I clasp the flask between my hands even though the warmth from the tea has long since leached into the frozen air.
Catching Fire is the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy, so you might not want to read this review if you haven’t read the first book, The Hunger Games, as some vital plot secrets are revealed!
There is always a worry when opening the second book of a trilogy that it will never match up to the first installment and will, effectively, kill the series before you even get to the last book. Fortunately for Hunger Games fans, Collins sidesteps this by delivering a fantastic follow-up (possibly my favourite of the trilogy) in Catching Fire. It satisfyingly picks up where The Hunger Games left off but delves much further into the belly of the beast, expanding the Panem world and focussing on a much darker world of whispered rebellion and attempted suppression.
Catching Fire is grittier and much tenser in atmosphere as the consequences of Katniss’s actions at the end of THG are explored. The repercussions of that one small act of survival begin to emerge as Katniss and Peeta embark on their victory tour of the districts: the ‘star-crossed lovers’ on show for everyone to see and yet they come to symbolise something much more dangerous to the Capitol and social order.
Whilst some readers might be craving an all-guns-blazing sequel and feel disappointed by the slower first half of Catching Fire, personally I loved Collins’ shift in focus towards building up suspense and background, adding depth to characters and exploring the history of Panem and the Hunger Games. Momentum is slower I grant you but I really enjoyed basking in the story’s detail – the decadence of the Capitol social scene, the post-traumatic stress of surviving the games, changing District life – and getting to understand more about the characters as their histories are exposed, most notably Haymitch’s past.
Katniss has to rebuild her life as a victor, coming to terms with being in the spotlight and the confusing emotions resulting from her very public love affair with Peeta and secret connection to Gale. If you watch the films you may be pretty anti-Peeta for, as a love-interest for Katniss, he’s a bit of a wet lettuce – constantly needing direction, saving and altogether hardly fanciable. Yet in re-reading Catching Fire I did come to love him a little bit more as I came to understand him better, much more strength in his silence than seen at first glance!
There is a massive twist in the tale which speeds up the narrative and injects some serious action into this sequel. In a bid to quash any rebellion, the Capitol plays a sinister hand for the Quarter Quell Games – reaping tributes from the existing District victors. I loved the chance to see another arena and to meet all the previous victors (especially the beautiful Finnick Odair and sarcastic Johanna Mason) but ooo is it a sadistic turn of events! The second half of the book is incredibly fast-paced and, for those wanting action, action and more action, it is well worth waiting for! The 75th Games arena is far superior a concept than the one in the previous book and the levels of suspicion and uncertainty between tributes are heightened beyond belief.
The end of CF is probably the biggest, most explosive (literally!) cliff-hanger to a story I have come across in YA fiction for a long time, if ever! It leads the story perfectly into the final installment, Mockingjay, whilst rounding the second story off with a bang!