Title: Catching Fire
Series: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Is this book for me? If you liked the Hunger Games, yes. Definitely. If you didn’t read the Hunger Games, then go read it. If you didn’t like it, then no. Simple enough.
Book two of a trilogy. We already know the characters and the premise, but how does the second installment work?…
Well, it isn’t quite as interesting from start to finish as the first book. The beginning (or the first half, rather) is somewhat too long and drawn-out. I suppose the purpose of said length is to bring more tension to the story, to have an ominous calm before the storm. It just doesn’t work for me.
So. Our protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, is in trouble. Deep, political trouble. Her family and friends are threatened by the president and she must play a certain role to save them. She’s a survivor, so she tries. But she’s also a crappy actress, so it isn’t certain she can play that role.
Still, the drawn-out beginning means we get to see more of the world of the Hunger Games – the Districts, the growing social restlessness, the society of the Capitol. Unfortunately, what we get is insufficient to really understand the implications of some of the facts that we’re given. A revolt is about to break out, but we don’t know the relative sizes and strengths of the revolting Districts versus the oppressing Capitol. We’ve seen the vast difference in technology between the oppressors and the oppressed, but how strong is the strongest tech? How much of it is there? The vagueness doesn’t work in the book’s favor.
The second half of the book, though, is where the pacing is restored. We go back to the arena, back to the 24 people who need to be in there, back to the idea of a sole survivor. Initially, I feared that Collins would recycle her ideas from the first book and give us the same thing over again, quirking just enough elements to have us be annoyed at the repetition. Not so. The arena doesn’t look very natural, as did the first book’s forest. Instead, it’s clearly a man-made construct, a mechanism with artificial rules to be figured out. And the dynamics between the contestants are almost entirely different. The seventy-fifth edition of the Hunger Games is just as exciting as the seventy-fourth.
All in all, Suzanne Collins manages to create something new, to spin the story in such a way as to avoid the pitfalls of having to reuse a unique idea in a sequel. The only thing that really draws it back is the first half, with its faults. But even so, it’s an interesting, fun, engaging book.