I did not read any real spoilers in advance of reading the book. I did read some leaked spoilers, some of which turned out not to be true.
I have said since reading the first book that the following would happen in the last one:
- Good would triumph over evil
- Voldemort would die
- Snape would turn out to be a good guy in the traditional "weak heavy" sense and would consequently die
- Harry would end up with Ginny
- Ron would be the big hero in the end, killing Voldemort
My reasoning for the last two (at a time when all we see of Ginny is two seconds on the platform at the train station) is that there was no reason for Ron to have a sister other than to marry Harry. The core of the tension in the Ron/Harry friendship is that Ron envies Harry his fame and Harry envies Ron his family. So, I reasoned, in the end the tension is resolved because Ron gets fame and Harry joins the Weasley family.
So how did I do?
Well, all but the last one. And JKR kindly threw me a bone by having Ron say "I'm famous" in the epilogue, even if it was a joke.
Beyond that, what did I think of the book?
Mostly I really enjoyed it. I have been impressed all along with how well she ages the kids, and I felt they were credibly seventeen in this one. Seventeen-year-olds who've had to grow up fast, who've been thrust into situations they shouldn't be dealing with at their age, but believable teenagers.
I found the plot mostly exciting and felt the book moved well. I loved the interplay among the three friends, loved seeing their dyadic relationships grow and change and how it affected them as a threesome. I've always enjoyed the humorous bits and did so in this one, too.
That said, I thought the plotting was kind of clumsy in a few places, where she really should have planned things out better. Right from the start, when the Muggles Studies teacher is killed, I thought there was evidence of poor planning. Yes, it makes sense to kill off an innocent teacher right away to show how ruthless Voldemort and the Death Eaters are. It also makes sense for it not to be someone we care about - save those deaths for later. But it should have been someone who had been at least mentioned before. That she wasn't says to me JKR hadn't thought of this until writing this one. I think it felt clumsy and it would have been better to kill of Pomfrey or Flitwick or someone who has been a minor figure.
The whole Death Eaters-as-Nazis bit was overblown in a lot of parts. Still, I often found it moving and the kids fighting them made me think of the teenagers who led the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
I also felt a lot of the end was clumsy. JKR has a habit of writing herself into corners and then using cheap tricks to get out of them (e.g. Mad Eye Moody turning out not to have been Mad Eye Moody at all, after spending much of the book on his character). Both the extensive Pensieve Snape stuff and the conversation with Dead Dumbledore felt like cheap tricks to me. It's as if she said to herself, "Okay, there's all this stuff I need the reader to know. How can I spew it onto paper with as quick an exposition as possible, since I haven't really worked out how to reveal it naturally?" It reminded me of bad mystery novels where the villain tells the hero the whole plot that he's been trying to hide throughout the book just before killing him, and then the hero escapes. The stories of the Horcruxes, the Hallows, Snape's devotion to Lily, Dumbledore's past - they were all interesting, compelling, moving subplots. They lost a lot of their impact from the cheesy way they were revealed, I felt.
Another element that felt clumsy and, frankly, rushed were all the deaths at the end. It makes sense that a lot of people would die in the final battle, but I didn't feel very moved by their deaths because there were so many and so fast there wasn't time to absorb the loss. That's what would happen to the people in the story, too. A much better way to have handled all of that, I think, would have been to really deal with the aftermath and all those losses sinking in, and at the same time Harry and his friends could have been finding out the truth about Dumbledore, about Snape, and about what really happened with the final battle as they pieced together the evidence. It would have taken longer (and I'm sure she was way beyond scheduled completion date when she got to that point) but I think it would have made for a better book. Oh, and I thought the epilogue was dumb. It sounded like bad fanfic to me.
With all of those criticisms, I really did enjoy the book a lot. Some things I loved:
- I found Dobby's death truly moving, and Harry's reaction to it excruciatingly real.
- I thought she did a great job of portraying Dumbledore's flaws and nobility both and really making him a much more real and complete character than he'd been thus far.
- I really enjoyed the glimpses into Lily's childhood, even if I didn't like how she revealed them. I thought the idea of Petunia trying to get to go to Hogwarts, too, was moving and also explained a lot about her.
- I felt Neville was such a credible - and loveable - character. I thought he was like so many young men thrown into war. He rises to the occasion and distinguishes himself, and then goes back to being the peace-loving, plant-loving guy he always was. His students probably tell each other they heard he was a war hero and have trouble believing it.
- I absolutely loved that McGonagall being spat upon is the insult Harry can't stand still for.
So all told a good read in my opinion, but if I were JKR's beta, I would have sent some of it back to work on.