I read The Hunger Games a couple of months ago. I really enjoyed the adventure, the struggle, the characters and the world created. The novel ended in such a way that the current conflict was wrapped up but it was evident that the real troubles had only just begun.
And that's where Catching Fire picks things up. Going into this second book, I was excited to see what direction the story would take. I enjoyed the first book but felt like a lot of the intrigue and dynamics of the world of Panem were kept at a distance because of the immense in-your-face presence of the Games. I'm not saying that as a bad thing…presenting the Games as such an amazing force created huge tension in the first book. I also acknowledge that there was plenty of information given as to the nature of the government and the leaders, enough that it was very evident what kind of a world this was.
In Catching Fire, however, the first ~half of the book gives us a deeper and wider view of just how despicable this government is, beyond the annual Hunger Games. We're shown nearly a full year of life outside the games. And we don't only see the harsh conditions as they existed before the Games of the first book, but we see the added hatred, violence and propaganda that come as an aftermath of those Games.
The characters are well portrayed and seem deeper than before. We get VERY up-close-and-personal with President Snow (and I would add that the author does an excellent job of creating deep disgust towards him…I shudder whenever he entered a scene). We get more involved and in-the-heads of the characters we'd known from the first book. And we quickly find ourselves racing alongside vibrantly real new characters.
I felt that the drama, suspense and tension created was very well done. My emotions were thrown about many times as things went from bad to worse to awful to 'how will they ever get out of this.' Of all the pivotal/surprise moments, I only really predicted one of them (probably the most obvious of the bunch…the one where Pres. Snow opens and reads the notice about the quell). Because of the nature of the society and the rules, it was believable that the characters would have been surprised by that moment even when I saw it coming. The other elements were very surprising and provided me with either a lot of suspense and tension or surprise and relief…whichever was dictated by the situation. In other words, the twists and turns did exactly what they were supposed to.
I really enjoyed this book a lot. In terms of action and adventure, it started out a little bit slow but even then the beginning was very interesting to me as it really fleshed out the nature of the society and laid a very intricate framework. I've heard a lot of talk about the "romance" factor here. There were plenty of moments where the reader is reminded of the romantic tension and the 'love triangle' in play here. However, the romance factor is kept where it belongs in a story like this…off to the side. The love story plays an important part, but when you consider the severe dystopian world and the threats, violence, suspense and tension all around, this is hardly the world where a strong romantic love story will flourish. I think the author did a great job keeping the romantic element alive with just the right amount of strength to make it believable.
After finishing the book, a comparison came to mind…that of the original trilogy of Star Wars films (New Hope, Empire and Jedi). In terms of character, plot and world development, I see this book series following an arc very similar to the way those three movies developed. At the end of this second book, we're left with an 'acceptable' closure to the book but the promise of a lot more adventure and a huge confrontation to come. I now join the ranks of those anxiously awaiting the release of Mockingjay later this year.
Final verdict…read this series. I enjoyed the first book, and liked the second one even more.
4.5 out of 5 stars
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