HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE i(cover by Mary GrandPre) was the fourth in the series and the point at which the books went from novels to doorstops. Although that said, given how much Dust of Dreams crawled by, I’m impressed how fast this moves once the Quidditch World Cup is out of the way.
The book is very much a world-building entry in the series. We get a look at other schools of magic, learn more about the history of the Death Eaters, their wider level of support and collaboration, Neville Longbottom’s tragic past and introducing the Pensieve, which plays a big role later in the series. A lot of this takes place at the World Cup event and while some bits are effective, overall that section crawled for me. Most of what it showed me about the wizarding world, I don’t think I really needed to know.
However after that, things pick up considerably. As probably most of you know, the plot concerns the revival of the classic TriWizard Tournament between Hogwarts and its two counterparts in Europe. The titular Goblet functions as a sorting hat, selecting a champion for each school … except in addition to the regular champion for Hogwarts, somehow it spits out Harry’s name as well. By the rules of the contest, he must participate. And it’s dangerous, and something could very easily go wrong. Meanwhile, as the opening makes clear, Voldemort is growing stronger and gathering his followers—hmm, could there be a connection?
Once the tournament is off and running, so is the story and the character arcs (Harry is definitely getting some teen orneriness at this point). And there are a couple of points at the climax which really pack a punch.
On the downside, we have SPEW, the Society for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare. This is a group Hermione creates to protest for greater house-elf rights. Everyone, including most of the house elves, thinks she’s crazy: elves aren’t oppressed! They love working in total servitude for people! The general point seems to be that Hermione is your stereotypical clueless activist trying to uplift people she doesn’t understand. This comes a little too close to a “happy darkies” theme to be entirely comfortable, particularly since we know some families do abuse their elves — it’s hard for me to see Hermione as being as silly as the book seems to think.
SKIN GAME is the latest Dresden Files novel from Jim Butcher, very much a caper film. Harry’s old foe Nicodemus (at one point in the series he served as Harry’s arch-enemy) recruits Harry as part of a crack team heading into the underworld to rip off Hades’ vault. As he’s working through Mab—boss of Harry in his status as Winter Knight—Harry has to comply, even though he knows a double-cross must be in the work. Can he find a way to double-cross Nicodemus first without breaching his duty to Mab?
The story itself is entertaining, and we finally get some progress on the Harry/Karrin front. On the downside, this feels annoyingly like a lot of set-up for the big series arc rather than actually advancing the arc, and I’ve never bought Harry’s constant nerdiness (I’ll apologize if I reread the early books and find he’s always been written that way). However I did like Harry starting to deal with how much he’s changed and the increasing drawback with all his old wizardly gadgetry gone.
One thing I definitely didn’t like is that the increased power of the Winter Knight is explained as the same kind of enhanced physical energy you get from adrenalin, the emergency rush that lets mothers lift cars off their kids. That feels annoyingly mundane.
Overall, though a fun installment.