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Review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Back in 2005, when I started a topic on predictions for the seventh and final Harry Potter book, I had no idea that the predictions would be so accurate.  If you used that link without reading the whole sentence and comprehending that the predictions were accurate, you've probably just spoiled the book for yourself.  I'm not apologizing.  But for those still reading, I am going to provide a review.

Right at the start, you need to know that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows still follows the traditional Rowling formula.  That is, quick hook at the beginning of the story, lollygagging in the middle of the story, and finally boatloads of exposition at the end.  Rowling has not gotten better here – she has no pacing for what she reveals, cramming it all into the final pages.  And she's entirely predictable about how she goes about doing it.  For example, it's no spoiler to tell you that someone will come alongside Harry and just start dropping all kinds of info near the end, making you wonder, "Why couldn't that have been said at the start?  It would have saved some trouble!"

For those of you who read the previous couple of sentences and worried that I've just spoiled that Harry lives, I have not.  Rowling has too much of a backlog -- the "ending" begins with a couple hundred pages to go.  She has so many loose ends to tie up from all the previous books that she simply cannot cram it all into the final chapter.  So what Harry does as he gets the boatloads of exposition dropped on him, well, there are still many chapters after that, and what happens to Harry I won't say.  If you really want to know, you can use the previously mentioned link.

So what can I say about the book without just telling you everything?  Well, first, the book is cunning.  One of the things that originally attracted me to the series was the discussions I heard people having about the story arc.  That is, things that seemed irrelevant in the first book might reappear in a later book, with more significance.  As you look back at the earlier books, you can see Rowling setting up plotlines and arranging the props just so.  To me, that was impressive.  It was a multi-year, multi-book effort.  I had to read it for myself.  So it is fair to say that I am doubly impressed here.  Rowling's story refers to so many things from the previous books, and casts them in so many new lights, that at a certain point I just stopped trying to keep track.  And I mean that as a compliment.  Truly, Rowling weaved scores of plot points throughout the seven books, and she did it well.

I can also tell you something else.  Rowling has tried her best to address some of the issues that cropped up as complaints from her readers.  The biggest one was the problem of secrecy – people who had answers and could give them easily did not, thus causing the story to drag out needlessly.  In this new book, that continues to happen.  However, Rowling does three things for you, the reader.

First, Rowling makes Harry Potter identify with you.  Throughout the book, he expresses frustration at being needlessly kept in the dark.  Second, she reveals that Dumbledore had a weakness for keeping things close to his chest, and she shows how that clearly hurt him and his relationships in the past.  Revealing this kind of humanity in her characters may not be a salve that makes her readers say, "Oh, okay, we forgive characters in the book for stringing Harry along just to stretch out the plot."  But it is a reason, at least.  And coupled with the third goodie she provides, it is slightly compelling.  The third offering Rowling makes to her readers is that of a plot twist near the end which very reasonably points out that if Harry had known too much of the terrible things in store for him, he may have fled, or worse, rushed headlong into a greedy pursuit of power.

Rowling does her best to make that last point convincing, and she does it well.  Throughout the story, you will see Harry Potter struggle with pursuit of power, wondering what is best for the greater good, and what sacrifices he is willing to accept from others.  By the time you hear the justification for secrecy, you may be right on board.  Potter really did seem to have some issues along the way.

And as I wrap up my review, I'm going to say that it is those issues which form the biggest thread weaving in and out of the book.  By that I mean, Rowling puts the doubts, weaknesses, fears, and poor judgements of her characters at the forefront.  And I don't just mean Harry.  By the end of the book, Harry has wept with cowardly fear, Ron has made poor decisions out of rage on more than one occassion, Dumbledore is – in hindsight – revealed to have been very selfish on some matters, and more.  As the bad choices pile up, you can almost imagine the body count rising throughout history.  By the end of the book, many characters are tainted or redeemed or – most frequently – left in shades of grey.

In fact, if you'd permit me another paragraph, I'd have to say that was one of only two true issues I had with the book.  I wanted a certain character to be redeemed.  I wanted it badly.  And Rowling doesn't give me the satisfaction – she leaves one of the bad characters... well, not bad, but not stable either.  For some characters in this book, redemption doesn't mean a choir sings and everyone becomes friends.  Instead, for some the only redemption is that they weren't killed off, and that's not as clean and tidy as my instinct wants.  But it's certainly more realisitic.  In the end, even if it isn't fully satisfying "closure" to me, it is probably a far superior treatment of the material.  (The second true issue I had with the book is what I already mentioned – the lollygagging in the middle of the book.  Rowling tends to write long boring middles, and this book is no exception.  In fact, at one point I wondered if it was at all enjoyable to read.  Was I just slogging through to get to the final payoff?  In the end, the payoff was so lengthy, and so massive, that I lost sight of the question.  And perhaps that is to Rowling's credit.)

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