How much did you like The Hunger Games? The extent to which you’ll enjoy Catching Fire hinges on your answer to that question.
The second novel in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy about the dystopian world of flinty heroine Katniss Everdeen retains much of what was good about the first book and adds one or two new facets, but it also introduces some unwelcome new elements.
Catching Fire sets Katniss on the journey of finding out that the world of Panem, a country that has rebuilt itself from a small-scale apocalypse through violent suppression of dissent, is larger than the 1984-esque Capitol would have its subjects believe.
By now, the horror and grimness of The Hunger Games, the televised fight to the death Katniss won in the first book and must now compete in again, are no longer novel and that’s a blow to Catching Fire. Katniss is still Katniss – uncompromising, resourceful, driven – but this book has her wringing her hands too much over whether she should choose Peeta, the sweet and capable baker’s son with whom she competed in The Hunger Games, or Gale, her brooding childhood friend. Her constant indecision is annoying. When she’s in the throes of her questioning, she seems flimsy, like a damsel in distress who belongs in an inferior work of fiction, but not here.
But on a large scale, Collins knows what she’s doing. Catching Fire moves at the same breakneck speed of The Hunger Games and retains its cold command of violence, which is impassively described and frequent. She’s also added some sexual appeal and friction here, which is good in light of the odd sexlessness of her first book.
I haven’t gotten to Mockingjay, Collins’ third installment, but I’m hoping Catching Fire will prove to be a necessary expository bridge that will take me to a knockout punch of a finale.