by Suzanne Collins
Second book in The Hunger Games trilogy.
The first book in the series was reviewed here.
This review contains spoilers.
Against all odds, Katniss and Peeta won the Hunger Games together, becoming the first pair of victors in the history of the games. They are finally safe. But President Snow, leader of Panem, is furious that the two teens from District 12, poorest of the districts, found a way to beat the Capitol’s power. As their defiant act inspires some districts to rebellion, Snow confronts Katniss with an ultimatum: if she cannot convince the districts that her actions are driven by her love for Peeta, not a desire to throw off the Capitol’s control, he will have her executed and those she loved punished severely. Worse, the Capitol has a nasty trick up its sleeve for the upcoming 75th Hunger Games that even Katniss and Peeta never anticipated…
Catching Fire starts out rather slowly – the first half of the book is devoted to world-building as Katniss and Peeta travel around the country on their victory tour. For the first time, we see the other districts and learn what life is like outside the polar extremes of impoverished District 12 and the ritzy Capitol. Katniss’ confrontation with President Snow also showcases just how controlling and cruel the Capitol can be; her failure to impress Snow and suppress rebellion gives the government the impetus it needs to really crack down on the few freedoms enjoyed in the districts. It’s heartbreaking to read the accounts of starvation and cruel beatings endured by the residents of Katniss’ village.
Katniss is clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as she tries to integrate back into regular society. She has nightmares about her time in the Games and struggles to reconcile her actions then with her family life in District 12. This horror is only made worse by the fact that the Capitol has made her into a figurehead. As part of her ploy to play the lovestruck teen, she agrees to marry Peeta in a heavily publicized wedding, and the glitzy gowns she’s sent to choose from seem to mock her. Katniss has never been a very empathetic person, and she has her bad moments here (especially when it comes to the two guys in her life, Gale and Peeta). But though the people from the Capitol disgust her with their frivolous fashion and wasteful lifestyles, Katniss tries to understand them and where their ideas come from.
Of course, the biggest twist in the book is the cruel rules of the Quarter Quell, which state that the 75th Hunger Games tributes must be pulled from the pool of existing victors. Although Snow claims that this was written into the original document that founded the Hunger Games, it seems quite likely that it is retribution against Katniss and the hope her actions inspired in the districts. The plan backfires on the Capitol in ways that they should have predicted. Since the victors have all been on TV each year as contestants or mentors, they are the Capitol’s celebrities, and unease about this latest development spreads even among their privileged class. The victors are also used to the publicity surrounding the Games, and many of them take advantage of their television time to speak out against the Capitol. Besides, the contestants all know each other, and it’s easier for them to collaborate and make alliances.
Once Katniss is back in the ring, it’s disturbing to see how easily she transitions into a soldier again. She’s quick to contemplate killing her fellow contestants, even her allies. At one point, I think she says something along the lines of good people don’t survive the arena, and her transformation seems to support this. It serves to emphasize that Peeta’s survival was a fluke, and his kindness and sweet nature contrasts all the more with her increased ruthlessness.
Poor Peeta. There’s an awkward love triangle between him, Gale and Katniss that I tended to ignore, since Gale hasn’t got much of a personality or presence and Peeta seems too wholesome to make it to the end of the series. Considering Katniss is doing her best to ignore the situation, too, I don’t feel too badly about my lack of attention.
4 out of 5 stars
To read more about Catching Fire, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.
Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Mushishi Vol. 1 by Yuki Urushibara
2011: Sidebar: Review Status For Books
2010: Happy Cafe Vol. 1 by Kou Matsuzuki
2009: Contest: A Tale of Romance for Valentine's Day