rowling was just padding it out. I had also have had QUITE enough of Emo Potter and his hissy fit ways in the previous couple of installments, so that I was banging the book against my head when Harry started to get all pissy and emotional to the point of sundering his friendships. Thankfully Rowling moved on, in the name of character development if nothing else.
My only substantial disappointment with Gallows was how it lacked the sense of discovery and world building that earlier books had. What I loved about the early parts of the series was that Rowling’s impressive imagination was on full display, meted out in revelations about the wizarding world, its mechanics, its societies, its places, its people, and its, well, magic. I loved finding out what she was going to think of next because it was entertaining and delightful. Hallows, on the other hand, is in full wrap-up mode. We get very little new except the chaos and loss that came out of breaking down everything we had come to know at that point. Still, I guess Rowling had to stop introducing new stuff at some point so that she could wrap it up even if the sense of wonder and discovery is greatly reduced.
So, thumbs up from me. The last 100 pages of the book create what is one of the most satisfying endings to an epic series that I can remember, and I’m really glad I’ve read the books. I hope that my kids read and enjoy them some day. It’ll be fun to talk about them.