I just finished Book Two of the enormously popular Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. Read my review of Book One here. Be warned, there will be spoilers for the first book, going forward!
I enjoyed Catching Fire, and it had much of the same page-turning quality of the first book. In fact, I was late for something because I wanted to finish reading the last chapter! However, enjoyable as it was, it didn’t feel as strong as the first book. My hope is that this is just the common fate of the Part Two’s of many trilogies. The first one is new and different and introduces you to everything; the third one is the final epic battle. The second one is doomed to be primarily a bridge between the two.
The book felt somewhat unfocused, and it may be because of everything it was trying to do, as that bridge for the trilogy. It begins after Katniss and Peeta have returned to District 12 as the two victors of the Hunger Games. Quite unintentionally on their part, their dual victory has become a symbol of resistance against the Capital. The Districts are growing increasingly restless, with rumblings in some and actual uprisings in others. The first part of the book is mostly about Katniss and Peeta’s attempt to carry on their (mostly) fake love affair, in an effort to present themselves as not at all trying to incite rebellion. The second part of the book takes us through the 75th Hunger Games. In the midst of it all, Katniss is still trying to choose between Gale and Peeta, and to decide if she even wants a romance with either, and to figure out how to keep the people she loves safe as the world gets even more precarious.
I think this book definitely succeeded in raising the stakes. Between the beginnings of a revolution and the Capital’s much more targeted enmity towards Katniss, the scope of the conflicts seems larger. The dangers feel bigger (and considering it was literally life and death before, that’s impressive). The threats seem more far-reaching. I never had to worry about Gale in the first book. In the second book, anyone could be a victim. In terms of building towards a climax in the third book, I think this book does do really well.
Catching Fire also carries on Collins’ skill at developing characters in pretty much no time at all. We get to know some characters from the first book better, and get to meet a lot of interesting new characters too.
I was a little disappointed when it became clear we were going back to the arena for another round of the Hunger Games, because it felt too much like it would be a repeat. In some ways it was, but it was also very different in very interesting ways–although I was hoping for more dramatic twists than actually developed.
As much as I liked a lot of the characters, I somehow liked Katniss less in this book, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. Maybe it was that some of her reactions didn’t make her quite as sympathetic. Maybe it was because there’s clearly something really big developing in terms of a revolution, and Katniss can’t quite seem to figure out how to engage with it, or even if she definitely wants to. Maybe it’s that she still can’t quite commit definitely to Gale or Peeta, even though she has both time and opportunity (unlike in the first book). Maybe it’s that she completely fails to see a clue to the twist ending that I found almost painfully obvious (though maybe that’s the author’s fault). I still like Katniss–but something was a little bit off, and I wasn’t staunchly with her in the same way I was in the first book. On the other hand, I might’ve liked Peeta better–except I can’t quite decide if he’s skirting too close to being too good.
I think it’s the unfocused plot and whatever it is that’s bothering me about Katniss that leads me to rank this one a bit below the first one. But don’t get me wrong–it’s still better than a lot of other books! I’m really hopeful for the conclusion to the trilogy.
And I will say this for Catching Fire–there’s a fantastic moment in here that is probably my favorite of the trilogy so far. I don’t want to give it away for anyone who hasn’t read it, but for those who have–it’s the interviews with Caesar, especially Peeta’s. Brilliant.
Author’s site: http://www.thehungergames.co.uk/