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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows spoiler-free capsule review

(Note: When I say "Spoiler-free", this should be taken as a statement of intent. I can't second-guess what other people will consider spoilers, and even minor revelations about the content of Deathly Hallows can be used to piece together the puzzle of what happens in the book, who dies, who wins, etcetera, before actually reading it. So while I go out of my way to avoid spoilers in this review, it still goes below the adcut (I removed the ad in an attempt to figure out what's breaking the template when the cut is used) in the blog, and under an LJ cut for those reading it through the Livejournal feed)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is, on the whole, a fine, fine book, one of the best in the series. It's an unrelentingly gripping one, which to me at least was a relief after the previous two, which sagged quite a bit and were overwhelmed by their formula and location.

That said, there are holes, and many of them. Holes in the plot, holes in the characterisation, holes in the worldbuilding. Some of them are Fridge Logic and won't bother you until you've put the book down, which if you're anything like me, you won't have done much, but some of them are pretty obvious even while reading. The roles of Kreacher and Snape within the plot are particularly good targets here.

What's worse is that several things that needed to be fleshed out aren't. Much of Deathly Hallows works as a three-hander, with the focus being on the interactions between Harry, Hermione and Ron. This worked well in the previous books, the bulk of which was set in Hogwarts, but in this one, the trio spend a lot of time on their own. We don't get to see much of the Hogwarts faculty, the classmates, or the baddies, other than Voldemort who is glimpsed frequently through Harry's psychic link. This works very well. Snape, on the other hand, really gets short shrift. We do get the answers to the questions about him that were left hanging, but we get them in an infodump close to the end of the story. Shame; Snape is easily the most interesting and troubled character in the series, and it would have been nice to find out more about how he feels in his time away from Hogwarts, or simply to see more of him.

The one adult character who does get fleshed out well is Albus Dumbledore, who is dead. His past is explored through a series of mostly well-written vignettes including excerpts from a slanderous book by Rita Skeeter. I'm not too sure I'm too happy about the trade-off though.

As other reviewers have commented, there's a lot of death in the book. This works well in the first two-thirds of the story, in which the notion that no one is safe is communicated very effectively, casting a pall of "who else is doomed?" over the actions and adding to the suspense. Any vaguely optimistic statement by one of the trio, or any of the other characters, becomes a portent of their impending death. I enjoyed that. Towards the end, though, the carnage lost much of its impact, particularly in the case of two characters who seemed to have little function in the overall narrative but to get killed off. There was plenty of opportunity to discreetly write these two out of the book and forget about them, and it would have been better if that opportunity had been used.

Despite all this, Deathly Hallows just works. It's a solid construction that can withstand a bit of poking at its flaws. J.K. Rowling's prose style is markedly improved compared to previous installments in the series, giving it a flair I wasn't quite expecting. The only exception to this is the epilogue.

Famously written long before the bulk of the Harry Potter series, the epilogue reads like the work of a very inexperienced writer, even though it's likely to have been revised a little since it was originally written. It's a hoky, uninteresting sequence that adds nothing to the narrative and leaves the reader less satisfied than they would have been if it had ended after the real climax of the tale, which is a very good bit despite some handwaving. The whole point of an epilogue in an epic like this is to allow the reader to come down gently from the highs of a long and at times intense narratives, and to let them grieve for characters that they've been involved with for a long time, who will now leave their lives forever. The sheer dullness of the epilogue completely defeats that purpose. "And they lived happily ever after" would have worked better. It stands out as the one point in Deathly Hallows where Harry Potter the real-world phenomenon, in the form of public statements Rowling had made in the years before about the book, overwhelmed Harry Potter the cracking good story. Not to worry, the fans will be writing their own epilogues soon enough, and once that happens, we'll all be saying that the real thing wasn't so bad after all.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 28, 2007 6:59 AM.

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