My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I think Suzanne Collins has achieved something very rare, with her second installment in The Hunger Games series. In Catching Fire, she wrote a darker sequel that used the strength of a great platform from book #1...and yet managed to expand her writing into an amazing tale that I simply couldn’t put down. This book was just as addicting - if not more - than The Hunger Games.
Catching Fire starts after Katniss and Peeta’s shocking double victory in the 74th Hunger Games of Panem, where they are taken back to their homes in District 12. However, they have very little time to themselves before they're expected to participate in their Victory Tour - were the two will be whisked away by their stylists, designers, and Haymitch and Effie - and forced to visit each of the districts, in a drawn out celebration of their survival.
But that's just the beginning of the story, as Collins unfolds scene after scene in the varying districts they visit – full of crowds that aren't trying to fake a happiness that simply isn’t there. Many speculate how Katniss and Peeta were manipulated during the Games by all those involved. And most of them struggle with the urge to resist the Capital – knowing that this will only win them, a very public death. The unsuccessful rebellion 75 years prior is a constant reminder.
Catching Fire brings more history behind Panem - and along with it, the constant fears of District 12 that have not at all been alleviated by Katniss and Peeta’s victory in the Games. President Snow is enraged by Katniss’ rebellious tactics that challenge everything he exists to enforce. He even decides to make a personal visit – and makes it clear, that he will destroy anything and everything that she loves, if she doesn’t comply. And suddenly the District is inundated with dozens of new Peacekeepers, instructed to take over the lax law enforcement that currently exists. Security is tightened, the electric fence that has surrounded their district without electricity for years, has been turned on - and they are making public demonstrations with those that disobey.
What’s worse, is that this year marks the 75th anniversary of the districts’ defeat - and brings with it, the third Quarter Quell: a quarter century celebration that mixes the yearly Game, into a twisted form of itself. It’s more brutal and callous than ever, as the Capital forces the reminder onto its patrons that all districts, are beneath them. But this year, the twist is even more terrifying than it’s ever been before. President Snow announces that as a reminder to all of the rebels within each District, not even the strongest among them can overcome the power of the Capital. As a result, the male and female tributes selected for the 75th Hunger Games, will all be reaped from their existing pool of victors. And since District 12 has only had 3 victors, one female and two males – this means that Katniss will again, be fighting for her life.
Just when I thought Catching Fire couldn't possibly hold everything within its 391 pages, Collins manages to push the envelope even further, up to the very end. She adds a condensed version of the Hunger Games, in the last third of the book – not pausing for a moment, to let readers believe that she will simply just repeat what worked for her in The Hunger Games. Why I even questioned this at all, is beyond me.
The constant threats of the Capitol, and the ease in which they demonstrate their control, was a continuous source of paranoia in the first book – and Collins doesn’t disappoint in bringing that forward into Catching Fire. It’s evident throughout the story, as the Capital publically punishes those that have disobeyed – even in circumstances from many years prior. It’s no different for the rebels of District 12, where Peacekeepers have set fire to buildings, destroying them - and have even resorted to diminishing their food supply. But all of the districts suffer under Katniss and Peeta’s victory – even if they internally rejoice in the couple’s single act of rebellion against the Capital – fueling their belief for a better future.
I am amazed how Collins has added even more complications to the plot, not to mention, several morally-troubling alliances for Katniss in the Games. In short, Catching Fire brings every agonizing twist and turn that The Hunger Games presented, plus a million more.
There’s so much to this story - and I felt both exhausted and exhilarated up to the very last page. Every single one of the characters has easily earned their reason to be included – and they each offer their own unique voice to the story. This was simply, writing at its best.
I can count on one hand, the number of truly remarkable authors that I have managed to find, in the 30+ years I’ve been reading. Suzanne Collins has just made that list. Trust me, The Hunger Games is a definite must read – and its sequel, Catching Fire, will not disappoint.
Now, what to read while I await the third and final installment to The Hunger Games series – Mockingjay - which doesn’t come out for another two months? Guess I’ll just read them both, again.