The deeper I get, the more Rowling makes me think of John Le Carre. Hers is a bad world, full of bad people. Or not so much bad as weak, corruptible, devious. A world of spies and sleepers and double agents.
Prisoner of Azbakan is the book in which the tone changes. Goblet of Fire continues in the same vein, but is less uniformly dark. Thanks to the Quidditch World Cup and the Triwizard contest we're thinking sport most of the time.
The set pieces are getting bigger and bangier. The first hundred pages, in particular, are a tour de force. It takes enormous skill to keep the narrative clear and dynamic when you're playing with as many characters- old, new, central and peripheral- as Rowling is doing here.
People keep telling me about the fascination of Snape and- though I reckon this has a lot to do with Alan Rickman- I begin to see what they mean. I'm finding it hard to think of precendents for his precise combination of nastiness and uprightness. He's a typical Victorian villain- slimey, cruel, vindictive, petty, physically unattractive- and yet he's on our side; how odd; how disconcerting. Sherlock Holmes and Mr Spock are distant ancestors- but Snape's meanness goes way beyond their emotional chillth. I suppose we're drawn to him because we want to know his secret- if he has one. And, of course, there's something perversely attractive in any character who doesn't seem to want our love; you might call it the Darcy factor.
I've seen the movies, so everything thus far has been fairly familiar. But now I really, really need to know what happens next.