Disclaimer: I never claimed to be impartial towards Harry Potter, and the fact that I cannot be is undoubtedly obvious. This is not a real review because that would imply that I am competent of being objective towards this series, which I evidently am not.
Being the book in the series I have probably reread the least amount of times (which is to say I've probably read it ten times), this was a fantastic book to pick up. I've seen the film adaptation for this book far more times than I've actually read it, and the last time I picked it up would have probably been four years ago, so reading it again was not only a little bit surprising, but far more suspenseful than the other six. I thoroughly enjoyed this installment of Harry's adventures. I think it is one of the strongest in the series - really acting as the glue between the child-friendly(ish - do werewolves and dementors count as child friendly?), comparatively juvenile first three books, and the darker, more adult or young adult last three. A plethora of character development occurs within this book, which is part of the reason I found it so rewarding.
Rowling really delves into the world of teenage development in Goblet of Fire. Marrying up the overarching story line of Voldemort and his gradual return to power with more ordinary, human experiences, Rowling displays that although there may be a war brewing, being a teenager can be damn hard too. Harry, in this book, grapples with the dawning adolescent emotions, desires and revelations, whilst simultaneously seeking to uncover the reason that he has been placed in a tournament which places him in mortal peril. It's really hard to say which one he finds more difficult because my god, Harry may be the "boy-who-lived" but his tactics around the females leave something to be desired. You'd think a Gryffindor would have used a bit of bravado but Harry is just so damn awkward. Someone get that boy a vanishing charm pronto because he is a struggler around Cho Chang and we've only had them interact a handful of times in this book (more on that later).
We also see Hermione transforming from the dependable yet completely un-romanticised best friend into something which is undeniably feminine and attractive to certain male characters. Ron and Harry learn some difficult lessons about how to treat their female classmates. I can't help but cringe at Padma Patil's bad luck in this book and sincerely hope that the Beauxbaton's boy was nicer to her than Ron at the Yule Ball.
Speaking of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang - when you read the book less than you sit mindlessly in front of the film, it's easy to forget the subtle adaptations which have occurred between the two genres, and its horrible cliche, but the films don't do justice to the novel. I, for one, had forgotten that boys even existed at Beauxbatons, and it pains me that this simple adaptation was taken at all - why couldn't both genders be represented in the slightly effeminate and beautiful characterisation of the French students? Why did it only have to be females who were classed as attractive?
Other adaptations which shocked me were littered throughout the prose: Aberforth making an appearance in the text was one that was particularly blaring. Since the films never mention Aberforth until it is undeniably necessary, he seems like a convenient plot device to strip away the untouchable nature of Dumbledore's integrity. However here, his mentioning opens our eyes to the existence of Dumbledore's family far before it is necessary, acting as a precursor to the events which are unveiled in the later books.
Themes of social injustice are also heavily explored in Goblet of Fire. Rowling draws the readers attention to the social acceptance of elitism and racism in relation to house elves - Hermione being the only character to even attempt to understand why they are treated as second class citizens. It is easy here to see the parallels between Hermione's championing of elf rights and her status in wizarding society being one of tentative acceptance as a muggle-born. It is clearly something which endangers her self-worth and sense of self, as the rise of dark elements challenges the belief that all wizards are equal.
However it is also important to notice that Rowling has drawn attention to the wishes and desires differing between individuals in a group. It is necessary to see Dobby, however enlightened, as an anomaly and not necessarily representative of his class. I think themes of respect and acceptance are also tied into Hermione's valiant attempts to show the other elves that their freedom is worth asking for - she refuses to accept that their desire to remain in servitude is valid. This draws an amusing paradox between her portrayal of the elves as creatures worthy of self-determination, yet her inability to accept that remaining in servitude is what the majority of them would choose regardless of intervention.
The character development of the Weasley family is also of particular interest in Goblet of Fire. Ron, as the obvious contender for simultaneously best and worst friend of the century, is confronted with his feelings of inadequacy and jealousy, not only between himself and Harry, but also between himself and his family members. Ron is portrayed as a character who struggles to find himself in this book - recognising that he does not fill the mold of prefect and exceptional student, nor troublemaker and truant, nor thrill seeker or distinguished leader. It is difficult for him to find his own niche within the family unit, and with the additional pressures of being Harry's best friend, finds himself truly lost in the first portion of the novel.
For Fred and George, the tension between their own desires and the expectations of their mother show a clearer separation of the family unit than before. Whereas previously the troublemaking nature of the twin's adventures had been somewhat of a joke, now Molly looks to them as academic failures and despite worrying about their futures incessantly, completely disregards their clear talent for innovation. Fred and George's efforts in this book do more than just provide the usual humor - they also show a more adventurous and determined side to the twins, who show just how business minded and dogged they can be to realise their entrepreneurial dreams.
The inclusion of Neville's backstory was also an unexpected delight in this book. It shows an insight into a very significant character (particularly in the following book), and explores a boy who is far more than just clumsy and somewhat pathetic. Neville is shown to have significantly more redeeming qualities in this novel, which sets him up to be a dependable and competent leader later in the series. It also allows the reader to sympathise somewhat with Neville and recognise the clear parallels between Harry's experience and Neville's - both boys have a significantly scarring past, and yet Harry's celebrity status has lead him on a very different path of grieving and acceptance than Neville.
Finally, the rise of Voldemort and the significance of his return provides fantastic, fast-paced action throughout the novel. The inclusion of the challenges alongside the overarching mystery of the Dark Lord's return created an enthralling book with plenty of twists and turns and revelations which not only explain aspects of Harry's past, but also set up the foundations for future challenges. It is phenomenal to think that Rowling constructed the entire series to fit together so well - with every new development I am reminded how brilliant her mind is, and how well it has constructed a world so different from the muggle world, and yet, the characters manage to maintain a definite human mortality despite their exceptional magical powers.
Of course, the culmination of this novel results in a dark turn which is carried on throughout the remainder of the series. The death which concludes this book is the precursor for many deaths to follow, and allows Rowling to display not only the pure evil nature of the Death Eaters and Lord Voldemort, but also the fear which accompanies their return.
One of my all time favourite quotes is also found within this book - something which just topped of a very enjoyable reread:
"Differences of habit and language are nothing if our aims are identical and our hearts are open."
- Albus Dumbledore.