Sorry for the long absence. I'll kick off my return with a review of the biggest fantasy novel of the year, at least in terms of hype if not word count.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows begins just prior to Harry's seventeenth birthday. This is a significant date because in the wizarding world, a seventeen year-old is an adult, which means the protection afforded Harry in the Dursley's home will no longer be effectual. The action begins almost immediately, with well-loved characters dying early on, serving notice to the reader that everyone is in danger.
Harry, Ron and Hermione soon set off in search of the horcruxes of which Harry learned in book six. Along the way they must avoid the Death Eaters who have taken almost total control of the Ministry of Magic. Their search uncovers the story of the Deathly Hallows: a trio of magic items that can make one the master of death. Events lead to the inevitable showdown with Voldemort.
Rowling masterfully interweaves elements of mystery regarding Dumbledore's past, and also finally gives us a peek into Snape's personal history. We finally know for certain whose side he's on and why he is the way he is.
On the negative side of the ledger, the introduction of the concept of the Deathly Hallows so late in the series is, for many readers, too much deus ex machina. Others might argue that the conclusion is too C.S. Lewis for their taste. Personally, I found the story entertaining and satisfying, save the epilogue, which is just... bad.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a worthy conclusion to a wonderful series. Read the book and skip the epilogue.