Contains only mild spoilers
I had to race through this book to avoid one of my colleagues from the bookstore blurting out a spoiler before I could get to the end. I succeeded, and what a ride it was. Of course, I will not be spoiling the end for anybody here either, trying to balance being vague and yet specific.
It has been a long time since I got sucked into a story this much. Putting down the final volume in the Potter saga, I felt sad that it was over and that I had to leave that magical world. I think the secret to the series is the simple beauty of the main concept: the promise of a world of magic hiding just out of sight within our real one. In the first book, the readers - mostly school-going kids - are introduced to that world through the eyes of students who are also learning about it. In later books, the way this world works is fleshed out further, its politics, social structure and history, making it fun and believable, because you want to believe. As a pre-teen, I wanted desperately to be a Jedi and save the universe with a lightsaber. Rowling now has created a world I - and many with me - would love to live in and do some magic, especially in the fantastic place that is Hogwarts. I am not surprised she has already started considering a spin-off based in this world. I imagine there are still many stories to be told within this framework, even though she will no doubt catch flack for it. Like the readers, she just doesn't want to leave this fictional place, even if we have genuinely said goodbye to Harry.
However, it was time for this story to end and I was glad to see that the ending matched my expectations. It had been foretold since the beginning that the world wasn't big enough for both Voldemort and Harry, and it was about time that one - or both - of them vacated the premises. Actually, it is the foretelling that is the most troubling when it comes to the narrative. Certain people who shall remain nameless for reasons of suspense did an awful good job of predicting the future without actually knowing much for certain about it. Planning, coincidence and luck don't quite gel together naturally as the plot flows along. As in earlier books, the story lacks a strong forward drive in places, seemingly treading water, but the speedy writing style and emotional involvement easily carry you through.
Further nit-picks: it is a bit odd that all the teenage love is so courtly - you'd think a bunch of modern 17 year olds would be having some seriously x-rated thoughts. But then that would probably upset the younger readers. And maybe it is just my dirty mind, but I did end up smiling at some of the talk about wands: 'Wands are only as powerful as the wizards who use them. Some wizards just like to boast that theirs are bigger and better than other people's' (page 337, UK Edition). There is also a moment when we get into magical small print about the rules surrounding a certain object where things got a bit too vague to follow the fictional logic. And curiously, a gravestone for Harry's parents places this story - with some simple math - in 1997.
Quite a few people ended up dying in this book, more than I had heard through rumours beforehand. I enjoyed that so many characters from previous books showed up in small and big ways, though I have to confess that I had completely forgotten what the backstory is on some of Harry's fellow students and therefore they were just names to me. Though various people are re-introduced, Rowling wisely gives up on this near the end, when during an epic battle at Hogwarts pretty much everybody and their mother shows up - and that's not just a figure of speech. The character of Neville really comes into his own in this book, and has one of the coolest moments in it, even though the circumstances enabling it are contrived (you'll know what I mean when you read it).
The ending did not really surprise me, but it was spectacular, moving and even a touch metaphysical. After a couple of previous Harry-Voldemort encounters, I was wondering how Rowling was going to give this one weight and finality, but she manages very well. I even liked the last chapter - which she has always maintained she had written before she started on the first book - even though a lot of people online seem not to. It does wrap things up neatly, leaving you satisfied, melancholic and wanting to reread the whole saga, just so you don't have to leave quite yet. Having said all that, and fully acknowledging the genius that is Rowling for the magical mindspace she created for so many people to play in, the last three lines badly need a rewrite and I could barely keep from doing some after-the-fact editing with a ballpoint in my copy of the book. Which only goes to show how much she has made me care.