J.K. Rowling,
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
(Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, 2000)

Yes, I was one of those people haunting the front stoop on Saturday, July 8, awaiting the FedEx delivery van with my copy of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth installment in the story of the young wizard-in-training. And no, I couldn't put it down once I started.

Once again, Harry is suffering through another interminable summer term with the dreadful Dursleys, although out of nervous deference to Harry's godfather, Sirius, Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon have backed off the tiniest bit. Still, Harry can't wait to get away from them, so he is delighted when his best friend Ron Weasley and the rest of the Weasley clan offer him a reprieve with an invitation to the World Quidditch Cup game between Bulgaria and Ireland to be followed with a stay at the Weasleys' until time to catch the Hogwart's Express back to school.

Harry's excitement at attending the Quidditch match and seeing the famous Bulgarian Seeker Viktor Krum -- hang on -- you there, in the back. What do you mean, "What's Quidditch?" Go read the first three books, then hurry back. As I was saying -- Harry's excitement at attending the Quidditch match and seeing the famous Bulgarian Seeker Viktor Krum is dulled slightly by a vivid reminder of the threat from .... Voldemart, the evil wizard who killed Harry's parents and tried to kill Harry. Still, he has a splendid time with Ron, his family, and Hermione Granger, their other best friend, until it's time to go back to school.

In some ways, it's business as usual at Hogwarts. Hagrid the gamekeeper has diligently discovered another variety of potentially dangerous magical creature; Snape, the Potions master, is as snide as ever; there's a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, a strange man called Mad-Eye Moody; and Draco Malfoy of Slytherin House is even nastier than before. Beyond that, Hogwarts is a-buzz with news of a special upcoming event which will involve Hogwarts and two other schools of wizardry from abroad. Somehow, not surprisingly, Harry is in the middle of all of this as Voldemart ups the ante on his life.

In spite of the book's heft -- 734 pages -- the plot whips along at a breakneck pace. Yes, perhaps the book could have been trimmed, but frankly, I don't think that many readers will be daunted or bored, because the characters are strong, realistic and appealing. Rowling has hit on a winning balance of plot and character development that constantly and consistently maintains the readers attention. Furthermore, what appear to side plots tie into and support the main plot.

Strong and suspenseful story aside, Rowling lets her characters grow into adolescence with all its attendant confusion, embarrassment and wonder. The continuous rounding out of the characters lends depth to the story, which, true to earlier predictions, is darker in tone than the previous books. Furthermore, Harry isn't quite the golden boy to others as he was previously -- as he finds, there are others besides Snape and the Slytherins who are willing to think the worst of him, including some of his friends.

When this much excitement and attention surrounds a book, the risk for disappointment runs high, but Rowling doesn't let her readers down. One can only wonder what she has in store for Harry, Ron and Hogwarts -- and when the next publication date will be.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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