Book Review: Catching Fire
by R.J. Carter
Published: August 7, 2009
There are few series that are so compelling from the first novel that they leave a reader distractedly thinking about the future of the characters. Scott Westerfeld's Uglies comes to mind, as does Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments. Perhaps not coincidentally, these stories contain strong female protagonists, much like Katniss Everdeen of Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games.
Katniss not only survived the annual Hunger Games, but she did it in a fashion that forced the tyrannical Capitol to capitulate its stringent rules in order to placate its own citizens. Now Katniss is ready to live a life of luxurious ennui. Her family is safe, Peeta is safe, and all she has to do is put on a smile and fake a romance for the duration of the tour of the twelve districts.
It should have been easy.
But President Snow knows he's been made a fool of, and whether Katniss meant it as a form of political protest or not he's a very unhappy man. But then, what exactly can he do to Katniss? She's a public figure, famous, and immune from being selected for the games again. She's the "Girl Who Was On Fire," and she forced an unprecedented double-win (that being she and Peeta, instead of she or Peeta) in the 74th annual Hunger Games.
"I have a problem, Miss Everdeen," says President Snow. "A problem that began the moment you pulled out those poisonous berried in the arena."
That was the moment when I guessed that if the Gamemakers had to choose between watching Peeta and me commit suicide -- which would mean having no victor -- and letting us both live, they would take the latter.
"If the Head Gamemaker, Seneca Crane, had had any brains, he'd have blown you to dust right then. But he had an unfortunate sentimental streak. So here you are. Can you guess where he is?" he asks.
I nod because, by the way he says it, it's clear that Seneca Crane has been executed. The smell of roses and blood has grown stronger now that only a desk separates us. There's a rose in President Snow's lapel, which at least suggests a source of the flower perfume, but it must be genetically enhanced, because no real rose reeks like that. As for the blood... I don't know.
"After that, there was nothing to do but let you play out your little scenario. And you were pretty good, too, with the love-crazed schoolgirl bit. The people in the Capitol were quite convinced. Unfortunately, not everyone in the districts fell for your act," he says.
My face must register at least a flicker of bewilderment, because he addresses it.
"This, of course, you don't know. YOu have no access to information about the mood in other districts. In several of them, however, people viewed your little trick with the berries as an act of defiance, not an act of love. And if a girl from District Twelve of all places can defy the Capitol and walk away unharmed, what is to stop them from doing the same?" he says. "What is to prevent, say, an uprising?"
If you thought Katniss's challenges in The Hunger Games were insurmountable, they were nothing compared to the trials she'll face in Catching Fire. The excitement reaches a fever pitch early on, with Collins raising the stakes higher with ever turn of the page, relentlessly and breathlessly pushing the reader through one harrowing encounter to the next.
Collins has crafted a sequel that's superior in every way to its predecessor. You literally can't turn the pages fast enough, and there's no place to stop and catch your breath until you've reached the end of the story. Be prepared to lose sleep over this one, as Katniss, Peeta and your other favorite characters challenge the history of Panem, encountering unlikely allies and surprising betrayals along the way. The whole of Panem caught a spark of inspiration from Katniss's victory the previous year -- and it's a spark that's catching fire!