Although this review will not spoil Catching Fire, you should read The Hunger Games before checking out this review…
The sequel to The Hunger Games faced a big problem: Readers have already experienced the thrill (and repulsion) of entering the arena for the 74th Hunger Games, so what could author Suzanne Collins do to follow up that masterpiece? The answer she came up with for Catching fire was to pick up the story shortly after it ended in the first book.
Katniss and Peeta are about to embark upon their Victory Tour as unprecedented co-winners of the Hunger Games when Panem President Snow suddenly appears in Katniss’ home and expresses his doubt that Katniss really loves Peeta. He recognizes that the gambit with the berries signaled defiance against the Capitol, and that small act could blossom into widespread revolution, unless Katniss and Peeta can sell their love story on the Victory Tour.
There’s just one problem: Katniss and Peeta are estranged after the train ride home following the arena, so how can they fake love with their lives depending on it? The tour takes the victor (victors) to each and every district to parade them before the adoring masses. Of course, Katniss (and the reader) realizes that this practice simply rubs the noses of the poor, starving denizens of the districts in the fact that the Capitol controls them and regularly snuffs out the lives of their children simply to prove it can.
Katniss and Peeta see the manufactured adulation of the robot-like crowds – but they also see something else; an authentic emotional undercurrent of resentment toward the Capitol. And something else: real affection for Katniss. Especially in Rue’s home, District 8, where the people adore her for treating Rue with dignity in death. And the other thing the Victors witness is the spark of revolution, as the people along the tour route begin to vent their hatred for the Capitol – only to be ruthlessly crushed!
President’s Snow’s worst fears are coming true, so he resolves to make Katniss and Peeta’s worst fears come true. The 75th Hunger Games are slated to be a Quarter Quell, during which special rules are in play. Snow arranges for this year’s reaping to choose tributes from among all Victors who are still alive. Since District 12 only has three living Victors – Katniss, Peeta and their mentor Haymitch, Katniss knows she’s going back into the arena to play the Hunger Games again. And this time, there can be only one winner.
As I said, the main pitfall for this book is giving the reader more of the same, but different. And in this, Catching Fire succeeds admirably. The first half of the book is rather slowly paced as the new status quo is introduced and important political and emotional groundwork is laid. Once the new game is set in motion, using veteran players (like the reader, in a way), the pace picks up so much that it almost feels rushed. The twists to the new arena are interesting, and the new characters introduced really grow on the reader.
However, the same frustrations from the previous book are still there. The story is still narrated by Katniss, and there is even more going on that she is not privy to, which is quite frustrating. (But in one sense, it’s a plot point.) In addition, Katniss is even more guarded and suspicious of people, and she seems to have developed a death wish, making the reader actually fear for her. Since Katniss is closing herself off, the reader is watching her trying to shut herself off as she faces the madness of trying to survive the Hunger Games a second time.
This sequel is not as crisply written as the opening volume, but part of that may stem from familiarity as well. And once it gets rolling, I genuinely did not want to put it down because I was completely sucked into that world. And while Katniss and Peeta were anguished, I was glad to be back!
Click this link to read my review of the next book in the series, Mockingjay.