Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Warning! This review contains spoilers from the first two books of The Hunger Games trilogy. For a spoiler-free introduction to the trilogy, see my review of The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games continues in book two of the trilogy. After the excitement of the first book, I was curious (though not doubtful) to see if the second book could successfully continue the momentum of the story. It starts off relatively slow (with a few punctuated moments of excitement), even as the first book did, but picks up to at least as exciting a crescendo as the first book, if not more so.

In the beginning I was wondering what this book would cover, since in the first, we had already been treated to an occasion of the Hunger Games. That's when the Victory Tour came in, and I was thinking, oh, hey, this'll be a great opportunity to introduce each of the districts! But the author didn't quite have that in mind, and instead, moved quickly through the Victory Tour and on to even more exciting events that follow it.

Nevertheless, the scene where Katniss speaks to District 11 was one of the most touching in the book, and the following public execution of "the whistler" was one of my favorite scenes, as it so brutally - and for me unexpectedly - brought home the point that hey, the Capitol is ruthless and dangerous, remember? In the first book, there was almost a sense of distance between the Capitol's residents (some of which, like Cinna and his crew, were actually likable) and the brutality they sponsored (i.e., the Hunger Games themselves), that you almost couldn't reconcile the two, and you had to ask the question, if these people are generally decent, how can they possibly support the Hunger Games? It didn't quite add up.

Here, in Catching Fire, you get to see more of the bureaucracy, particularly in President Snow himself, who personally embodies the calculated brutality of the games, and he at least offers some explanation for the Capitol's support of the games, in that the subjugation of the districts is required for the entire nation to continue running smoothly. However, of course, you have to be skeptical of the tyrant's word, and consider that he probably just relishes his power - forcing the poor districts to labor for the convenience of the rich Capitol - as well he probably has a sadistic streak that he enjoys being able to get away with exerting. But then, of course, you come to the conclusion that the majority of the Capitol residents are probably not so brutal or politically minded, and have probably been duped by censorship and propaganda, and bought off with the comforts that the twelve district's labor laboriously produces.

Which brings us to the interviews for the Quarter Quell. But before that, I'll admit that I was shocked when it became clear that Katniss would go back into the arena. When the topic of the Quell came up, I thought, oh, hey, there's an idea, there'll be another Hunger Games in this book! And since it's this "Quarter Quell" thing, it'll be even more bombastic than the last one! But I still didn't think Katniss would return. I figured she'd probably mentor, and the President would probably do something specific to torture her, like force Prim into the arena this time. But, as it becomes clear by the end of the book, Snow's overconfidence in his own power, leading to the decision to put previous Games' victors back in the arena, was a huge mistake.

The interviews before the Games have always managed to be surprisingly climactic, and while the last games' interviews were spot on, these ones for the Quell were unbelievable. Totally brilliant, the way they managed to turn the Games around, and play off their (especially Katniss & Peeta) popularity to practically turn the Capitol's residents itself against the Capitol. So totally inspiring. And even though they still had to go back in the arena (quite exciting once again, and with a very different flavor than the last Games), in the end their solidarity paid off.

It's funny, but as I was getting towards the end of the book, and the Games relentlessly continued on, I started thinking to myself, there's only so many pages left, there's no way they can wrap up the Games that fast, unless something drastic is going to happen. And then, as the other tributes failed to die off quickly enough, I started worrying that maybe Katniss was actually going to die in these Games, and that would be the abrupt ending of the book. A horrifying thought, and though that isn't what happened, the ending to the Games was indeed abrupt, but very exciting.

And now the shit has really hit the fan. The rebellion is on for sure. I love the symbolism of the mockingjay, even as Katniss has spent so much time blissfully ignorant of its meaning, and the significance of her part in the whole 'game' (the rebels' game). And the idea that the mysterious District 13, the alleged secret underground base for the rebels, used to deal in nuclear development is too exciting to write off as the hopeful delusion of the desperate. I'm confident that the final book in the trilogy will offer an exciting and fitting conclusion to this story, but it remains (to me) to be seen who will survive and how the world will fare, for better or worse, when the dust clears.


  1. Even though Catching Fire was my least favorite of the three, I couldn't be happier with how it plays out. (Incidentally, picking my least favorite Hunger Games novel is like picking my least favorite extended jam on EKTIN.) With such an evocative, unique, and just downright interesting concept of the hunger games (not just pitting people against each other but with the arena variation and sponsor involvement and such) it'd be a shame to go through the series and only have the one Hunger Games from the first book. In CF they managed to give us more Hunger Games but not dwell on it as much, kind of giving us the best of both worlds.

    Agreed about the District 11 moment. One of my favorites in the series. Also a big fan of the hand holding during the interview. True beauty.

  2. True. I was excited to learn a little bit more about past Hunger Games, especially the one that Haymitch won, and how he managed that. That's something I'd been curious about even in the first book. Be crazy if somebody started like a series of annual Hunger Games tv specials or direct-to-video movies or something, with unique characters and arenas each year. Staged, of course.