So naturally, I couldn't put it down, and loved at least 90% of it.
Oh, not the Remus and Tonks deaths, which still annoy me, as the basic premise seemed to be, "Oh, let's kill off a couple of people randomly to show that evil kills off random people," which almost never works well in fiction and doesn't here. And certainly not the Snape stuff, which bored me silly. But the Dumbledore stuff that was looking like "OMG! Dumbledore was totally evil and Harry should hate him" turned out to be... well... pretty good back story explaining how Dumbledore came to understand his own limitations, and the sorts of limitations that are inherent to geniuses of all stripes--in fact, how Dumbledore ended up Riddle's opposite for so long.
So, individual elements:
Everyone who wasn't the trio got a short shrift here, but that was unavoidable. It was time to start collapsing things back down. But I missed the complex cast.
If JKR hadn't tossed them into the gratuitous body count, I'd so be dancing. "Dora" is her canon nickname, both from her father and from Remus when he's busy being in love. I didn't get jossed on their back story. Hell, I even called their son as a metamorphmagus, though I picked the wrong side of the family to name him after. Ted Tonks seems to network with Muggle-borns and be involved with the politics thereof. Harry finally lays into Lupin with his biggest problem--he may be great for rushing into battle with dark things of all sorts, but he's a coward when it comes to the courage of the ordinary. (I practically stood up and cheered Harry in that scene.) (Of course, then Remus and Dora both go off adventuring where they're not needed in any obvious way in the end, so I'm not sure how much good it did.) BUT THEY'RE BOTH FREAKING DEAD. I have no rational reaction to this circumstance, just a primal keening about having wasted three years, two months, and twenty-two days developing the relationship of people whose apparent purpose was to be redshirts. Which is not JK's fault, or any actual aesthetic reflection on the book. It's a totally irrational reaction which deserves neither brainspace or reviewspace. So Teddy and I are in delicate negotiations for him to throw the mother (and father) of all fanfictional temper tantrums, just to get some things off our chest. I just need to get used to him for a few days; not being actually raised by the self-controlled Remus, he's a lot fierier than his non-existent brother Orry ever was. I don't think I have much heart to go on with Stray, still plausible or not. It's one thing to talk about a group of three who loses one, and how they all cope. It's something else to write about a group of three who have a handful of months left between them and not much to show for it. Loses some of the joy I generally take in writing, you know? I could easily write them deliberately trashing the Shrieking Shack as soon as they find out Snape's in charge of Hogwarts, in the hopes of luring people there on the though that it's deserted.
I think this was well-handled for a very minor subplot, and Remus was very much in character, to the point where you want to grab him and shake him really, really hard. Because yes, the first time he saw that he was causing any hardship at all, he'd go right back to his default "I'm cursed!!!!!" position. And preggoDora might be whoopsing her cookies too much to have the energy to not be furious at him for it. So bless Harry. Though I wish they'd shown the christening, just to give us a scene that had to be there if he's godfather, and must have meant something to him!
I've always said I'd believe anything she did with Snape at this point, and I believe what she did with Snape at this point, but the truth is, I lied. The dearest desire of my heart is exactly the sort of thing I'd never have accepted if she'd actually done it--which is to say, I'd have been so happy if, over the summer, Snape had run off with Durmstrang pal and they'd both joined the Moscow circus, and we'd never seen or heard from him again. However, that wouldn't be feasible, so I accepted that we'd have to deal with something major, and I'd even coped with the Snape-loved-Lily thing. I still don't see it, but as an OotP R/T shipper, I'll take the word of S/L shippers; I must have missed it, probably because I've been bored out of my skull with Snape since "Snape's Worst Memory," and therefore wasn't paying much attention to the minutiae. At least ghost!Lily didn't tell Harry how deeply sorry she was that she didn't marry dear Sevvy-poo.
My first problem with this were that, as expected, the glorification of Snape meant a diminution of characters in whom I was personally more interested. The whole Wormtail life debt thing boils down to a minor escape with a tiny, itsy-bitsy felicitation of Harry surviving, followed by killer appendages. My bigger problem is that he came off looking even worse than he did in SWM. Not only did Snape apparently never figure out that Lily loved James rather than him and why she loved him, but his very last act in life is, essentially, filling Harry's head with the idea that he, Snape, is much more important than that cipher who faced the most dangerous wizard of all time, unarmed and unprotected, in order to try and buy a few seconds for his wife and son. (On the plus side, I thought James rocked really hard in Voldemort's memory of what happened in Godric's Hollow.) The third problem is the same one I had with the theory in fanfiction, which is just that I plain don't find it interesting, but that's just a differing tastes thing. The other false note, just in a logic sense, was that if Snape and Lily had been actual friends, which the memory implies, the people who went to school with them certainly wouldn't be so mystified about what might make Dumbledore trust Snape so much. "Oh, sure, I remember--didn't they used to walk around the lake together? Weren't they from the same place?" And so on. Just not sure how that works.
