HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE. By J K Rowling. Bloomsbury Children's Books pound;14.99.
As they say in the press box at the Quidditch World Cup, it's a game of two halves and it's not over yet. Four books down, three to go, but no guarantee that the annual tomes won't continue to double in size. In terms of pages, we may still be waiting for the half-time whistle.
Rowling's strengths, abundantly displayed in HP4, lie in big-picture plotting, in flamboyant set pieces and in one-line wisecracks which hint at a finely developed senseof the ridiculous and thetime she spent earwigging from the teacher's desk.
Overall writing quality and characterisation remain less impressive. The surprises, of which there are many, lie in the turn of events, not in how the characters react. The effect is of an intricate filigree structure which shows through its papier-mache coating in the less expertly applied patches. The grand scheme of the plot, however, shows the author in control, rationing out just enough of the much-discussed love-and-death interest.
The book rewards the readers ithas helped to build, and encourages them to re-read the earlier books. A thriller-style opening and early promise of a twist-ridden narrative should make HP4's 636 pages less daunting for the previously reluctant readers Rowling is said to have won over, although it seems unwieldy compared with the more subtle and tighter last novel, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. This third book hinted at the dark forces unleashed in book four with the rebirth of Harry's adversary, Voldemort. For the youngest fans, a selective reading aloud might be the best way to negotiate the scenes of psychological and physical torture. While Harry is intended to grow older alongside his readers (he's starting to sound cool), there will be some younger ones desperate to catch up with him.
It is hard to read HP4 in isolation from the media circus of the past week. Harry brings the author to mind as he suffers from the effects of celebrity, and the fate of Rita Skeeter of the Daily Prophet is a lesson to reckless hacks.
Readers discuss Harry Potter on www.tes.co.uk