Catching Fire

Catching Fire

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for its prequel, The Hunger Games. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, this series really needs no further introduction. Just in case you have just ended a lengthy career as a hermit, Catching Fire was written by Suzanne Collins and first published in 2009. It forms the second part of The Hunger Games trilogy, a series set in a dystopian society which draws its entertainment from a yearly event in which twenty-four teenagers are forced to battle to the death. This novel is preceded by The Hunger Games (2008) and followed by Mockingjay (2010) and you really need to read its prequel before this one as this story does not stand on its own.

Following from her victory in the Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen foolishly believed that the Capitol would leave her alone to get along with her life. It is not until she receives a surprise visit from President Snow that she realises how wrong she is. Her decision to save Peeta in the Games has been viewed as an act of defiance against the Capitol and sparked civil unrest within some of the Districts. Snow believes that the only way to quell an uprising is for Katniss to show them that her intention was no such thing. The only way to do this is to pretend that she’s in love with Peeta for the rest of her life, making any relationship with Gale impossible.

Fearful that her family and friends will otherwise reap the consequences, Katniss goes along with the plan and tries to make her love for Peeta seem believable to all of Panem. However, it is far too late for the revolution to be halted. Violence spreads through the streets as the downtrodden turn on the Peacekeepers. Desperate to stop the impending war, Snow announces a special Hunger Games to mark their seventy-fifth anniversary. Instead of reaping the Tributes from the District children, this time they will reap them from the surviving Victors.

As the only female Victor of District 12, Katniss immediately realises that Snow’s plan is to have her killed. The other Tributes have all been friends for years and such friendships will be hard to overcome when they face in the arena. As her enemies this time are so much stronger and more experienced than in the previous games, Katniss must work harder than ever to forge alliances within the area. Failure to do so will mean certain death.

 It should be noted that Catching Fire does re-tread a lot of the same ground as The Hunger Games. The novel does follow the same basic pattern of introduction to the world, followed by reaping, followed by preamble in the Capitol, followed by the Hunger Games. Yet, I would argue that Catching Fire is the superior story as it improves on the original, addressing many of the niggling issues that the first book had.

Like its precursor, Catching Fire is an utterly outstanding novel. It takes its audience very seriously and raises some incredibly dark themes in a mature and intelligent way. The rift between the Capitol and the Districts has never been so pronounced. As the uprising invites brutality into the Districts, the more privileged people in the Capitol continue their lives unaware. As the story entirely in first person from Katniss’s perspective, it is now clearer than ever just how effective Snow’s propaganda machine is. In Katniss’s eyes, the people in the Capitol are silly and frivolous yet in the time that she spends there she is also left oblivious to what is happening in the Districts. It is only through a series of coincidences that she begins to see the bigger picture.

As the unrest rises, the story’s atmosphere grows increasingly tense. Everything about this novel, even in its quieter sections, is so politically charged. This time, every tiny move that Katniss makes can have catastrophic consequences. In an early chapter, a few words of sympathy that she speaks to Rue’s family lead to a man being shot by the Peacekeepers. While the ending of The Hunger Games was fairly upbeat, it is clear now that Panem is a world of moves and counter-moves. There is no happy ending. Every action that Katniss makes needs to be carefully measured to avoid any repercussions coming back on her family and this leads to some nail biting reading.

The time before the Games is this time spent developing the relationships between Katniss and those around her. As Gale gets a little more page time in this novel, the attraction that Katniss holds towards him feels a little more believable (though personally I still think that she’s mad). Her friendship with Peeta also has more room to grow. In the last story, her attraction towards Peeta is largely faked for the cameras but as they travel, their shared experiences make it possible for Katniss to finally grow to appreciate him as a friend.

Most interestingly, this story also improves on The Hunger Games by allowing us to come to know a large number of the Tributes. I criticised the previous novel due to the fact that most of Katniss’s fellow Tributes were left anonymous. While people have since argued with me that this is understandable as Katniss would not have wanted to get to know people that she would potentially have to kill, it just did not work for me. I found it impossible to care for characters that I did not know at all.

In Catching Fire, the Tributes are not faceless. They have names and history and families of their own. While, obviously, all twenty-two of them do not receive full development, the story does introduce us to enough of them to make us care when they get harmed within the arena. These Tributes are very varied in personality and so make for an interesting team.

While strong characters like Finnick and Johanna added a lot of life to the story, I actually felt a lot more attached to the more vulnerable characters. Due to the fact that the Hunger Games had been running for three quarters of a century, some of them are very old or simply emotionally damaged due to their previous experiences. Elderly Mags immediately attracts Katniss due to her kindness yet it is obvious to the reader that she will almost certainly die. The District 3 Tributes, Wiress and Beetee, are similarly vulnerable (with Wiress exhibiting post-traumatic stress and Beetee seeming to be more of a thinker than a fighter) which helps the reader empathise with their situation.

Yet the thing that moved me most of all in this novel was the portrayal of Katniss’s make-up team. Octavia, Flavius and Venia all appeared very briefly in the last novel and Katniss adopted a sense of superiority over them all, viewing them as silly and superficial. While this view of them continued into Catching Fire, it is clear from their behaviour after the Reaping that they are far deeper than she gives them credit. Their upset when they see Katniss for the last time is representative of the cracks beginning to form in the Capitol’s government. While last time they were filled with love and appreciation of the Hunger Games, this time the glitter has been washed away. Effie Trinket shows a similar deterioration as she struggles to read out Katniss’s name at the Reaping. It is these small actions that help to reveal the bigger picture. Even in the Capitol President Snow’s grip is weakening and people’s attitudes are changing, paving the way for the revolution that is sure to follow in Mockingjay.

So, as you might be able to tell, I could not recommend this novel more. While reading The Hunger Games is necessary to fully appreciate this story, it is not time wasted. The story moves from strength to strength through both novels, with Catching Fire improving on all of the areas that I felt were weak in the first story. While Catching Fire does end on a cliff hanger (something that I never really enjoy), the novel to this point was still so well paced that I just could not put it down. It has left me incredibly excited to see how the series will conclude in Mockingjay.

Catching Fire can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: 1st Anniversary! | Arkham Reviews
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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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