When Laura O'Neill finally got her hands on the much-anticipated "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" early this morning, she wasn't sure that the seventh book in the series could possibly live up to the hype.
"I was terrified," said O'Neill, 19, who lives in Buffalo. "For some people, the ending can ruin the entire series . . . And I had heard some people describe it as a train wreck."
By three o'clock Saturday afternoon, however, when she was more than 500 pages deep into the book, described by many critics as author J.K. Rowling's magnum opus, her fears had evaporated.
"It is amazing," she said, adding that she was "unbelievably" content with the way the story turned out.
For Simrita Singh, 27, of Amherst, reading the book was marred by another problem.
"My mom gave away the biggest question that everybody has . . . about who's going to die," said Singh, laughing. "She called me when I was at the gym this morning . . . all the way from India. It's all over the news over there."
Singh, however, who bought the book at noon, polished off more than 300 pages by 4 p.m. Despite having heard the spoilers, she was engrossed by the rest of the plot.
"There's a lot more action at the beginning of the book and good fights right at the beginning," she said.
The universal fan response to the book has been rapturous, according to worldwide reports.
And, in order to finish the book as quickly as possible, many readers spent Saturday sequestered in bedrooms and cafes.
"Some Web sites have shut down," O'Neill said. "There's just a message that says: 'See you on the other side' and you know what that means."
Isabella Dixon, 13, of Buffalo, had snapped up a copy of the book at midnight, read until 3 a.m., and after a brief break for sleep, woke up at 6 a.m. to resume her close reading.
At seven o'clock Saturday, she was only 100 pages shy of the ending.
"It's different because it's not set at Hogwarts . . . It's faster-paced, and something big happens in every chapter," she said. "I don't want it to be over, but I want to get through it so I can know the ending."
Nick Orrange, 20, of Amherst, was nearing the 600-page mark as of 3 p.m.
"[Rowling's] really trying to go for everyone Harry has met," he said, confirming rumors that the book contained a laundry-list of characters and their fates.
And, he said, while he appreciated the book's scope, he felt Rowling had tried to cram too much material into the story.
"There are gaps -- two or three months go by and nothing happens," he said.
"The book should have been longer," he added.
Orrange said he was also surprised by the book's dark tone.
"I started reading these books when I was 11," he said. "But I don't see how an 11-year-old could just pick this up. It's definitely written for adults."
Dixon echoed his feelings.
"The other books had humor in them that made the darker stuff less dark," she said.
Kevin Jackson, 9, of East Aurora, was only in the first chapter of the book, but he said he was sure of the ending.
"It's the last book, so Voldemort has got to die," he surmised. "Everyone knows it."
He may or may not be right.