Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

J. K. Rowling, Author, Mary GrandPre, Illustrator , illus. by Mary GrandPré. Scholastic/Levine $34.99 (784p) ISBN 978-0-545-01022-1

It would seem churlish to review the Harry Potter series finale with something less than overwhelming enthusiasm—after all, there’s no one like Rowling. Who else has sustained such an intricate, endlessly inventive plot over seven thick volumes and so constantly surprised her readers with twists, well-laid traps and Purloined Letter –style tricks? Hallows continues the tradition, both with sly feats of legerdemain and with several altogether new, unexpected elements. And yet the revelations don’t pack as much of a punch; the moments of genuine astonishment or grief that mark every other book in the series go missing here. Perhaps readers know too well the rules of Rowling’s magical universe, a universe she has constructed with extraordinary thoroughness and care.

As the ending of the previous book suggested, Hallows revolves around Harry, Ron and Hermione’s quest for the rest of the Horcruxes into which Voldemort has poured his soul. Without the Hogwarts school year to supply structure, the plot can meander, and Harry himself is tempted to go on an altogether different search. For once some puckered seams trouble the surface of the storytelling—is Harry now using forbidden spells? How many Horcruxes are there?

It’s hard not to wish that the editors had done their jobs more actively. Hallows doesn’t contain the extraneous scenes found in, say, Goblet of Fire, but the momentum is uneven. Rowling is better at comedy than at fight scenes, and Hallows has less humor and more combat than any of the preceding books. Surely her editors could have helped her build tension with more devices than the use of ellipses and dashes? And craft fight dialogue that sounds a bit less like it belongs in a comic book? True, none of these flaws is fatal to a fan’s enjoyment. But why not have make the bestselling children’s book in history the best it could possibly be?

One great virtue remains constant: Rowling’s skill at portraying characters. Harry and friends mature, not in straight lines but in realistically messy patterns. Over the course of the seven books, Harry develops from the scrawny misfit of no. 4, Privet Drive, to a teenager who can pull off acts of self-sacrifice and goodness without cheapening his charisma for readers—no mean feat for a writer. And when Rowling concludes her long story, she does so the old-fashioned way, without ambiguity. Harry Potter has finished growing up, and even the most ardent fans will know that it is time to say good-bye. Ages 9-12. (July)

Reviewed on: 07/30/2007
Release date: 07/01/2007
Genre: Religion
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