My relationship with Harry Potter has been an obsessive one. I have pored over pages. I've trawled the internet for every spare nugget of information on the series. I've memorized lines of dialogues. I've watched all the movies. I've cried at the end of the last book. I've fallen in love with more than one character.
Hogwarts has helped heal heartbreak, ease bereavement, and provide a sanctuary for a bewildered youngster like no one else. Therefore, 'The Casual Vacancy' would have to do very VERY hard work if it had to live up to the previous stalwarts.
And it did, internet, IT DID! It is a beautiful book. It's not suckerpunch-let-me-suck-you-into-my-world like Harry Potter, of course. I don't think anyone is capable of replicating that. Not even Rowling herself. (Also, to give credit to her, Rowling actually went out and wrote something completely different and put herself out there to be criticized and dissected when she ALREADY HAS ELEVENTY TRILLION POUNDS AND HAS WRITTEN HARRY POTTER. If it were me, I would just lounge the rest of my life away. Writing Potter would have guaranteed that much.)
'The Casual Vacancy' was well-written, well-plotted, and some of the scenes are masterfully Rowling. My heart, it kind of broke in the end. The effort of creating a world as far away from Hogwarts as possible is evident. And Rowling, thank god, proves to be deft storyteller even when she restricts herself to one small parish populated by the non-wand people.
The book is not Harry. But it's definitely, at least, a Neville Longbottom. And who can resist his underdog charm?