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Spreads Like… Catching Fire – A Review

June 19, 2012

Because I was so impressed by The Hunger Games, it was with a degree of trepidation that I dug into Catching Fire. Trilogies can be a funny thing – when the first part is so explosive and gets a lot of hype, it can mean that the anticipation around the remaining parts is so enormous that when they arrive, they’re fated to do little better than disappoint because they simply can’t live up to the outlandish expectations that were imposed upon them even before they made it to print. However, I was extraordinarily eager to get stuck into Catching Fire, the second installment in Suzanne Collins’s trilogy. So much so, that I had to force myself to resist the temptation to start it straight off the back of The Hunger Games, so I could attempt to savour the stories as much as possible. Needless to say, I wasn’t able to hold out for long.

Catching Fire, as far as sequels or middle parts of trilogies go, is pretty good. It doesn’t pack the same punch as The Hunger Games, but when you give yourself such a hard act to follow as Suzanne Collins did, it’s not really a surprise. It did, however, live up to my expectations. Without giving away too much, Catching Fire picks up more or less where The Hunger Games left off. Katniss Everdeen and her maybe romantic interest Peeta Mellark have just returned to District 12 from their contraversial victory in the Hunger Games. Their relationship, shattered at the end of the first installment, is still difficult in the face of their impending victory tour of the country. While on aforementioned tour and trying their best to convince the nation that they are just as in love as ever, it is announced that, to celebrate the “Quarter Quell”, the tributes for the Hunger Games that year will be drawn from the victors of previous year’s Games. As the only female victor from District 12, Katniss is going back to the arena. What unfolds I won’t share because I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone who hasn’t read it yet and is thinking of doing so, but it does have one hell of a cliffhanger ending that makes it incredibly difficult not to grab a copy of Mockingjay, the final installment, immediately and read until your eyes bleed to find out how it all ends.

Like The Hunger Games, Catching Fire makes for addictive reading. It’s seriously difficult to put down and way too easy to finish too quickly, thanks to Suzanne Collins’s fabulously fluid writing style. Her short, clippy sentences give the narrative a great sense of gathering pace and build tension in all the right places, although her lapses into Katniss’s memory and recollections of past events do at times detract from the immediacy of the scene from which she has just departed. In spite of having the makings of some really great dystopic fiction, my attention was completely drawn to the Katniss/Peeta/Gale triangle and there it firmly stayed throughout the novel, trying to figure out who I was rooting for more; Peeta, who has loved Katniss from afar since they were children, or Gale, the obvious choice, who is closer to Katniss than if he were her brother. Would it have been nice to have a bit more political background and a bit more focus on the world outside of Katniss’s love triangle? Perhaps, but then it wouldn’t be the same book and it wouldn’t suit its target audience so well. The The Hunger Games trilogy is aimed at teenage readers, and no teenager I know is bothered about the political history and composition of a fictional imagining of how our world could end up. And the protagonist, Katniss, is a teenager too. The narrative is told from her perspective, and to infuse it with too much of Panem’s history and too much political insight would undermine the authenticity of her characterisation. The audience know as much as she does, and that’s enough for the novel to function as well as it does.

As I said at the beginning of this review, Catching Fire is, as far as middle parts of trilogies go, pretty good. It held my attention in just the same way as The Hunger Games, had the same pace, and left me dying to get into Mockingjay to find out how it all ends. It seems Suzanne Collins named it Catching Fire not just for reasons contained within the text – this trilogy is a fireball and I can’t wait to find out what tremendous explosion it ends with.

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