I thoroughly enjoyed this final installment in the series. Harry is turning seventeen in this book, and as he comes of age he faces evil with no protection from anyone else. The stakes are higher than ever, and Rowling makes this irrefutably clear from the beginning of the book, when Harry immediately loses two loved ones in an attack by Voldemort's Death Eaters.
Yet despite the grim turn of events, Harry is not alone. He is supported by Ron and Hermione, as well as Ron's family and the many friends he has made since he first came to Hogwarts. Rowling maintains a deft balance between a constant sense of peril and lighthearted moments shared by the friends, with dialogue that had me laughing out loud.
I often hear people comment - complain, even - that the books become so dark as the series progresses. I think that is fitting. If no lives were sacrificed in the fight against Voldemort, it would be too easy; the fight would be meaningless. As Harry grows older, the protections around him - from his parents, his godfather, his headmaster - gradually fall away. The books become darker as Harry grows stronger and more able to face the evil that is Lord Voldemort. He is no longer a child, and the book is no longer a children's book. Harry must stand up for himself, alone. Horrible things happen to innocent people, and these things are a constant reminder of what is at stake, why Voldemort must be stopped at all costs. And the costs are many.
I particularly enjoyed the complexity of the characters. We come to know Dumbledore in this book, and Harry must come to terms with the fact that adults are people, not constructs that spring to life in a fixed, adult form. Dumbledore was once young, he made mistakes, and it becomes increasingly difficult for Harry to reconcile his new knowledge of Dumbledore with the man he thought he knew. And finally we learn what it was that made Dumbledore so confident about Snape. Although it was all so sad, I almost regretted learning about it.
This is a gripping book - it was almost impossible to put down, especially during the last third or so. I was hoping we would return to Hogwarts, and Rowling did not disappoint me. The book sailed through to the inevitable conflict at the end, and the climax was exciting and fitting. My only complaint is that it ended so very quickly. I would have enjoyed a longer scene in which we got to spend a little more time with these characters I've loved for so many years. But still, I honestly could not have asked for a more satisfying conclusion.
It is bittersweet to have come to the end of the series at last. I will miss you, Harry.
At the same time, I can't help but wonder what Rowling will write next. It couldn't possibly be as compelling as this series...could it? Talk about a tough act to follow! She has definitely honed her craft with these books, each one better than the last. Whatever it is, I will be waiting to read it. I only hope we won't have to wait too long...
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic, 2007)