How does one review something that, by its very nature, is fairly review-proof? Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is sweeping the globe not as a novel, but as a eulogy to a series beloved by all. It is hard to look at this novel and say “You are flawed” when it is, as The Elder notes, considered “the event of the decade”? Should we be spending our final moments lamenting what the novel isn’t, or should we be embracing this engrossing and addictive series for the phenomenon it was?

My answer is simple: why can’t we have our golden snitch-shaped cake and eat it too?

I am of the mind that these novels are human novels: they are not somehow removed from a critical eye. I’ll admit right now that I outright hated Half-Blood Prince, a novel I found ill-focused and incredibly difficult to read. However, as much as I was willing to rip that novel apart, I am willing to admit the opposite in saying that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the best book the series has seen, in my view, since Goblet of Fire.

Why? It’s simple, really: this is a novel that manages to bring a satisfying end to a saga that could never end perfectly, and more important a novel that resurrects the ashes of Half-Blood Prince, its predecessor, and makes that novel relevant and necessary for key character arcs. While far from perfect, J.K. Rowling lets loose in a novel that is poignant and fulfilling: after reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows I am ready to say goodbye. And that, really, is what this novel really needed to do.

SPOILER WARNING:

Below the break, there will be spoilers about the entire novel. I’m not kidding, I’ll be discussing all sorts of key plot points. Stay Away if you haven’t read the book. Trust me.

The Opening

I said it in my Liveblogging comments, but the opening chapter of this novel bothers me for a few reasons. It feels like the League of Evildoers is meeting to discuss some sort of superhero problem like a group of bumbling idiots. I like the things we learn from the chapter: the Malfoys’ discomfort, Snape’s actions, Bellatrix, all of those elements work fine. It just feels like Voldemort is almost too human here. I know that we’ve seen Voldemort multiple times, but I still needed a certain sense of mystery around his appearance. As it was, he was nothing special except in pre-determined stature.

The scene showed Voldemort as evil, in killing the Muggle Studies teacher and all, but it was the next few chapters that set the stage better. Learning the reaction to Dumbledore’s death, seeing the Dursleys say goodbye to Harry, it all worked out quite well during that stage.

The Setup

I’ll be discussing this further later, but one of the issues in the beginning of the novel is that it takes a really long time getting to what we know needs to happen, because Half-Blood Prince told us all about it. The Horcrux search was inevitable, but it felt like it would never come. Rowling didn’t skimp on the setup: there’s a sky battle with Death Eaters, all sorts of key deaths (Mad-Eye, Hedwig, Scrimgeour), and then finally the fall of the Ministry of Magic and their journey starts anew. This is mostly very engaging, but it takes a 1/5 of the took to get done with. This isn’t a crippling flaw, but considering how ready-made the setup was in Half-Blood Prince it seems a little long than it needed to be.

The Lack of Hogwarts (Well, Mostly)

The verdict on this one is simple: it’s the reason the novel feels conclusive, and why it feels like it matters. Hogwarts has been stifling this series, and this showed clearly in Half-Blood Prince where it felt like we were following the least interesting part of a multi-level story. Here, we are rightfully following the actions of not students but heroes and heroines, and the result is something far less formulaic.

I do think, however, that we could have done with more information other than simple eyewitness testimony regarding the actions of Neville, Luna and Ginny at Hogwarts. While I know it would be bending some rules in terms of being on the run, Ginny really had nothing to do in this story and sending Harry the occasional letter wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for the development of their relationship.

The Horcrux Search

Too long, too drawn out, too repetitive. It was basically divided into five parts:

The Ministry Invasion – Straight out of Ocean’s 11, this heist sequence felt fresh for the series, even when it has used Polyjuice potion in the past. It was great to see Umbridge again, it was nice to see some of the consequences of their action, and the levity of the wife of Ron’s doppleganger going to trial added some necessary weight to the occasion. Combine this with the pre-invasion development of Kreacher’s character (I knew he had it in him!) as well as the awesome diner attack sequence that will be really cool onscreen, and you have some really cool action taking place.

The Locket’s Power – This is a strong section that is all about psychological impact and the fate that these kids, really, face. Seeing the Locket’s effect on Ron is good, although I think it took a little bit too long for them to get to the point of Ron leaving. Just too drawn out for me, personally.

The Trip to Godric’s Hollow – This was a necessary trip to learn more about the Hollows and start to piece together some information and for Harry’s tearful goodbye, but all they do is keep running afterwards. Harry loses his wand, yes, but I just felt it was a sidebar and little more.

Lovegood/The Malfoy Manor – The exact same as Godric’s Hollow except with more characters involved. First, the trio visit Lovegood, learn some information but then the Death Eaters come and they need to escape. And then they got to Malfoy Manor where: Potter is captured, Voldemort called in, but Harry manages to get away anyways. It was great to see Dobby again, don’t get me wrong, and his death was perhaps the novel’s most poignant before the finale. But it was just a repetition of the same formula as before.

