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Wizards, witches, goblins, elves, giants and other enchanted beings have been anxiously awaiting word from the Chosen One.
Dumbledore is dead and his killer, Severus Snape, has replaced him at the helm of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The Dark Lord is ascending and his network of supporters has gained control of the Ministry of Magic, the Daily Prophet and other key society establishments. The silent opposition has only one remaining hope - a teenage orphan by the name of Harry Potter.
Meanwhile, muggles everywhere, young and old, have been just as desperate to find out what Harry did next. Thousands of children and parents - many of whom were dressed as wizards and witches - stayed up late on Friday night to queue for their midnight editions of the final episode in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Postal workers across Britain - and indeed the world - were ringing doorbells first thing on Saturday morning to deliver millions of copies of J.K. Rowling's latest hefty novel. Luckily for their recipients, Britain has been literally flooded with torrential rain, which meant all the more reason to stay in with a good book.
The biggest event in publishing history was preceded by weeks and weeks of electrifying hype. A strict embargo meant that publishers, booksellers and news outlets around the world were forbidden to see - let alone reveal - any details of Harry's final adventure. Last week it was even reported that warehouse workers in Germany were made to work in semi-darkness so that they would not succumb to the temptation of snatching a sneaky peek.
There were of course some infringements of the embargo (which were met with angry responses from Rowling herself, as well as the UK publisher, Bloomsbury), but most people were made to wait. In Britain's fiercely competitive bookselling market, retailers also launched a vicious price-cutting war - with one supermarket chain promising to sell the Â£17.99 book for just Â£5. The result is that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows already looks set to become the world's fastest selling novel. So what's all the fuss about?
Harry has turned 17 and come of age, which means more responsibility - and trouble - than ever before. Prior to his death, Dumbledore, Harry's trusted friend, mentor and headmaster, burdened him with a dark, dangerous and seemingly impossible task. To rid the world of Voldemort and his growing power, Harry must locate and destroy the remaining horcruxes. (For the uninitiated muggles among you, a horcrux is a receptacle in which the dark wizard has hidden a fragment of his soul in order to attain immortality.)
With Hogwarts out of bounds, Harry goes on the run with his close friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Dumbledore has bequeathed them each something that will help them evade detection and carry out his secret mission. The trio must work together to uncover the significance of these items. But danger lurks behind every corner as the world is now governed by a fascist-like dictatorship, led by He Who Must Not Be Named and manned by his army of loyal Death Eaters and corrupt wizards and witches.
Harry's muggle relatives, the Dursleys, are swept away to a secret hideaway as Voldemort and his followers close in on their man. Meanwhile, Harry's trusted supporters whisk him off to relative safety - but not without a fight. There is high-octane action almost immediately in the final Harry Potter novel. The forces of darkness are not easily deterred and Harry and Voldemort come face-to-face within the first four chapters. In one of the earlier novels, Professor Trelawney, a Hogwarts teacher, goes into a prophetic trance. She predicts that: "Neither can live while the other survives." Harry and Voldemort are both familiar with this prophecy, and so set about trying to destroy each other.
In the frantic search for the horcruxes, Harry and his friends uncover the mystery of the Deathly Hallows. These are a trio of magical artifacts that together can vanquish death. They are the invisibility cloak (which Harry already possesses), the resurrection stone and the elder wand - which Voldemort is also furiously hunting for. The battles become ever bloodier and the body count grows higher as good and evil race to find the horcruxes and hallows.
In a recent interview, Rowling admitted that she was relieved to have finally drawn Harry's tale to a close. Luckily for her readers, her prose contains no evidence of that sense of relief.
At 608 pages, this is a long good-bye from Harry and Rowling. Gently reminding her loyal readers of many crucial events during Harry's six years at Hogwarts, Rowling cleverly ties up all the loose ends in her intricately woven saga. She also takes the opportunity to reveal the secret back stories of several key characters, including Dumbledore and Snape, details of which come as a surprise to Harry and his many fans.
Rowling first dreamed up the idea for her titles 17 years ago. Since the first installment was published in 1997, her books - which collectively add up to almost 3,500 pages - have been translated into 65 languages and sold in nearly every country. Furthermore, Rowling has received much praise for triggering an unimaginable revival in children's reading habits on an international level.
It may have been hyped beyond all proportion, but Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a gripping page-turner with plenty of twists, turns, shockers and tear-jerkers. The books have followed Harry from his days as a nervous 11-year-old to a highly-skilled and respected wizard. Harry has grown up - and so have the readers. Less about Quidditch, the final episode is more concerned with deeper and darker themes like life, love, loss and the nature of evil.
The story culminates in all-out war at Hogwarts, involving the staff, pupils and more or less every surviving character from the seven books. And ultimately, of course, the two protagonists come face to face for one final confrontation.
Prior to publication, there were reports that Childline, a phone counseling service for youngsters, was preparing for a deluge of calls from Harry Potter fans after the final book went on sale. Volunteers were asked to work extra shifts, as the death of any of the key characters was expected to cause a surge in demand. According to Childline, Harry Potter has become a "major part" of the childhood of many children.
There is no getting away from it: The book - as with others in the series - is at times rather frightening. What's more, death is ever present. However, without wanting to give away too much of the plot - unlike some US publications and Internet sites - Rowling does not disappoint.
The author rewards her legions of fans worldwide with a satisfying ending to her magical tale, and also pays tribute to them at the outset. As well as acknowledging several loved ones, she dedicates the book to Harry's millions of devotees by saying: "...And to you, if you have stuck with Harry until the very end."
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