I bought the book the day it came out on Dhaka, July 16th (from what I remember, Rowling wanted to release it on the day of the summer solstice, but also at midnight. So that ended up being July 16th in Dhaka). It was a hartal, so believe it or not, there was practically no one else at the bookstore compared to the crowd I'd been expecting. It cost Tk. 1,475 in anyone was wondering.
I started reading it immediately after getting home. I had to stop to do stuff like packing and meeting family, because it was the last day of my holiday in Dhaka, and I was flying the next morning. But I read whenever I could, and into the night. Around 2 am, I finished. It was well worth it.
When I started reading it, something felt wrong near the beginning. But I couldn't put a finger on it. Yesterday I realised that it was that in the second chapter, Rowling tells the story located somewhere far away from Harry -- and we the readers see something that Harry doesn't, something she's never done before. Think about it. Every device that Rowling has ever introduced to show something that happens far away from Harry or far before Harry's time -- Harry's connection to Voldemort's mind, the `memory dishes', the Dementors' awakening of long-dormant memories in Harry's mind, the journal of Tom Riddle, among others -- let Harry see and hear what's going on, as well as us.
So for the first time ever, the story shifts away from Harry and onto Snape. What does this mean? I have no idea.
Then, throughout the book, Harry has this growing paranoia and obsession with Malfoy. They've always been enemies, but before this book, Harry never attached such an urgency to finding out what Malfoy was doing. And his intuition proved right in the end. But the irony is that Dumbledore was willing to put his own life on the line to turn Malfoy from his father's and Voldemort's side, and wouldn't lift a finger to stop him.
Reading the book, you get the feeling that Rowling has got the whole of these characters wrapped around her brain, so easily do their interactions come together. But also, Harry getting together with Ginny felt pretty forced to me. They had some little interaction before, nothing that came before had hinted at the `little monster' of jealous love in Harry for Ginny. With Ron and Hermione, for example, you knew it was coming from book 4 -- the Krum stuff. That was extended here into the kind of interaction I'd always imagined they'd have before they got together.
The climax of the book -- between Harry, Draco, Dumbledore and Snape -- also felt like the most natural possible buildup to the big finish. I couldn't have asked for anything better.
Snape's escape, and Harry's failure to prevent him, showed just how much Harry trails the older wizards in actual power levels, and just how lucky he's been upto now fighting the Death Eaters. I could feel Harry's frustration as Snape turned aside every single spell Harry threw at him, but left Harry unharmed, a prize the Dark Lord would claim for himself.
And the situation that the last chapter sets up -- it's beyond anything that has ever happened in Harry's world. Suddenly it's become a much bigger and scarier place, and no more shielding, no more Dumbledore, Sirius or even Snape to take some of the heat off Harry. The only protector-figure left for Harry now is Hagrid, which is kind of fitting -- there's a connection between them. But you have to wonder if Hagrid's days are numbered too.
But I digress. Everything is torn away from Harry -- Hogwarts forgotten, training to be an Auror put on the backburner, and friends, except for perhaps only Ron and Hermione, left behind. He finally has a quest, but it's a huge one -- a whopper which I'm not sure how Rowling is going to fit it into a single book 7, unless much of the work has already been done for Harry. We can only hope.
But whether or not that's true, it's been driven like a nail into Harry's head that he has to, to the exclusion of everything else, kill Voldemort. Nice and chilling.