Gringotts – It is a plan with polyjuice potion, that goes awry and then they need to find a way to escape. It might be a bigger set piece, but it’s the same basic thing. It was frustrating because it felt like we’d been there before, and I don’t know whether it was worthy of its cover spot. The segment was certainly capable of thrilling, but its impact had been lessened by the repetition within the section.

While I don’t think this middle section was bad by any means, I think it just kept doubling back on itself. Ron’s arc was fine, Dobby’s arc was great, and everything flowed…it just kept flowing back into itself just a bit too often. The result was that it dragged more than it really should have.

The Conclusion

Basically starting from the moment that our trio apparate into Hogesmeade, the conclusion of the book begins. And, let me tell you, it’s a doozy. Let’s divide it up into a few sections here, because there’s a case I want to make here. The conclusion of this novel is less about destroying the horcruxes and defeating Voldemort, in my eyes, as much as it is about the final journeys of a number of characters. Let’s take a look at each of them, and how this novel complicated or completes their development.

Lupin

I was incredibly happy to see some developments with Lupin, and his wife Tonks, and dreadfully annoyed by others. On the positive side, the character finally grew a backbone and re-entered Harry’s life for real this time. It was great to see Lupin and Harry battling over commitment, and for Lupin to call Harry out and vice versa. Lupin was basically emaciated in the last few books, and this was a nice return to form similar to his role in Azakaban. When Lupin was part of Harry’s use of the Stone, appearing to him as a member of his family, it was fitting and poignant.

But the way he became nothing but a spectre was not. We needed to see the death of Tonks and Lupin, I barely even realized they were dead when reading it for the first time. At that point she was offing people all over the place (Not a bad thing), but she needed to make those two resonate further.

Draco Malfoy & Family

Thank you, J.K. Rowling, for making this right. Draco’s story arc in Half-Blood Prince was perhaps its greatest element; seeing the young student, usually so cocky, broken down was something actually powerful. It made me all the more bitter that we were listening to Harry rant about a potions book instead of following his progress in killing Dumbledore. As a result, I felt that this story couldn’t just abandon him.

And it didn’t: Rowling properly established Draco as a character in his own right, rather than simply a one-note villain. Emaciated by Voldemort, Draco and his family were simply pawns, unable to truly make a difference any longer. In the heat of the novel’s conclusion, Malfoy is not a villain but rather a misguided youth compared to Crabbe and Goyle. His parents are loyal death eaters, perhaps, but Narcissa’s betrayal of Voldemort in favour of saving her son in the Forbidden Forest proves their true loyalties. It was nice to see that only Bellatrix, the evil and insane Death Eater liuetenant, was allowed to turn into a pure death eater. Seeing the dimensions of the Malfoys was a highlight, paying off the development done in Half-Blood Prince.

Dumbledore

If Half-Blood Prince was about Harry and Dumbledore reconnecting, this book was all about that image of Dumbledore as a saint being challenged and attacked at all angles. Not only did it have to answer questions about his death, Deathly Hallows also raised all sorts of scandalous accusations about his character. I liked this development, and was afraid that Rowling would ascend him to Sainthood at novel’s end.

But she didn’t. Sure, she did somewhat gloss over some of his risky actions in terms of Harry’s life, and he was “right” all along, but he is still no perfect man. The new understanding we have for his refusal of the Ministry, his relationship with his family, his frail words while attaining the locket: all of it makes sense now. Everything we saw of Dumbledore in this book showed that he was no perfect man, but rather one who had learned from his mistakes. The big caveat (That he has mistakenly trusted Snape) was removed, but others were added. The result is a Dumbledore that is somewhere in between Doge and Skeeter’s representations, which is for the best.

Snape

It was too predictable by half, don’t get me wrong, but it was still nice to actually come to understand everything about Snape’s relationship with Lily Potter and his subsequent dealings with Dumbledore. While it was a little cheap for it to happen only after the character’s death (When he could acidly deny everything and play some form of role in the conclusion if left alive), I think that it remained a step into the past that felt necessary. Learning the effect that Lily had on Snape softens his character just enough without going too far. He is still a person who went too far into the dark arts, who despised everything about James Potter, but who also was a good buy at heart.

I think that his story, however, was a bit too tidy. To learn that it had all been an elaborate plan was to be expected, but I think he needed that one last moment of acidity. Snape was basically just a good guy who was vitriolic to people because he was bitter about something at every waking moment…but, okay, then he was just really bitter about being good? Is that actually good at all? I just think that it was all too easy, his development. It was a loose end tied up as I’d expect, but just too easily.

Ron and Hermione

The kiss was perfect, their bickering felt natural, and as a whole they were given real story arcs in this case. It was great to see them acting as a trio again without having to deal with girlfriends, or quidditch scuffles, or anything like that: just some hijinx from our favourite heroes. They got to solve the final Horcrux puzzle with the basilisk fangs in the Chamber of Secrets, and they got to play an important role in the proceedings.

