First, most important question -- is Snape evil? Well, he has now most certainly used one of the Unforgiveable Curses. The worst one of all. Still, he was so deeply undercover, and Dumbledore so very trusting of him, that it may have been something Dumbledore expected, perhaps even instructed Snape to do if he had to. It may have even been something Dumbledore was glad of, as he was in extreme pain from that potion. He was calling for Snape when he and Harry arrived in Hogsmeade. Still, it certainly won't make things easy for Snape, now that his friends (for want of a better word) all despise him and his enemies revere him.
But more importantly, Snape is the very first character to share top billing with Harry. As he is the Half-Blood Prince, he is the only other PERSON ever to be featured in the title, indicating his extreme importance to the overall story. Revealed as a half-blood, he becomes exactly like Voldemort, and to some extent Harry (who is actually a pure-blood, depending on how it's looked at; his mother was certainly Muggle-born, but both his parents were Magickal, as opposed to both Snape and Voldemort, who each had one Muggle parent). Will it come down to him assisting Harry in the final battle? Perhaps. I doubt they will ever be friends, or stop hating one another, but I foresee Snape being redeemed by the end.
I am assuming Dumbledore has left something, somewhere, telling the real reasons why he trusted Snape, and why he let Snape kill him.
Secondly, Romance is in the Air. I saw some people getting irritated by it, but I think the Heavy Handedness in the Coupling was to further illustrate the important point Dumbledore made: Harry will win due to his capacity to LOVE. I've been pulling for poor Ginny to catch Harry's eye all along, so I'm glad of that pairing (although I could have done without the Spider-Man "I'm leaving you for your own good!" bit at the end--or, if Harry HAD to say it, I would have liked Ginny's response to be, "Tough, mister, I'm in with you to the end, just like Hermione and Ron"). I was also very happy with how Fleur stood by Bill even after his mauling, as I was expecting our shallow half-veela to be repulsed when he was no longer handsome. I'm glad that went the opposite way. I was as happy with her at the end as Mrs. Weasley. Also exceptionally pleased with the Remus/Tonks pairup. Ron/Hermione? Well, of course, who hasn't seen THAT one coming?
Thirdly, the book itself. The writing is much tighter, she was paying attention this time to the story instead of the deadline, and as a result, it's crisper and more like the earlier books, although with the darker tone. The tendency to ramble on about each and every day at school is gone, replaced by extreme leaps in time to important events throughout the year. I found it rather more eloquent in language than previous books, and Harry, while still an arrogant teen, was likeable again. He also used the brains we've been told he has, so hoorah. And for a change, his suspicions were correct. Draco WAS up to something, and he was responsible for the cursed necklace AND the poisoned wine.
Excellent final battle. Nicely tense.
Who is R.A.B.? Someone who was able to get the horcrux without drinking the potion and without Voldemort finding out, which is in itself curious.
Dumbledore himself. I was very saddened at his death, which seemed pointless, but, unlike Sirius, I don't think it was. I think he knew exactly what he was doing, and he was passing the torch on to Harry. He has said many times through the series that he was an old man and did not want to live forever, and the touches here and there at the funeral of Harry remembering the fun things, the funny things, about Dumbledore made it less sad than a joyous remembrance of a great man. I would like to see a final conversation between Harry and Dumbledore via his portrait in the headmaster's office, though. Don't know if I'll get it. I did at least get Cornelius Fudge saying they were wrong about Sirius, so at least there was that. I'm assuming that meant they gave him a postumous pardon.
School year highlights: We knew Gryffindor won the Quiddich Cup, but there was no presentation of the House Cup this year--the tragedy no doubt drove it out of everyone's head, along with the fact the fight destroyed the Gryffindor counter. And Harry has announced he won't be back next year. Does he mean it? Year Seven without school? He'll be of age in the Wizarding World come July, and able to make his own decisions.
I don't think they're Americanizing these books anymore. I noticed a distinct increase in British slang, including "Oi!" and "snogging." I'm just as glad of it (I actually noticed that in Order of the Phoenix).
In all, I really do think I like this book nearly as much as Prisoner of Azkaban, putting it second in the "my favorites" line (with OotP coming in dead last). But I will have to read it again.
All righty, that done, here it is Tuesday. I had a lot of stuff to catch up on after not turning on the computer for two days (or thereabouts). I dread to think what I'll come back to after my Vegas trip next week. :) Yes, I'm counting days. I'm off Friday, and then Mom and I set off on Sunday. We have three nights at the Mirage (The Mirage! Whoo!), and two nights at the Gold Nugget (downtown). Mom is a bit of a gambler, but she said this time for sure we're going to catch at least one show, and I want to actually go down to MGM and get a picture taken with the lions. :) I love Vegas.
Now back to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.