Pros: Incredibly well written, gripping, brutal young adult novel.
Cons: I am not kidding; it is brutal.
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. Book Two of The Hunger Games.
Warning: this review contains spoilers of the first book, The Hunger Games.
Well, Katniss Everdeen survived the 74thannual Hunger Games, and in point of fact, managed to save Peeta Mellark as well. Their schtick as the star crossed lovers was enough to win the populace to their side. So there is nothing President Snow can do to them, right? Wrong.
Snow doesn’t like the fact that anyone, even an under-aged girl from the coal mining district, has defied his will in any particular. And he will have his revenge. First, Katniss has to convince the world, and indeed President Snow, that she and Peeta are so in love that that was the only reason they pulled the stunt that got Peeta out of the arena alive. She must go on the solo tour as the victor, with Peeta, and quell the descent rising in the districts. She must be soothing balm that lulls the populace back into complacency.
Katniss Everdeen is many things; she is not soothing balm. And there is so much resentment in the 12 districts. And everything she does just seems to make it worse.
And then, having failed at her mission, and knowing those she loves will suffer for it, the time comes when the old Hunger Games are laid to rest, and the New Games are prepared for. But this year is divisible by 25. That means it is a quarter quell; something “Special” to make sure that the Districts remember the treachery against the Capital, and the price they must pay forever. The first Quarter Quell, the Tributes were not chosen by random; every member of the district had to vote on who to send. In the second, double the tributes were sent by every district so there were 48 tributes instead of 24. That was the year Haymitch Abernathy won. This year…the tributes are chosen from the pool of Victors in each district. And as District 12s’ sole surviving female Victor, it of course means Katniss Everdeen is going back into the arena.
The challenges are much harder; for one thing, every person on the sand this time is a proven killer…except, of course, for Peeta Mellark. And Katniss Everdeen did not go through the unimaginable hell of the previous Hunger Games keeping him alive just to have him die this time. Even though she knows that means her own death. But how will she accomplish this not so minor miracle?
Suzanne Collins did the impossible, she put us right back in the same book, and made us like it all over again. It seems as likely as making a sequel for a movie whose catchphrase is “There Can Be Only ONE!” but Ms. Collins pulls this off far better than the Highlanders ever did.
Further, the character of Katniss, rather socially retarded in the first book, is beginning to catch up. She’s still “special” on the emotional front, but can be taught, if you hurt her enough. And that is one thing Snow has made quite clear; he wants to hurt her.
The arena is more complex than last year’s simple woodland, and it has a mystery attached to it that is the key to surviving it’s various threats. As you are reading, you are trying to work it out as well, and when you get certain bits, it makes you feel like you are Sherlock Holmes.
And it repeats that winning formula from the first book; don’t assume that kids are stupid, or need to be protected from the dark parts of human nature. It gets right down to beating you over the head with how twisted and nasty people can be when they view others as, well, Others. It is also a bright primary colour primer on how poverty and entertainment can be used to manipulate the populace to accede to the ruling party’s wishes. It is also a manifesto on how to fight back, which makes it required reading, even if it weren’t so bloody entertaining. Katniss, the Girl Who Was On Fire finds the flames are spreading; the question is, can she protect those she loves from the inferno?