This section of the review contains spoilers.
The first comment is that the 760 page Deathly Hallows is overlong. People have been amazed that Rowling has kids reading books of this length, and it is good, but she may have come upon the curse of the top-ranked writer — becoming more powerful than your editor. Rowling is way more powerful than any editor, and while I am sure she has good intentions and tries to listen to her editors, you can’t escape this.
The novel spends way too long with Harry and friends on the run, camping out. Her plan for the novel precluded any time at Hogwarts before the end, and the book has to suffer for it. This book has to be too much about Harry, and Harry on his own. It also results, I think, in the poor treatment of Snape.
I found Snape’s fate highly disappointing. Snape was the most conflicted character of the series. Yes, we had six books of Harry convinced that Snape was evil, and him not being so at the end, and we could tell that Snape killing Dumbledore was all part of a plan, but I had hoped this all pointed to a dramatic redemption for Snape.
Instead, he barely appears in the book, and his last brief appearance has him killed pointlessly. Voldemort is convinced that killing Snape will give him control of the wand, but it won’t, so Snape is eaten for nothing. It is only by tremendous luck that Harry is hiding nearby and can come collect his memories so that Snape can carry out the last part of the plan — convincing Harry he must let Voldemort kill him. Short of that he would have been just snake food, and the plan would have quite possibly failed.
Yes, many expected Snape’s redemption to involve learning to love Harry, and perhaps dying for that love in a repeat of Harry’s childhood tragedy. It’s OK that we didn’t get that, but we got little else in exchange. Snape’s real appearance is in his memories, where Dumbledore’s long term plan is revealed, with no real shockers other than Dumbledore telling Snape that Harry is to die, and he’s OK with that. It’s all for love of Lily, we learn, but sure shown in a strange way.
Voldemort also remained one dimensional, a caricature of evil. We’re given the excuse that his soul has been torn apart, but could he not have been given some better motives, a little more depth? Could we not have believed for a second he might have listened to Harry’s plea that he have some remorse?
Draco Malfoy’s fate is also confusing and disappointing. As a child, he had a serious opportunity for redemption, especially after Harry saves him. He does not appear to go to prison (because he is a child) though his parents surely will. They also gain no redemption, stopping their aid to Voldemort only to protect their son.
So the only character who really changes, from our view, is Dumbledore, and he’s dead. He becomes more 3 dimensional, has a little evil in his past. Hermione remains smart and Harry pure. Ron gets a bit smarter but remains Ron. Hagrid and all the rest remain the same.
There is some resolution of the points I speak of in the non-spoiler part of the review of course. The slavery of the elves is given a little more treatment, and Ron wakes up about it, but there is not much more. We also finally learn a little bit about the Goblins, and their history and mistreatment. In an interesting side note, we are warned of the dangers of trying to cheat a Goblin, and yet after Harry deals the Sword to the Goblin, Longbottom is able to pull it out of the sorting hat to kill the snake, which presumably means the Goblins have lost it again, and should come back angry.
The entire “It could be Longbottom or Potter” in the prophecy gun-on-mantelpiece is never fired. It’s Potter. And we see that the prophecy is one of those causal-loop types. Voldemort comes to kill baby Harry because of the prophecy, and it is this mission which sticks a bit of his soul into Harry, causing his eventual defeat in a battle with Harry and other fulfillments of the prophecy.
As other critics have suggested, the Deathly Hallows, and the Elder wand are something seemingly invented entirely for this book. Usually in a planned 7 book series you hope the crucial plot points were introduced in earlier books.
As I noted in my non-spoiler section, I was always disappointed with the Dursleys, the only real Muggle characters in the book. They are quickly disposed of in the first few pages, and not seen again except for an appearance in memories by Petunia. Curiously, we are told she applied to Hogwarts, and was apparently accepted, and then backed out. Were they willing to take a Muggle? Or is this a hint she had some sort of magical powers that never were revealed, which might show up in a future non-Harry book?
Now I may sound a bit down here, but there were many positive elements. The final battle is dramatic and satisfying, and it’s good to see Harry actually standing up to Voldemort and telling him he knows magic that Voldemort doesn’t. But there is much that could have been improved.