Book review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

So it has come to this. After ten years and seven novels the magical saga of Harry Potter has finally reached its conclusion. The countdowns are over, the hype begins to subside, and the biggest question surrounding J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (besides whether Severus Snape is indeed friend or foe) can be answered – was it a worthwhile journey?

In a word, yes. Over the course of 759 pages (in my edition), Rowling provides answers to all the series’ major questions, and delivers a finale that is both wholly satisfying and gripping. As much as the last two entries of the saga (Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince) were heavy on exposition and setup, so is Deathly Hallows action-packed.

The sense of dread that Rowling gradually built up in the previous two books is unrelenting throughout this one. Despite the best intentions and interventions of Harry Potter’s friends and protectors, Lord Voldemort’s return to power means that there is no safe place for Harry and so he must cut ties with the only two homes he has ever known (number Four Privet Drive and Hogwarts).

hpdhcover.jpgHarry’s final departure from the Dursley household sets the stage for the first of many brilliantly executed action scenes in Deathly Hallows. As if to underscore the peril that all who oppose Voldemort by helping Harry face, Rowling wastes no time in killing off some major characters. To be sure, the body count throughout this book is rather high.

Most of the story revolves around Harry’s quest to locate a group of remaining Horcruxes (receptacles for pieces of Voldemort’s soul) and vanquish the Dark Lord for good. Ron and Hermione join Harry and the trio make good on their vow not to return to Hogwarts for their seventh and final year. Along the way, the titular Deathly Hallows are introduced and become the focus of a simultaneous quest.

As their search continues, each of the three friends wrestles with doubt and with their isolation from family and friends. While this adventure resembles earlier ones on the surface, it is different in that the stakes are higher than ever and their success never seems assured.

Throughout the novel, Rowling seems more in command of her craft than ever. While she has certainly proven her skill at crafting a world of wonder and whimsy, Deathly Hallows reveals her abundant talent at suspense. Enemies pop up where you least expect them, and the motivations and backgrounds of previously unassailable characters are suddenly called into question.

As the final third of the book gets underway, however, we are still no closer to finally discovering the true allegiance of Severus Snape (who is left out of most of the story), and the inevitable Harry/Voldemort showdown has not taken place. When Harry and his friends finally return to Hogwarts for the final showdown between good and evil, though, the final pieces of the puzzle start falling into place.

Without addressing (spoiling) the specifics of the final chapters of Deathly Hallows, I will say that Rowling has handsomely rewarded careful readers of the Harry Potter series. Events and revelations that seem surprising at first are actually inevitable given the many clues placed throughout previous novels, and are the logical result of her careful planning throughout them. Even in a world of fictional wizards a certain level of credibility is important and Rowling does not stretch it.

Rich action sequences aside, Deathly Hallows packs an emotional wallop as well. It may not be possible to feel sad for every character who dies in the book, but chances are you’ll find yourself reaching for the Kleenex at least once or twice. But it is during the especially poignant passages (chapters 33 and 34) where Harry not only learns his true destiny but accepts it that the real impact of the entire saga is brought to bear.

After concluding the last chapter of Deathly Hallows, it is easy to sympathize with J. K. Rowling’s feeling of loss now that the story of Harry Potter is over. Despite the unfortunately tacked-on epilogue (or in spite of it), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows stands as a worthy coda to what will prove to be one of the most enduring literary creations ever. A worthwhile journey indeed.