First off, let me state to my loyal readers: if you have not yet completed the book, and don't want to see any spoilers, please stop reading now. Otherwise, scroll down.
OK. I hope I've gotten it far enough down so that those who don't want to see any spoilers have been able to opt out. I received my copy from Barnes and Noble at 1:15 AM, and finished reading around 6:15 this evening. I really do believe this was the best installment in the series, and brought it to the perfect conclusion.
For nearly two years now, I've been bragging to anyone who would listen that I knew the whereabouts of one of the Horcruxes Harry was looking for. I was pleased to see that I was right: the locket had been stolen by Sirius's brother, Regulus A. Black, and was kicking around Grimmauld Place (the Order encounters it at the beginning of the 5th book, when they are cleaning the house.) It, in turn was stolen by Mundungus Fletcher, who used it as a bribe for...well, it's not that important. The point is that I was right. I am very clever!
Or maybe not. I was one of the very few in the anti-Snape camp. I thought he was just being himself when he killed Dumbledore. The truth is that "himself" was sadder than I'd ever imagined. The pro-Snape crowd was right about him. A sad and lonesome life he led, and the full story will cause readers to view his actions in previous volumes much differently.
Other than the location of the Horcrux, I really didn't know what was going to happen in this book. I couldn't even speculate. While I couldn't see it ending with Voldemort triumphing, I knew from previous installments that Rowling would not flinch from killing Harry if she felt that was the way the series needed to end. My one prediction was that this volume would have an extremely high body count, and it did. I count nine deaths on the Order side alone. As any reviewer will tell you, or any mildly observant reader will know, the books get progressively darker, and it's all been leading up to this, to war. Right from the beginning, it's clear that playtime is over and that the Death Eaters are prepared to be more aggressive than at any point in their shameful history. Harry suffers a loss right away, and a terrible loss for the Order follows quickly on its heels.
One strength of this series is that it presents Harry, and the other heroes, as human. They fight. They demonstrate remarkably bad judgment on many, many occasions. Sometimes, they act selfishly and thoughtlessly. One hero, however, had always seemed to be above it all. Albus Dumbledore was a mix of the ideal teacher, the ideal parent, and even a bit of God himself thrown in there. He was wise, kind, and powerful, an asset to anyone on his side and a threat to anyone who wasn't, not just in terms of strength but in terms of morality. Dumbledore seemed to be an ideal to which the rest of us could only hope to aspire, yet in this book, it's revealed that he was not so perfect after all. He, too, had selfishness and pride in his past that led to the death of an innocent.
Good fantasy needs to be about more than the artificial world in which it exists. To me, the take-home message of this series is the power of love, all kinds of love. All kinds are demonstrated in this book. There's the love that exists between friends. There's the love that comes from a warm and loving family. The slavish, hero-worship love for one who's saved you from a terrible fate, that would cause you to lay down your life for that person. The kind of ill-advised, ill-conceived, wildly romantic love that, on occasion, ends up working out despite all odds. The love that you develop for one you respect and admire. Even the unrequited, desperate love that you're alone with in the dark can be a powerful and remarkable force. Given the situation in my personal life right now, which is still very much on my mind and which has another half which I haven't posted about here, it was a message that helped me a lot and made me feel better.
I think that most Harry Potter fans will be satisfied with the conclusion to which his saga has come. I suspect that I'm not alone among fans, however, in saying that I'll miss all this. I can't think of anything else in pop culture that has really generated this same type of excitement, at least not in my lifetime. Everyone from kids who barely outweigh the heftier installments of the series, to stuffy-looking stockbrokers, to grandparents, have gotten in on it. I will miss the excitement and the anticipation, but I loved the journey. I sincerely hope that we have not heard the last from JK Rowling.