Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the fourth of seven books in J.K. Rowling's epic school story with a twist. In this book, young Harry, raised by completely unsympathetic, non-magical Muggles, learns more about the civil war that is threatening to burst upon the magical world he now views as his true home. More than ever before, he feels himself at the center of the action as the evil Lord Voldemort schemes to return to full power... and his plans appear to include Harry. At the same time, there is plenty of rollicking, lively action to keep any young reader's interest, even though this book is longer than any of the first three in the series.
After a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Quidditch World Cup (Bulgaria vs. Ireland, but it takes place in an undisclosed location in Britain), Harry is back off to Hogwarts, where a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Mad-Eye Moody, encourages the students to take a more serious view of the threats against them. These include the Unforgivable Curses of torture, mind-control, and murder... which will play an all-too-prominent role in the action of the series from this point onward. The really big news is that Hogwarts will host the Tri-Wizard Tournament, a year-long competition between the three major European schools of wizardry. Contestants from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang will join a Hogwarts champion... but the goblet of fire that chooses the contestants spits out Harry's name, forcing him to compete against champions older and more experienced than he. It all seems like a plot to get Harry killed, and to complicate matters, his best mate Ron Weasley is jealous of Harry's chance for glory.
Many characters from previous books make a return appearance in the course of the book; Dobby the house elf and the ghost Moaning Myrtle give Harry some assistance in the competition. Memorable new characters include the paranoid Mad-Eye, the poison-quilled tabloid journalist Rita Skeeter, the forlorn house-elf Winky, and the never-serious former athlete Ludo Bagman. As in other books of the series, the themes of friendship and loyalty are large in this book; Harry as a neglected orphan has a greater apprciation for the value of friendship when he finds it and never undervalues an individual who has shown kindness to him.
Like Harry himself, this book is in transition between the juvenile and adult world. If you've followed my previous reviews of the series, you'll know that this is the book I won't let my 9-year-old read yet. (She finished book 3 in less than a day when given the green light, and then read it right through again.) This book begins with the murder of an innocent man and includes another death of a significant character towards the end. If your child is bothered by books that do not have completely happy endings and simple solutions, it might be best to hold off on reading this one no matter how appealing the earlier Harry books are. There is also a very dark scene of ritual bloodletting and mutilation which would disturb just about anyone... although the Death Eaters and Voldemort are not in any way portrayed in a positive light and good eventually triumphs, the potential for bad dreams is significant. Use good judgment in reading this to children under 10. If they do read it, they will most likely want to continue the series, which deals with increasingly dark and serious themes and kills off more central characters in each book. In my experience, some kids handle this better than others, and parents know their own kids best. But for cultivating a joy in reading, there is still nothing quite like these books.