Title: Catching Fire (book #2 of The Hunger Games)
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic, 2009
It’s always tricky to review a novel that has had so much hype surrounding it, and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins is no exception. We continue from where things were left off in book one for our plucky heroine, Katniss Everdeen, who discovers that her reward as victor of the Hunger Games is not all it’s cracked up to be.
She’d hoped to enjoy a life of quiet comfort with her family, and perhaps pursue her intended love interest, Gale, but there’s the not-so-small matter of her much-televised engagement to Peeta. And, of course, the rather dastardly President Snow, who’s coercing her to get married.
In surviving the Hunger Games, Katniss has unwittingly become the figurehead of a rebellion and the districts are on the verge of open revolt. She has no choice but to go along with Snow’s plans, because he has threatened her loved ones.
While the first half of the story leads you to believe that Katniss will begin to get actively involved in overthrowing the Capitol, she and all the victors from the past 25 years find themselves swept up in a Reaping again – this time as unwilling participants in the Quarter Quell games.
In this sense, Catching Fire is doomed to repeat the theme of The Hunger Games and doesn’t cover much in the way of new ground. It lacks some of the uncertainty and tension that we faced in the first book.
Once again, and perhaps regrettably so, Katniss is robbed of the opportunity to explore the moral issues surrounding the act of having to kill others to survive while providing entertainment for the masses. This time it is thanks to a hostile arena that conveniently does the killing on players’ behalf – verging on deus ex machina to a degree. When she does kill, the act hardly seems to make a dent on her emotionally or intellectually and the victim is reduced to a mere name.
As a character, Katniss doesn’t grow much; she is still as self-absorbed as she was in The Hunger Games and I was often left wondering about what redeeming qualities (beyond her propensity for self-sacrifice to save others) she possessed. Her childish outbursts at key moments didn’t make me warm to her either. I suspect she appeals to readers in her blandness, as a sort of everywoman.
Catching Fire is still an engaging read despite pacing issues of the first half, touching on many issues that make dystopian settings so fascinating.