Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the one where Harry takes part in the Tri-wizard Tournament. The one where hormones start flying. The one where Voldemort grows ever stronger. The one where J K Rowling decided everyone needed more door-stops...
I want it said right from the beginning of this review that I adore the Harry Potter series in its entirety, but I do feel that some books are stronger than others. And this is one of the weakest in the series in my opinion.
For some reason, Rowling decided that she could no longer write her story in a few hundred pages - instead, we're presented with a positive brick of a book that stretches on for many hundreds more than I felt it should be. If all of the book had been written with the tight plotting and efficient writing of the Prisoner of Azkaban, I would have been immensely happy. However, there are long periods of "filler" and subplots that seem to go nowhere.
I couldn't believe that the whole section concerning the Quidditch World cup took a couple of hundred pages to go through. There were a lot of "and then...." teenage-diary moments. "And then Harry and Ron went upstairs. And then they went to sleep. And then they were woken up. And then they walked up the hill to the Portkey. And then they found their place in the campsite". A lot of this details could have been glossed over and shown to us through better writing.
It took another hundred or so before the Tri-wizard Tournament was introduced! I know that Rowling was building in certain events that were only revealed in their importance later on, but none of it was done in the same accomplished manner she achieved in the previous novel.
We were also subjected to two of her most common flaws. The first of these is introducing new items into the wizarding world to suit where the plot is going - here we had two new wizarding schools in the form of Durmstrang and Beauxbatons, Portkeys and Veritaserum. I just felt that, if I had been in Harry's position, either I would have asked whether Hogwarts was the only wizarding school or Hermione would have volunteered the information at an earlier stage. But Rowling needed to have other competitors for the Tournament, and so into the book they came. Portkeys were introduced at the beginning of the book so that Harry could be whisked away using one of them at the end. It is disappointing to see an author with such a high profile use such a lazy method.
Her second massive flaw is giant dialogue-heavy sections where she, again, tells rather than shows. Here we have three! Firstly, Rowling uses Sirius to info-dump heavily about Voldemort and his Death Eaters (another phrase that we have never heard before this book). Then she "introduces" the Pensieve (although I am more forgiving of this since they do not seem very common in the world of wizards) to info-dump about the trials of the Death Eaters and shows the fate of Barty Crouch's son. And finally we have a long dialogue section with Barty Crouch Jr where he is under the influence of Veritaserum (mentioned as a throwaway line by Snape so that it can be used later in the book!) and explains his actions over the course of the novel. This, again, is incredibly lazy and leads to sections of information overload.
As I have said, I feel that the novel could have been shorter and snappier. We could easily have lost the whole Liberation of the House Elfs subplot involving Hermione - it didn't really progress at all. The lessons describing the Blast-Ended Skrewts were tiresome and boring - something I never expected from sequences with Hagrid. Although I could see the use of Rita Skeeter and the newspapers imparting stories, I felt too much page space was given to her.
This review is starting to sound rather scathing, but I genuinely liked the book other than those issues I have raised above. There is the usual charm and warmth you gain from reading a Harry Potter book. Seeing the pupils from the different schools and the wizards at the Quidditch World Cup added a new depth to the world.
The end play with Voldemort was thrilling and extremely dark. I loved the tasks in the Tri-Wizard tournament.
I felt that Dumbledore really grew as a character in this book - I especially appreciated the lines where Dumbledore explodes into Moody's office and Harry can finally see why he is the only wizard that Voldemort fears. He is stern and immensely powerful - this is very strong writing. I felt that Snape also gained valuable "screentime" and the start of his ambiguous relationship with both sides of the wizarding battle is explored.
There were moments of comic delight in the book - principally because of the increasing hormones evident in Hogwarts. Ron and Hermione are the main source of this, and it is a delight to see that their bickering is starting to reveal true feelings.
To sum up - the Harry Potter series is a tour de force and a marvel to read, but sometimes you have to slog a little, and this book is one of the slogs. Moments of brilliance as usual, but some rather laboured writing and wouldn't have suffered from being a couple of hundred pages shorter.