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Suzanne Collins – Catching Fire

December 29, 2009

151. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (2009)
Hunger Games, Book 2

Read my review of:
Book 1: The Hunger Games

Read By: Carolyn McCormick
Length: 11h 36m (400 pages)

Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Sci-Fi

Started: 09 December 2009
Finished: 22 December 2009

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? Are you kidding? After tearing through The Hunger Games, there was no way I wasn’t going to immediately dive into this one.

Want a life of peace?
Inciting a rebellion
isn’t the best way…

Summary: After winning the annual Hunger Games, life was supposed to be easy – a house in Victor’s Village, an ample supply of money and food, and a return to the safety of their home District. But life for Katniss is never going to be safe again. Because she won the Games by breaking the rules, she’s now a symbol of defiance against the Capitol, and a figurehead for uprising that are occurring across the Districts. Of course, the government does not take threats to its power lightly, and Katniss must convince everyone that her actions were born from love for Peeta, and not from rebellion. Because now, more is on the line than ever before: not just Katniss’s life, and that of her family and friends. And on top of everything else, the coming year is the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games, a “celebration” that will inevitably lead to more terrors than Katniss ever could have dreamed.

Review: The Hunger Games is without question a difficult act to follow. Catching Fire, however, mostly makes the grade, despite some flaws that are largely inherent to its position in the middle of a trilogy.

Everything that I loved about The Hunger Games is still present in Catching Fire. The worldbuilding is extraordinarily vivid and imaginative, and is done very deftly without sacrificing the flow of the story. The story itself is still thoroughly compelling, and still manages to keep a high level of tension and excitement, even though Katniss is not actively fighting for her life on every page. (Directly, at least. On another level, every thing she does still has just as much impact on her chances for survival as it did when she was in the arena, but in this installment, a lot of the action has become less physical and more psychological.) There is still an excellent blend of “girl stuff” and “boy stuff” – the romance elements are present but not overwhelming, and the action/adventure parts are happening to intensely sympathetic characters. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to listen to Catching Fire in one large chunk, as I did The Hunger Games, I was still thoroughly involved in the story, and always wanting to go back and listen to more.

So, all of the good stuff is still there, and yet, it doesn’t quite reach the bar set by the first installment in the series. Part of that is certainly due to the fact that it’s a second book – the thrill of discovering and exploring a new world is gone. Part of that is also certainly due to the fact that it’s a second book of three – the initial hook is past, but the big battle isn’t here yet, so as a middle book there’s a lot of build-up without a corresponding amount of pay-off. These problems, though, I think are inherent in the format, and I can’t really dock Catching Fire for them too much. It certainly does have its own complete internal story arc (both externally, and internally to Katniss) with a clear structure and ending (with one hell of a cliffhanger) – something that is too frequently overlooked in middle books.

My problems with this book itself are two-fold: 1) some pacing/plotting issues, and 2) damn, Katniss is dumb. To tackle the first point: while I stayed interested throughout the book, the first half is noticeably slower than the second. The first half is mostly internal conflict, while the second is mostly external conflict, and while that doesn’t automatically mean more/less interesting, the action-packed second half made it feel like in retrospect like not much happened during the first, even though that’s not necessarily true.

And now, to Katniss. What to say? I like Katniss, she’s well-characterized and very sympathetic, and I absolutely am rooting for her… but damn, do I ever just want to slap her and tell her to stop being a moron sometimes. Threads of this were noticeable in the first book, but in Catching Fire, I felt like she was slipping over the border from believable naivete into outright stupidity. She’s very bright a lot of the time – like in survival situations – which makes her complete lack of an inner lie detector that much more frustrating. It annoyed me to no end that she’d trust the government to tell her the truth, but not her own friends and allies. This was also my basis for finding the plot a little bit predictable in places – I mean, I’ve read fiction before, I knew that the totalitarian dystopian government wasn’t going to leave the plucky, defiant heroine alone, but it takes Katniss chapters to figure out twists that I saw coming in the middle of the *first* book.

Even with all of that, however, I still really enjoyed it, and will now join the ranks of rabid fans eagerly awaiting the next book. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: This book is not a stand-alone by any means; the amount of backstory given is slim-to-none. However, I think almost everyone who reads The Hunger Games will be clamoring to get their hands on this one too, and it’s certainly a satisfying – if not quite perfect – sequel.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Suzanne Collins’s website

Other Reviews: Adventures in Reading, All About {n}, Angieville, Bart’s Bookshelf, Bib-Laura-graphy, The Bluestocking Society, Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell, The Book Muncher, Books I Done Read, A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, Confessions of a Bibliophile, Dear Author, Devourer of Books, Dreadlock Girl, Everyday Reading, I Heart Monster, In Bed With Books, Karin’s Book Nook, Linus’s Blanket, My Friend Amy, Nine Seven Eight, Persnickety Snark, Presenting Lenore, Reading Rocks, Rhapsody in Books Weblog, Stephanie’s Written Word, Stuff as Dreams are Made On, YAnnabe

Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: I clasp the flask between my hands, even though the warmth from the tea has long since leached into the frozen air.