But it wasn’t really their story, despite the fact they were necessary for the journey to take place. Yet, this doesn’t really matter: for where these characters sat, the kiss and the heroism were enough to satisfy their positions. I hate that they were basically turned into a couple and little else in the grand scheme of things…but the kiss was so well done I can’t argue.

Harry and Voldemort

Ah, yes. Things got a little convoluted at the end, and part of me wanted Harry to stay dead, but the overall conclusion to this arc was more than satisfactory: Voldemort is dead, Harry made his sacrifice, and the world is set right. Their back and forth here was great to finally see, as it was really Voldemort on a quest to find his own sources of power, not realizing that Harry was trying to destroy his very essence. When they came together, it was fleeting…until the very end. And then, well, the final battle took place.

And like I said above, this novel really wasn’t about that battle or about eradicating Voldemort. It was about where characters got in that process. As a result, Harry’s journey was perhaps the most important, and yet it also felt the most disjointed. There was so much stuff being thrown around with Hallows and Horcruxes, as he said himself, that it was tough to really keep an eye on him as a character.

It wasn’t as whiny in Order, nor as hormonal as Half-Blood: the result was instead, finally, just a confused teenager who is coming to age and trying to find a place for himself. Even with all of the things encircling him from a plot perspective, I tried to keep this in mind. I think it helped: Harry’s trip into Snape’s mind and his time spent at Hogwarts at the novel’s conclusion was important to clearing his mind and preparing him for what needed to be done. And it worked: Harry’s journey was satisfactory. I think Voldemort could have been a bit more mysterious, but his scene with Snape was just menacing shit, let me tell you. And considering we never saw him in Half-Blood Prince, it was good to finally get back to him.

The Departed and The Living

Staging the final battle at Hogwarts gave us a chance to say goodbye: Minerva got to finally kick some ass, Neville got to be the Gryffindor Hero for a change, and Grawp/Hagrid even got their final moment. In fact, it was almost too much to take at the end when everyone and their hippogriff were being thrown into the mix to satiate our demand.

Out of the entire Battle of Hogwarts, here’s some highlights:

– Percy turning back to the side of good. This being said, they should have killed him instead of Fred, it seems kind of unfair for Rapier to die while a traitor, even a reformed one, lives.

– Neville’s attack on the snake was kickass, and it was nice to see the other possible prophecy subject get his moment.

– Kreacher leading the house elves in revolution.

– The best line in the entire book: “NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH”, as spoken by Mrs. Weasley. We’ve never seen her be able to step into the fray, and to have her be the one to defend the kids and defeat Bellatrix was an absolute highlight.

Epilogue

I know I’ve said a lot of things, but the general summary is that this makes Half-Blood Prince worthwhile, something I wasn’t sure anything could accomplish in my eyes. They are really two parts of one story: one the setup, and the other the payoff of what seeds were sown in the fifth book. There is some repetition, some unevenness, but on the whole I think that the moments where characters emerge victorious or rebellious is just effortless. There’s a high body count here, but it never stopped me from becoming giddy when Mrs. Weasley launches into Bellatrix.

And that’s the thing: I didn’t need the novel’s epilogue. It was nothing but fan fiction: “Oooh, look at Harry and Ginny’s kiddies, and Ron and Hermione’s little darlings, aren’t they all so cute, precocious and just like their parents (I don’t know how you can be just like Ginny, she has no character)”. And while I like that Draco was shown, and that we got some hints at how their lives went and all of this, I wanted to be able to know just what actually happened with the outside world. I would have rather, first, returning to Downing Street and seen the Prime Minister, learned how the interaction between the magical community and the muggles has changes in 19 long years. Instead, we get stuff for the shippers.

I think she should have found a happy medium, because the book did. The book was rarely too clean, as a whole, and it felt like people were dying and yet things had to keep moving. And yet, through an epilogue that is far too tidy, Rowling stopped this story dead. We could have imagined all of the things she wrote in it: Harry and Ginny, Ron and Hermione, where is the surprise? It felt tacked on and pointless, the novel was fine without it.

The End (Seriously)

Actually, the novel was more than fine without it. While uneven, it never became boring or frustrating. I felt like I was driving towards a conclusion, and this novel provided one. It had epic battle, personal conflicts, and a final confrontation that even with some fairly random wand-related logic felt real. The plot here was secondary: the Deathly Hallows were almost unnecessary to the novel’s developments. This was about these characters finding a way to come together, and through as little contrivance as possible I think that Rowling achieved this.

Kudos to her for being able to craft a novel that, even if not perfect, certainly cooled my anger over the last one, and amazingly doesn’t leave me wanting more. I feel like I’ve left Harry Potter behind a happy and successful person, in a series of books that earned every kudos I could give to it.

And that’s enough ramblings, 3000 words is plenty. Any thoughts?

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