Review first published 15/04/12
The 74th Hunger Games are over and District 12’s champions, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, are now living in the Victor’s Village with every comfort afforded to them.
Howver, all is not well in the state of Panem in the aftermath of Katniss and Peeta’s actions which led them to becoming the Games’ first joint Victors and President Snow personally presents Katniss with a task which is more dangerous than anything she encountered during her time in The Hunger Games… a choice that is not only dangerous to her, but all of the people she holds dear.
After reading “The Hunger Games”, I was wondering how “Catching Fire” was going to top it… or whether it was going to suffer from the book version of “Second Album Syndrome” where the follow up isn’t as good as the original. For me, neither happened. What I got from “Catching Fire” that was as good as and an expansion of the original.
I have nicknamed this book, “The Empire Strikes Back” of this series (having not read the series finale “Mockingjay” yet). The reasons for this are that this doesn’t divert away from what made “The Hunger Games” so successful plus it deeper, darker and goes more into the psychology and relationships between the cast as a whole.
Like the original, the book is written from Katniss’s point of view, but her character has matured somewhat due to her experiences within the arena and through the experiences she receives in the early part of “Catching Fire”. Pretty much gone is the naive young woman of the original, now she is more politically savvy of the power she wields through the court of public opinion – this brought into sharp focus in her dealings with President Snow (or as I shall now nickname him, “Emperor Git Face The First – Dark Lord of All and Ruiner of Happiness for the Sainted Katniss and Peeta” – which audience member shouted that I was biased *Grins*).
Katniss’s primary relationships are, again, with her friend, Gale, and her Peeta. It’s laid out firmly that, in her mind, Katniss feels that she and Gale are the natural pairing considering their shared past of both losing their fathers in the same accident and their hunting partnership.
On the other hand, she feels that her feelings for Peeta are based on the more palatable relationship of convenience and lies that she speaks of at the end of “The Hunger Games”, but this is only part of the story during this book. You get the feeling that there is something deeper within in the way that the experiences that she and Peeta had in the arena informs their later behaviour – for example, the fact that they sleep together simply to stop the nightmares of the other. Basically, although the bets are still on as to whether they will be romantic partners or not, there is a deep bond of love and trust within the pair which could be considered as a mutual dependency due to their experiences.
In fact, dependency appears to be a major plot thread running throughout this book, not only with Katniss and Peeta. You have Haymitch still dependent on alcohol, the characters known as “The Morphlings” – wasted away by their drug addiction, and new major character Finnick is addicted to the cult of celebrity and receiving favours from those who fall in love with the image he projects. All these characters have their own “coping strategies”, for want of a better phrase, to what had happened to them and it’ll be interesting to see how this pans out, particularly for the Katniss/Peeta/Gale dynamic.
It’s said that epic villains – whether it be in books, theatre, television or film – aren’t villains in their own mind and you get a sense of that in the character of Snow. He sees his actions as maintaining the ticking clock that is Panem. What the reader truly gets a sense of in “Catching Fire” is that the grip is tightening due to what Katniss represents and the violence that is alluded to by Rue in “The Hunger Games” is very much brought to the fore in this book – not only to strangers but to characters that we have grown to admire and love in the first book.
Without, hopefully, spoiling this book for anyone who hasn’t read it, it is epic in it’s scope – geographic, emotional, psychological and moral – especially for Katniss, who asks some very hard questions of herself throughout – especially within the Quarter Quell when she decides to stop being a victim of the actions around her, start going on the attack, and rather than being a tribute, she becomes as much a killer in her own mind as The Capitol whom she abhors, albeit from the noble motives of wanting to protect Peeta.
Although, it took me a week to read this book, it was because I was interrupted by real life, so I would have finished it a lot earlier – it is that much of a page turner. As I say earlier,”Catching Fire” no better or worse than “The Hunger Games”, it’s deeper and really gets into the guts of the world that Suzanne Collins sets up in the original. I am really looking forward to how the story pans out in “Mockingjay”.