Sunday, March 24, 2013

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling (Harry Potter #4)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Powerful story with characters we care about
Cons: Could be too dark and long for some in the intended audience
The Bottom Line:
Darker yet better
Story continues growing
Characters still great




The Magic Grows Dark

This is the fourth book in the Harry Potter series. It's magical fantasy world has capture the imagination of kids of all ages. Harry was an orphan being raised by his uncle and aunt until he discovered that he is a wizard. Suddenly, he finds himself attending Hogwarts, a school for young wizards and witches, and learning how to use his skills. But danger is lurking around every corner. The evil Lord Voldemort was killed years before while killing Harry's parents. But the remnants of his power are still effecting Harry's life. Harry and his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger find themselves in the middle of adventures that have far reaching repercussions in the magical world.

Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire opens with the start of the school year at Hogwarts still a few weeks away. Harry is counting the days until he can escape his Muggle relatives. But his freedom comes sooner then expected when he's invited to the International Quidditch Cup by the Weasleys. The fun ends quickly when a symbol appears in the air. One of Lord Voldemort's old allies is back at work.

The surprises just keep coming for Harry when he arrives back at Hogwarts to learn that his school is hosting the Triwizard Tournament. Each of the three European schools will have one champion who competes in a series of dangerous challenges to win the ultimate prize. Harry is too young to enter, but he finds his name called anyway. Can he survive the various challenges? And what of the rumors of Voldemort's growing power?

By the fourth book in the series, Harry Potter's world is well established. I realized just how true this was while reading the scene set at the International Quidditch Cup. Author J. K. Rowling doesn't waste any time reminding us how the game is played or what the various positions do. She just describes the game. While she does mention major plot points from previous books, she doesn't spend very much time on them. She assumes the reader is already familiar with her universe. You could jump in here, but my advice would be to go back and start at the beginning. Then the events of this book will make more sense and be that much more powerful.

I honestly feared that I would have a hard time getting through the 700+ pages of this book. I need not have worried. I read as quickly as I could and was hooked on every page. Yes, there were things that could have been trimmed, but most everything was important to the story. My biggest complaint was the Quidditch Cup. I'm not a sports person. I haven't minded the Quidditch in the previous books because Harry was always playing. This time around, I really didn't care. The game itself could have been shortened while still including all the events that take place around it. Still, even if all my trims were made, I would probably only cut out 50 pages.

And that's the thing. There are lots of sub-plots in this book, but they all go somewhere. Most ultimately contribute to the main storyline. In fact, it's fun watching the master at work as the last few pages reveal several things I hadn't thought about twice to be very important.

The other thing the sub-plots do is reveal more about the characters. Whether it's Hermione's kind heart thanks to her crusade to free house elves (the only story to not have any kind of resolution) or the beginnings of teenage love, we get to know these characters better by watching their every move. Once again, these are real people we're following. So they may have a few moments of falling into stereotypes. Most of the time, that is kept to a minimum.

Once again, the book was extremely well written. Frankly, I stopped trying to see if there was stuff that could be cut. Why? Because I didn't care. I was having so much fun spending time with these characters, I didn't want to miss a second. I've previously seen the movie, and remembered most of the big plot points. Still, there were several scenes that had my heart racing, even thought I remembered the outcome. That's good writing.

The first three books were really separate adventures. That definitely flies out the window here. Characters from those books reappear, and the events of those books are referenced in major and minor ways. The climax of this book signals a major shift in the series. This really is a transitional book.

That shift includes a shift toward darker material. While this book started mostly light and fun like the previous ones, (SPOILER!) the ending was very dark, including the death of a character (End Spoiler). While the cliffhanger ending made me want to move on to the next one, the climax could be too intense for young kids. Obviously, parents know their own kids best and can be the best judge of whether the material is truly age appropriate. Of course, the size of the book might deter those who would be too young for the more mature content here.

Despite the dark turn in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, I am still loving my travel through this magical world. You can bet I will be moving on to the fifth book soon.

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