Weren't we supposed to find out that there was some great reason Sirius died?
Speaking of Sirius... I really wanted more of the Regulus plot. More meat on the bones of the Sirius-Regulus relationship, more identity from them, more on the House of Black, in which JKR seemed to be taking so much interest. Of course, yes, this leaves it free for fanfictional interpretations, but after leaving R.A.B. as the big mystery in the last book, I'd have liked to have gotten a Pensieve view of that. Hell, I kept expecting to find that Regulus had survived the lake and had some story to share with Harry. That said, I really, really love that what pushed him over the edge was finding out what Voldemort had done to Kreacher. It definitely gives a Sirius-like edge to him--"Wait a minute--you took a creature who couldn't refuse your orders and ordered him to drink poison, then abandoned him to die? Not on my watch." So when it kept not having any repercussions, I felt like something had been cut and needed to be added back in during post-production, except that there was none. I'm also glad that Kreacher came around when Harry gave him the locket.
James... JK, it was our last chance to find out why Lily loved him so much! Couldn't we have had at least as much of him as we had of Snape? We already know Snape, but James is a mystery! And now, there are very few people who could give Harry non-Snape-tainted memories.
On the "gun onstage" theory, somewhere in book two, Harry should have flipped through a comic in Ron's room involving Martin Miggs getting his hands on a Deathly Hallow, to have been promptly forgotten about when they have to go out and de-gnome or something. Most authors, I wouldn't even bother making the criticism, but JKR's usually been pretty good, so that when something comes to fruition, you say, "Oh, yeah... I remember that!" But here's a major plot point, and... nada. It was the same with the Dumbledore family plot. She told us that DD's family would be a profitable line of inquiry, but it's hard to inquire without having the right information with which to formulate questions.
Wow. It wasn't Norbert. Points to scarah and other skeptics on that one. I guess I assumed that the cover would be a more prominent scene... then again, I've read it all, and I still can't figure out what the American cover is depicting! Though we do see that curved arch bridge for the first time since book 1 (not counting the movies), and come to think of it, what's it supposed to be on book 1? Not really a nitpick, just a very surprising thing to me about which I don't have a strong opinion.
The rest is all good.
I'd read the Baltimore Sun review talking about how a lot of the joy and wonder leaves, but if so, they had the extra-special non-wondrous edition. Harry's learning lots of new things, and is absolutely still capable of wonder, and the writing shows it.
The whole business with Harry taking and burying Mad-Eyes prosthetic eye after Umbridge's disgusting misuse of it was really great. That was show-don't-tell decency.
The Ravenclaw door-knocker is made of awesome.
So, in the end, was Scrimgeour.
McGonagall and Neville always have been and always will be.
Potterwatch! Rock on, Lee Jordan.
The weird little meta with Rita releasing teasers for her book, saying "Oh, I can't say that..." and so on, was possibly not even conscious, but an interesting commentary on book publishing just the same.
Dudley! Oh, Big D, I just want to chuck you on the chin, you know? May he and Harry get to know each other again and have a strong friendship as adults. (It's also very interesting to me that, for the first time, we see Harry voluntarily connect himself to the Dursleys when he chooses "Vernon Dudley" as his fake name.)
The wedding, Kingsley, Voldemort taunting Bella and Narcissa about Tonks's marriage (oh, he knows the Blacks, doesn't he?), the watch, Harry seeing Ron's fears, Ron getting the sword, saving Malfoy's life... so very many little elements I like very much. I also liked the Horcrux pointing out a very reasonable insecurity of Ron's--that Ginny was obviously the one Molly was waiting for, while he perceives himself as "just another Weasley boy."
Neville killing Nagini and Molly "NOT-MY-DAUGHTER-BITCH" Weasley getting Bella.
I thought R/Hr was well done--there was as much as would be visible to Harry, and it's enough to establish their dynamic, but there are no awkward moments when The Designated Best Friend conveniently eavesdrops on situations that would make Harry run for the hills.
Voldemort's a bastard, attacking right next door to Harry's home.
I love Shell Cottage, and am adding immediately to my list of great HP locations. And go, Fleur, with the putting up with goblins, invasions of first married holidays by husband's extended family, and not ripping Griphook's head off.
Interesting point from Bill about the different perceptions of ownership between goblin and human, since it would really cover a whole lot of misunderstandings.
And Viktor brings in a piece of key info! And was invited to the wedding by Fleur. Gosh, did those two know each other from somewhere? [/sarcasm]
I really enjoyed Dumbledore's weakness for power, and the way the superficially charming Grindelwald exploited it.
Eh, I'll have more to say, but I need sleep. Suffice it to say that when I know my two favorite characters, in whom I am deeply emotionally invested, are going to die at the end, and I STILL CAN'T STOP READING, we're talking about a hella good book.