Cover Thoughts: I like the colors better than the stark black of The Hunger Games, and there are a couple of subtle touches that I appreciate now that I’ve read the book, but I’m still not crazy about it… it just doesn’t scream “read me!” to me.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. December 29, 2009 6:33 am

    I can’t wait for book 3! ;)

    You’re right of course this one does have some of the issues nearly all trilogies suffer from, but for me the characters just take me past all that.

    That said Katniss does need a good shake, now and then! ;)

  2. December 29, 2009 7:47 am

    I agree with you about Katniss being dumb, which is hard to swallow given how smart she is in the games. I liked this one because you got a better look at how people in the other districts live, which was missing for the most part in the first book. The wait for the last book is killing me!


    • December 31, 2009 9:45 am

      diaryofaneccentric – That’s a good point; I did really like learning about the broader world.

  3. December 29, 2009 9:19 am

    I agree that part of the reason the 2nd isn’t quite as good as the first is because, as you put it so well, “the thrill of discovering and exploring a new world is gone.” Still, some sequels just never approach the first, but this one is pretty darn close! I would compliment you on how good your review is, but you omitted one ESSENTIAL element! Viz, are you Team Peeta or Team Gale?!!!! (which of course is analogous to Team Eric or Team Bill!)

    • December 31, 2009 9:48 am

      rhapsody – I omitted that point because the answer is kind of neither. I would be Team Peeta, but I think he’s too good for Katniss, and their relationship would be permanently unequal, which isn’t fair to him. And Gale… I don’t know, we don’t know him that well, but at the moment, he just reads as a little bit brooding and possessive and annoying.

  4. December 29, 2009 9:20 am

    Everyone thinks Katniss is dumb, but I don’t necessarily see it. She’s spending all her time fighting for her life; it doesn’t give her a lot of down time to reflect on people’s motives. (Plus, she’s the oldest child and I read a thing that says that people without older siblings are less good at detecting when they’re being lied to.)

    • December 31, 2009 9:51 am

      Jenny – On the one hand, I see what you’re saying, but on the other hand, Katniss didn’t have a lot to do for the first half of this book OTHER than reflect on people’s motives (and coming up with the wrong conclusions).

      I wonder if that oldest thing is true… I’m an oldest, and I know I’m a terrible liar, but I don’t know if I’m any better or worse at knowing when I’m being lied to.

  5. December 29, 2009 12:49 pm

    I felt the same way about this book. It just didn’t measure up to The Hunger Games. I was pretty annoyed that they ended up in the Games AGAIN! Grrr. And, yes, Katniss needs a little slapping at times.

    • December 31, 2009 9:51 am

      Jessica – I had an inkling from the beginning that that was going to happen, so I was pretty much resigned to it.

  6. December 29, 2009 12:59 pm

    I have to third or fourth or fifth the Katinss being dense point. That was frustrating. I get that she’s not really politically saavy, that she’s much more of a do-er than a thinker which is why she tends to be good at the Games, but at some point she has to wake up to what’s happening on the outside or decide to trust people to help her.

    • December 31, 2009 9:52 am

      Kim – Clearly she just hasn’t read enough dystopian fiction. :)

  7. December 29, 2009 7:11 pm

    I am looking forward to the third book in this series when it comes out.

    • December 31, 2009 9:53 am

      Kailana – You, me, and everyone else who’s read this one, I think. :)

  8. December 30, 2009 4:31 pm

    What you said about Katniss also frustrated me so much!! When it was announced that two people from the winners group had to be picked for the next hunger games, she was all, “Okay, well that’s me. I hate to do it, but I’m going to have to go again.” I was so mad at her for being so submissive. I thought, after seeing the hell of the arena and all those terrible things that the government put these young children through, she would at least pause and consider OUTRIGHT rebellion. But, no, instead she was resigned to do it again. I guess that’s in her nature, though. I don’t think she’s really outright rebellious like Gale is, I think she’s a survivor and will do what it takes to survive, not necessarily what is right.

    • December 31, 2009 9:54 am

      Sharry – That’s interesting. I, also, was expecting a little bit more fomenting of revolution than this book provided, but it didn’t bother me, because I thought Katniss’s motives for NOT doing it were pretty understandable.

  9. December 31, 2009 10:36 pm

    Great review! I also reviewed it here :

    You’ll see that I had a similar opinion on Katniss’s stupidity. She was SO clueless, I was completely annoyed! I still loved the book and I cannot wait for the third installment; here’s hoping that Katniss will get her brain back by then!

  10. January 1, 2010 1:12 am

    I didn’t slow down while reading long enough to think about anything, haha! But you make good points.

    I just can’t wait til book 3 comes out this year. (Hey, look, it’s 2010!)

  11. shuyong permalink
    July 10, 2010 11:53 pm

    Can’t wait for Book 3 too!


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