J. K. Rowling has been quoted as saying she had basically written the last chapter of the Harry Potter series in 1990 (not to say she had already written the book). After finishing the book at midnight last night (July 24) I must concur there was no other way for her to tie all of the loose ends from the other novels so neatly together unless she already had the end very clearly in mind.
All of the novels mesh together quite nicely in this final episode--but not in some smug or simplistic way. Rowling has proven herself to be an accomplished fantasy / epic / adventure / mystery writer. I remember all of the early accolades comparing her with C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. My response always was: "Sorry, not that good." I had classified the early books as Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys meet Merlin the Wizard: good, maybe in a sense classics, but not even close to those great literary icons.
I now, unashamedly revise my opinion. While she is still no C. S. Lewis, I would nominate her for an associate or junior membership to The Inklings, that group of literary friends who met on Thursday evenings in a pub to discuss and read from their latest ideas: Tolkien, Lewis, Neville Coghill, W. H. Lewis, John Wain et al. Or at least part of that group I call "The Friends of the Inklings" which include such notables as Dorothy L. Sayers, W.H. Auden, and T.S. Eliot.
I would suggest plenty of tissues when you get to the middle of the book. I knew I would be in trouble when I heard my 19-year-old scream "No! I hate, you Rowling!" I walked in her bedroom to see her in tears! (My reaction was not quite so vehement! While Rowling made me care for her characters, I have a very firm grasp on what is fiction and what is not! Apologies to my daughter.)
Expect to see a full range of mythic archetypes in this novel: the Hero, the mentor, the gate keeper, the shadow, etc. Be ready to be very surprised--but in a very satisfying way, I think.
While one reviewer described the book as a "hero's quest" (and it is), I think the ultimate theme is redemption. If it is not the ultimate theme, it is certainly a dominant theme.To those who have a very hard time reconciling their religious views with enjoying a novel about witches and wizards: this novel is 1) classic good vs. evil; 2) portrays and upholds the value of such virtures as loyalty, community, courage, and unselfishness; 3) portrays redemption and self-sacrifice in an incredibly beautiful way that is reminiscent of the gospels--and in fact, I would suggest the gospel story is reflected in the story (perhaps unconsciously on Rowling's part--I don't think so, it's too similar) . I would also suggest this book does not offer an "unrealistic" view of good and evil. Some writers like making the "good" perfect and unencumbered with doubts and even some evil in thier lives while "evil" is so black and sinister there was absolutely no way for redemption. Rowling is no such writer. Her characters are complex and filled with mixed motives.
I recommend the entire series for young adolescents and adults. The last three books are certainly darker and demand more maturity on the readers' part, but they are certainly wonderful books worthy to be read!