Top positive review
An improvement in every aspect!
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on July 31, 2015
All too often, I find that sequels just don't provide a worthy follow up to the original or that sometimes the original story is just so incomplete that I hardly have any desire to move forward for fear of never receiving a satisfying conclusion. For this reason, I often stay away from sequels and even series in general, at least in terms of books. I think this is part of the reason it took me so long to pick up Suzanne Collins' CATCHING FIRE (The Hunger Games Book 2) despite having read the original and seen both of the respective movies a long while ago. The CATCHING FIRE movie adaptation was one of the few movie sequels that I ever thought to be drastically better than the previous film in every way possible. That's not to say that it made me like the first any less, just that I felt it had improved in all aspects. And so I went into this book with timid excitement, hoping I would feel the same way.
The book version of this story impressed me exactly as I hoped it would. It is an improvement on Collin's already fantastic narrative that feels fresh and more mature while also allowing readers to spend more time with her fantastic characters, world, and story.
Katniss and Peeta are back for another adventure. They've done the impossible together and now they have returned home, but things will never be the same. They are locked into a false romance where Peeta now realizes that his affections towards Katniss are only reciprocated when the pair are in front of a camera. He is made to feel even more alone than he did at the start of the games while Katniss deals with her own set of issues. Gale is now referred to as her cousin despite that being far from the truth. On one hand, this makes it easier for Katniss to be seen with him, but it also means they will never be together since it is ultimately her destiny to marry Peeta, whether her feelings for him are true or not. She and Gale come to the realization that there is something between them and Katniss realizes that Gale is another boy in her life that she has been hurting.
Then there's the fractured relationship between the Capitol and the Districts which she is also forced to acknowledge when President snow appears in her home and threatens her loved ones if she doesn't play along with what he wants. Despite her surviving the Hunger Games tournament, the "games" aren't really over at all. She's still fighting for her and Peeta's lives, but now she has the lives of her mother, Prim, Gale, Gale's family, Haymich, and probably Peeta's family to worry about. She may also very well be fighting for the lives of every District in Panem. President Snow's role is quite big here which is a nice change of pace since he remained largely unseen in the first book. Then there's Plutarch Heavensbee, the new head gamemaker who is a bit more removed, but what parts he is in are quite good. Katniss also meets up with a variety of previous victors like the flamboyantly handsome Finnick, the aggressive Joanna, the clever Beetee, and deranged Wirress. Those who have already seen the movie know what circumstances Katniss meets these other victors under, but I won't spoil that part of the story since it is far more of a surprise in the book. The only other thing that can really be said is that each of these new faces is a wonderful addition to the cast and that they all have a lot to add to the story as a whole.
The world that Katniss returns to is not the same one that she left. She's a victor now which means she gets a fancy new home in a special section of District 12 and she must be part of the victory tour where the victor of the games visits each district and honors the fallen tributes before attending a lavish dinner party. It also means she will have to become a mentor to the future tributes of District 12. At least those are all of the things that would happen to a typical victor.
This year is different, this year there are two victors because of Katniss's defiance to the Capitol. Her refusal to play by their rules means that she has Peeta to go through all of this with, but it has also sets into motion events beyond what she would ever be able to predict. Uprisings have sprung up in several districts in the spirit of following Katniss's example. District 12 sees a stronger security presence which imposes brutal restrictions upon the citizen's way of life. Nothing Katniss does seems to be right and nothing she says can quell the anger that builds up against the Capitol. She finds herself in an impossible situation where the world of the games and the real world are now largely one in the same. Katniss never escaped the arena, only set it loose upon the world and now she is the symbol of a rebellion that threatens to bring end to Panem.
Although everything is different now, this book brings readers to a variety of places within Panem and introduces us to locations that were previously only mentioned. Collins paints each with simple, yet vibrant descriptions which will probably make you both happy and remorseful that they are on the brink of destruction. The destitution of 12 no longer seems as bad when other districts are portrayed as mammoth prisons where inmates are born into servitude of an unforgiving Capitol.
The overall content and tone of this narrative is a few shades darker than the previous installment which probably says a lot considering the first one explored a gladiatorial tournament in which children fought to the death. Minor details aside, things are a lot more serious now since the stakes are so much higher. Before, readers worried about the lives of twenty four young tributes, but now they are presented with an entire world whose continued existence seems highly in question. Katniss, our once empowered heroine somehow seems so small now that the conflict involves forces far beyond her control. To be fair, they are beyond anyone's control, but Katniss finds herself especially vulnerable since she is the catalyst for all the terrifying changes going on around her.
Katniss also can't just fake it till she makes it anymore. Peeta and her have to face the consequences of their lovers routine in the arena and try to come to an understanding, if not a salvaged friendship. Gale's involvement adds further complication for Katniss's already overwhelmed set of teenage emotions. All the other characters are also a bit worse off this time around which adds an additional layer of edginess to it all. Some characters are more in the dark than others about the events happening around them which leads readers into an ever-spinning web of secrets, lies, and manipulation. Even having already seen the film, I felt delightfully in suspense the entire way through this book, partially in thanks to being able to experience the events through Katniss's point of view which offers a fresh take on things. Again, there are a number of really wonderful surprises in store and if you haven't already seen this movie, then I won't spoil them for you here. If you're already familiar with this story, then I can promise that this ride won't be any less enjoyable a second time around.
As a kind of aside to all this, it is worth noting that this book felt far less like a true YA novel than the first one did. There is significantly more nudity, stronger language and sexual references, and the depictions of violence are far more graphic this time around. Even the overall language and writing style that Collins employs feels quite a bit more grown up than her last book. Not that this series has ever really been known as kid-friendly, but parents might want to know that this one definitely pushes the limits of what can/should go into a YA novel.
I really do think this is a series that no reader should pass up on. If the first book didn't quite sell you, then I'd strongly urge you give this one a shot. If you loved the first, then it really only gets better here and I can honestly say that I am extremely excited to dive into the third and final book of this trilogy, though I may try and savor it a bit more whereas I kind of tore through CATCHING FIRE as though there was no tomorrow.
The plot is more serious, the writing style and content are more adult, the new characters are a win all around, and this is just a book that I will probably love forever.