Sunday, September 16, 2012

Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire picks up a short while after the end of The Hunger Games with Katniss at odds with both Peeta and Gale and with President Snow working to contain the effects of Katniss's actions in the Games by threatening her into proving to the country that she is just a girl madly in love, who only wanted to not lose her sweetheart. She doesn't know it but unrest is growing in Panem, and she with her mockingjay is the symbol of the rebellion. This dynamic is the foundation of the story from here on out - people planning and plotting in the background while all Katniss really wants is to live in peace with her family and to spend her days hunting. She is the reluctant hero, with everybody but herself realizing her influence, and using her for their purposes.
The first part of the book is relatively slow, after all Katniss is at her best in a survival situation and whiling away her time at 12 isn't particularly action-packed, but when the rules of the Quarter Quell are announced and there isn't a shadow of a doubt that the Capitol is out for her blood action slams into high gear and doesn't let up will the very end in the best traditions of The Hunger Games.
My favorite part of this book was the introduction of new characters who enriched the world Suzanne Collins created, allowing us a peek at the past victors and their lives of annual coaching of tributes and the Capitol keeping them all on an unimaginably tight leash. Once again Katniss can't see beyond the immediate task at hand but she has a good heart and a mentor who is possibly the craftiest victor in the history of the Games. I have to say, the relationship between Katniss and Haymitch is possibly the most interesting one in the series. They don't particularly like each other but it's hard to doubt that they are as similar as any other two characters in this series and watching them interact and work together gave spice to the story.
Throughout the book I couldn't shake the feeling that while Katniss's affection for Peeta was real it somehow only bloomed under pressure from the Capitol. At home she was a teenager who did her best and was angry at him for not understanding the game she was made to play, yet as soon as the cameras were on them and no place was outside of the Capitol's earshot she began to need him, understand him and want to support him. It was like a circumstance-activated survival instinct that made her acknowledge Peeta as an ally only under certain conditions. I didn't get an impression that Katniss herself realized this, but as I said earlier, she is at her best when lives are on the line and it's time to act, not in analyzing and introspection.
Whereas The Hunger Games ended with things as buttoned up as they could be Catching Fire ended on a cliffhanger that left me staring at the page with my brain barely able to process what happened and doing the equivalent of the "Wait, what?!?!" stutter. I actually had to re-read the last few pages before things snapped into place in my mind. When they finally did I knew that Mockingjay was going to be good. Really good. Fortunately I already had the book.

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