It’s done. And it’s great.
Spoilers warning: while I do not give any true spoilers or plot specifics, I describe the book in a general way. And for some, even that’s too much.
Bravo, Ms Rowling. As a fan of the series, I was swept up into the last installment of the series and not let go until the end. Deathly Hallows is the well-executed capstone on structure that Rowling has clearly (now that we know all there is to know) been building since the start. The novel is dense with developments, turns, and revelations. As Alisa and I sat together reading (with her typically out-pacing me), discussing the book required a measured step, to ensure we wouldn’t spoil anything for each other, since even a gap of 8 pages was brimming with crucial and exciting developments. But, remarkably, the pace never overwhelmed. Rowling builds the story with enough varying rhythms to avoid exhaustion on the part of the reader, who she takes on a whirlwind ride.
Of course, while Deathly Hallows is the most interesting and gripping in the series, it’s still a Rowling book. Many of her typical lengthy expositions, and the narrative trickery to fit them nicely in, are present in spades. If her style bugs you, this novel will drown you in it (though how you got this far feeling that way is a mystery). However, if you’re invested in the characters or the fantasy epic (we can call it an epic now, I think) she’s brought into full being, then you’ll likely revel in the gush of connections and revelations. I found this installment profoundly satisfying; with no more tales to tell, secrets are laid bare.
Deathly Hallows, staying true to the arc developed across the novels, is certainly the most adult as well as the darkest and most mature. The characters speak in a more adult manner, the violence is unflinching, and the darkness reaches all corners. But, as any storyteller of any depth knows, the events that motivate the characters are far less important than the characters themselves and their interactions in the face of those events. Their existence as beings with emotional dimension and hidden currents can trump the most spectacular set pieces. Rowling hammers the world of witches and wizards with more than one dark instrument, to crack open not only Harry’s last illusions, but also our own. And in doing so, she liberates more than one character from their archetypal chains. It’s a bold move, particularly for a series with its origins as a children’s novel, and it threatens to bloat the book to bursting with details and back stories. But she pulled it off.
In fact, Deathly Hallows represents a coming of age not just for Harry (17 is an auspicious year for witches and wizards), but also for the larger arc of the novels themselves. One of the series’ greatest strengths is its steady maturation from a more standard-form ‘discovering a hidden world’ fantasy tale, into a multi-layered one addressing the disillusionment of adulthood, the fallibility of man, and the complexities of love, power, fame, and memory. Summing it up as a coming-of-age tale (‘bildungsroman’ thank you NY Times) is to reduce the fullness of the novels to a single thread.
The illumination of unkown secrets is always a pleasure, but perhaps more satisfying is Rowling’s handling of her characters’ tendencies to falter and stay true to their own emotions and personalities, while still moving forward. These character dynamics created eddies and flows in the plot, preventing the tale from trickling to a long-foreseen close. In spite of its consistent adherence to stylistic form, the structure itself surprised me and left me impressed. With such a clear path ahead at the end of Half-Blood Prince, the series’ close could easily have become a dramatic formality with a great deal of empty pomp and circumstance. Rowling took my expectations and confounded them entirely through a well-paced telling, more than a few dramatic bombshells, and the relationships between characters who we’ve seen grow together.
Even with the end in sight, the story moved with a steady stride of unexpected steps. I’m pleased with where the book went, given the possibilities. There a few stones I wish she’d kicked over for us, but the plot was threatening to burst as Rowling closed a seven novel series, brought her many characters’ relationships and lives to a head, introduced multiple new plot structures into the mix, and shook the foundations of the world she’s built since Harry’s first year at Hogwarts.
A fitting end to a rich tale. I can’t wait to read it all over again.