So here we are then. After seven books and 17 years, JK Rowling has finally come to the end of her epic saga. Is it a fitting end after such a long wait? Yes, broadly speaking, but it's a book of two halves. However, before we get to that, a brief word to the culture police who crawl out of the woodwork to moan about 'the infantilisation of culture' every time a Potter book comes out: if you don't like it, don't read it. If you think the fact that I'm reading it is a symptom of the decline of civilisation then you're an idiot. You're not concerned with the nation's intellectual health, you just want us all to know how serious you are. Please go and be serious somewhere else.
That's not say that I don't have sympathy for some criticisms of JK Rowling. Admittedly, her prose is bland, workmanlike in fact, but her plotting is extraordinary. The universe she has created for her characters is incredibly rich - almost insanely detailed.
In a way, that too is a weakness. The last four books in the series are each about 200 pages too long because Rowling is intent on cramming in so much detail. A generous view on this is that it allows the story to breathe - you don't feel as if you're running from one action scene to another - but I think that it dilutes the best parts of the story.
The Deathly Hallows is no different. Of the final six chapters, while the narrative is drawing to a frantic conclusion, two are entirely filled with backstory. Everything stops while six books of loose ends are tied up, then we dive back into the action again. Doubtless, fans will love to analyse every detail therein but it's a considerable handicap to the momentum of the story.
The worst part of the book is a 150-page sequence in the middle where Rowling seems to have no idea how to get her characters to the next point in the story. Instead they seem to wander about aimlessly, getting into a couple of random scrapes before they are captured and the plot starts moving again.
Among all this pottering about (sorry) are some excellent set-pieces - the best Rowling has written. There are five great action sequences in the book and almost any of them would have made a worthy conclusion to the earlier books.
Rowling is well aware of the expectations fans have for the end of the story and she exploits them mercilessly. She knows that fans have been speculating about which characters will die and she seems to enjoy putting certain characters in jeopardy before offering them a last second escape.
The characters that do die - including several major figures - are dispatched in Rowling's typically matter-of-fact style. In many cases, these are characters we have been following for years and she downplays their deaths just enough to give them a genuine resonance.
But it's the conclusion that is the most satisfying. The Potter books tell one central story that begins with Voldemort killing Harry's parents and attempting, but failing, to kill Harry himself. Rowling conjures up (sorry) an ending to the story that feels inevitable but still has the power to surprise.
For all Rowling's flaws as a writer, she has crafted a brilliant series of books, each one of which builds inexorably towards the dramatic showdown at the end of this book. It's not great literature but it is great fun and who doesn't need some of that once in a while?