Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

So I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and I'd like to give a few of my thoughts. Nothing too in depth or spoilery, but a few impressions all the same.

As I said before, I bought the book at midnight Friday at the con. I drove straight home and decided to read the first chapter or two. I read a page and a half, then fell asleep. Saturday, I read a couple more pages, Sunday a few more, but I was having trouble concentrating on it, with the excitement of the con and all. Plus I think Rowling has trouble with beginnings (which may be purely a personal thing, because another blog review I read said the book started brilliantly, then fell apart). Monday, I had off from work. I got up early, decided to read a couple more chapters, then do some other things.

I read the entire book to the end that day, practically without stopping.

All of Rowling's usual weaknesses are on display here: the weak opening (as I said before), the flabby prose, the repetitive bickering between the three main friends, the idiot plot (in which the characters turn really stupid whenever the plot requires them to), the mysterious gaps of time in which nothing happens because each book is supposed to be roughly a year long so December will mysteriously turn into March with no progress made whatsoever.

This book still follows the rough timeline of the previous books, though it does not, as you would know from reading book six of the series, actually cover a year at Hogwarts. So Rowling gets to dispense with all the touchstones of school life throughout the year that had formed the spine of previous books. Some of those are really poignant in their absence, like Mrs. Weasley's Christmas sweaters, but most of them, we dont miss. Hell, I think even Rowling was getting tired of stuff like Quidditch and the Sorting Hat, because she'd been performing all sorts of plot acrobatics to avoid writing them for the last few books.

About fifty pages in, I wasn't enjoying the book much at all and feeling a little grumpy about it, because I'd really wanted it to be good. But there were enough cliffhangers to keep pushing me forward--Rowling's pre-publicity teases about major characters dying worked into this, because several times throughout the book, she has someone apparently die, and you think, "No, she didn't... she wouldn't..." then the character is miraculously alive, and something unexpected happens.

But as the book drives on, Rowling's considerable strengths push to the forefront. Her ability to make you connect with the characters and care about them, the way she weaves in small bits, practically forgotten, from earlier books and makes them suddenly vital clues to the greater mystery, her use of suspense and little cliffhangers to keep the plot pushing forward, her ability to make us sympathize even with the villains (some of them anyway).

By the middle of the book, I was literally caught completely in the spell. Clutching myself during the tense bits, laughing aloud or sighing with relief, reading some conversations out loud just to hear them and stretch out the experience, make it more vivid and real. I probably looked ridiculous, like a caricature of some Victorian housewife, reading a penny dreadful and swooning in its grip.

But it was that good, damn it. Some writers are very polished; Rowling is not. But she is powerful, and that's what she brings to bear here. I must admit, although I didn't cry (I'm not a girl, you know), I did get choked up a few times, when certain characters died or when Harry was faced with his heartbreaking choice toward the end (and I won't say anything else about what that choice is).

There are some things I want to say in more depth, but can't without spoilers, so I'm going to hold off for at least another week. But I will say, while it's not a perfect book by any means (and really, none of them have been), it's a very good and fitting end to the series.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Conestoga 11

So the con is over, and it was fun, as usual. Spoke on a couple of panels, listened to a few more. Read an excerpt from a short story called "No Love For the Middleman," which came in second in a short story contest among members of Codex earlier this year.

One thing that was odd this year was that it was sort of two conventions in one. Alongside the regular convention stuff was a track wholly devoted to Grantville/Ring of Fire, a series of novel and short stories that got its start with Eric Flint's alternate history novel, 1632 (available as a free download from the Baen Free Library). The 1632 folks had their own room and didn't mix much with the rest of the convention, but I spent half my time sitting in on their activities, because 1) I liked 1632 and am in the process of reading 1633, and 2) several of the folks involved in the con are also involved with Baen's Universe, and I like hanging out with them.

We also had a memorial to Jim Baen in the bar, at which I told my story of how Jim played a role in my first professional sale. It was a good time, with a much larger crowd than I expected.

Friday night was a Harry Potter launch party, at which books went on sale at midnight. I bought one, read it yesterday, and I'll do a sort of review very soon.

I have about decided not to go back to ArmadilloCon next month, because it's just too soon after Conestoga, but I might go to FenCon in Dallas in September.