Review: Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, Book 2)

Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic
Genre: Young adult, thriller

The Hunger Games 2: Electrified Fence Boogaloo.

The author’s notes in the first Hunger Games book left me intrigued as to how the sequel was going to pan out. Suzanne Collins admitted that she hadn’t necessarily set out to write a trilogy, but she’d known that at the end of the first book the story was far from over, so I wondered whether she’d be able to maintain her momentum: the first book was fast, taut and densely-plotted, but a large part of that was due to the high-pressure atmosphere of The Hunger Games themselves. Would the story hold up back in the outside world?

Not that I want to be all fence-sitty about it, but the answer is “yes and no”. The sequel very deftly builds up a huge sense of danger, as it becomes clear that President Snow views Katniss as a troublemaker and wants her silenced by any means necessary – but it perhaps spends a little bit too long sitting on this feeling. Having spent the first book being a resilient, pro-active heroine, Katniss is turned rather inert by the developments in book two: too afraid of the repercussions for her loved ones to take much decisive action – which is realistic, but not as enjoyable from the perspective of the reader. However, I applaud Collins’s unflinching portrayal of the tyrannical ruling of Panem and the consequences for transgressors – it’s no surprise that Katniss is reluctant to be as outspoken as she once was considering the revenge the officials take on Gale.

Things definitely pick up when the Quarter Quell begins, but the book takes rather a long time getting there, to the point where these Hunger Games feel a little rushed, in order to get to the end without making this book a tome the size of one of the later Harry Potters. It’s a shame, because this competition is more interesting than the first one, in many ways: as an anniversary edition, it’s a landmark event and things are so much harder for the contestants. The idea of an All-Stars edition is a masterstroke on Collins’s part: it’s both an entirely valid existing TV trope and a handy way of making Katniss feel like the novice again, despite having already won The Hunger Games once, because she’s now up against 23 other contestants in exactly the same position, many of whom are every bit as sneaky and hardy as she is.

This, in turn, gives us a wider and more charismatic cast than the first book did – a lot of the contestants in the 74th Games were, by necessity, not heavily featured; this time around, we get to spend more time with a lot of them, and alliances are being formed. Far more so than in the first book, I found myself getting genuinely attached to the other contestants and fearing the prospect of their deaths, particularly Finnick and Johanna. (My devotion to Finnick may not be entirely unrelated to Collins’s extensive descriptions of his handsomeness. I’m not made of stone.)

In terms of the characters brought on from the first book, there are a few frustrations. Katniss remains an engaging heroine, and the traumas inflicted on her by the first Games are well-realised, but there were still moments in this book where I found her frustratingly lacking in savviness, considering everything she’s been through. Frequently I’d have figured out what was going on ten pages or so before Katniss cottoned on, which not only made reading her deliberations slightly laborious, but also left me wondering how she’d managed to stay alive so long if she wasn’t learning these lessons quicker. At least she still feels well-rounded though, which is more than I can say for Peeta and Gale: they feel frustratingly one-dimensional both as characters and love interests. Despite having a greater presence in this novel than he did in the first one, Gale is still absent for a large chunk of the book, and without seeing more of him and Katniss together, it’s hard to buy him as the love of Katniss’s life, and Peeta being presented as this sacrificial martyr dedicated to protecting Katniss at all costs leaves him feeling rather hollow as well.

I sound like I’m griping a lot, but really I’m just nit-picking: this is still a very strong follow-up to the first book with lots of excellent twists in it and enough new material not to feel like a retread of the first one. It also has an ending that dealt me a real smack in the face, and has a killer sequel hook. And now that I’ve written the review for this one, I can finally start reading the final part…

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2 thoughts on “Review: Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, Book 2)

  1. I too was skeptical about the viability of a quality sequel to “The Hunger Games”, but am in agreement with you that “Catching Fire” certainly does a bit of the job. My opinion essentially chimes with yours in that I enjoyed it but occasionally found Katniss to be lacking the savvy nature that she is supposed to possess in bucketloads, as well as feeling the shallow love triangle to be particularly laboured.

  2. Radad says:

    The sequel is OK but I would have much rather seen Katniss mentor another teen through the games, as she was so afraid of that in Book 1 and I think it would have been a much more interesting and different dynamic. The Quarter Quell (aka all stars) would have been better if it had only been half (or less) of this book – or been a part of book 3.

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