Millions of fans worldwide lined up at the stroke of midnight to get their hands on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final installment in author J.K. Rowling's magnus opus of a boy wizard's epic fight against the evil Lord Voldemort. I am pleased to report that the hype was well deserved. The Deathly Hallows is a grand finale. It is a fitting conclusion, filled with darkness and triumph, that will have Potter fans rejoicing. Rowling's narrative is spellbinding, every page seamlessly flowing into the next. She skillfully takes ten years and seven novels to a climax worthy of literary greatness.

The Deathly Hallows begins with Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters firmly in control. The Ministry of Magic has fallen and The Order of the Phoenix, those loyal to the deceased Albus Dumbledore, face death at every turn. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are running for their lives. Severus Snape has been instituted as Headmaster of Hogwarts by the new Voldemort regime. It is a dark and hopeless time in the wizarding world.

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Harry knows that he must find and destroy the seven hidden pieces of Voldemort's soul, horcruxes, but struggles to decipher the mysterious clues left behind by Dumbledore. Even more disturbing are revelations that Dumbledore himself once practiced dark magic. And that he had a family that was undone by his tragic actions. The weight of the war takes its toll and despair begins to creep into Harry's psyche. But the battle is not his alone. Harry is surrounded by loyalty. Hermione, whose cunning and brilliance has always been extolled, proves that she is the greatest witch of her day. Ron, and the entire Weasley family, are courageous to the end. They help Harry to discover Dumbledore's greatest secret, the awesome power of The Deathly Hallows, three magical objects that can conquer death itself.

The question every fan has been asking is which characters die. They won't be disappointed, because there is death in spades. Many characters die and some of them not well. They are tortured, maimed, and killed in a variety of disturbing ways. Rowling does not retreat from the horrors of evil. Voldemort is Satan incarnate here, a monster with capability and drive. This is the battle of good versus evil that fans have been waiting to see.

The Deathly Hallows is packed to the brim with action. There are chases, spectacular wizarding duels, and all-out battle scenes that I'm sure has Warner Brothers moist in anticipation of the film. But to J.K. Rowling's continued credit, none of it is overdone or unnecessary. The characters are fighting a long and brutal war. There are battles to be won and tragedies to be had. Such is the nature of war, which she never trivializes. Every loss is felt and has meaning in the context of the story.

Rowling also gets top marks for her superb character development. This is not the Harry, Ron, and Hermione from The Sorcerer's Stone. I love that they are mature. The characters handle the deadly issues they face with realistic emotional responses. There's no contrivances or melodrama here. I believe this is J.K. Rowling's greatest strength as a writer. She's highly imaginative, but her skill in writing dialogue and building tension is amongst the best writers of all time. She can take great pride in writing not one, but seven masterful works of fiction.

I'm too close to having read the book to judge it against the others in the series. It's a stellar conclusion to an incredible body of work. Fan reaction will be gushing, as it almost always is, but I think the critics will like this one as well. At the end of the day it's a fantastic read and that's all that you want in a great book.