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REVIEW: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Dear Ms. Collins,

Catching Fire by Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games was my favorite novel of 2008.   For me it had the perfect combination of a great heroine, fast-paced plotting, and gripping tension.   And considering the cliffhanger ending, I’ve been looking forward to Catching Fire since I finished last page of that book.

To refresh readers, and to bring people new to the series up to speed, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire are set in a dystopian future in the remains of what was once the United States.   At some point in time, an apocalypse occurred, which caused society as we know it to fall apart.   From the rubble arose Panem, which consisted of the Capitol and thirteen surrounding Districts that provided the various materials and goods to keep the nation running.   To be more accurate, the Capitol ruled over the thirteen surrounding Districts with an oppressive regime that eventually led to revolt.   Unfortunately for the Districts, the revolt was squashed and the thirteenth District was utterly destroyed.   To top it off, as punishment, the Capitol created the Hunger Games, an annual battle royale designed to remind the Districts who was in control.

Catching Fire picks up nearly immediately where The Hunger Games left off so those who haven’t read the book, please be aware that everything from here on out will be a little spoilery so tread carefully or stop reading.   In The Hunger Games, we were introduced to Katniss, the female Tribute from the twelfth District who is sent to the 74th Hunger Games in place of her younger sister, whose name was the one actually drawn in the reaping.   Despite the odds stacked against her, Katniss manages to not only win the Hunger Games but also keep both herself and her fellow Tribute, Peeta, alive.

When Catching Fire opens, Katniss and Peeta are fulfilling their duties as champions of the Hunger Games: touring, interviews, and public appearances.   They also now live in the winners’ village which every District has to house its champions and their families.   Unfortunately, District 12 isn’t known for putting out victors so the village is kind of empty.   In fact, the only other person to live there is Haymitch, their former mentor and the town drunk.   Kind of sad, if you ask me.

But Katniss finds that things haven’t become easier now that she’s won the Hunger Games.   In order to secure both her and Peeta’s survival, Katniss trapped the Capitol and used its own love of media control and public opinion against them.   In short, she humiliated them.   Can you imagine?   One lone girl from a backwater District known for sending loser Tributes outsmarting the all-powerful Capitol?   Yeah, they didn’t take it too well and intend to punish her.   This isn’t helped by the fact that during their tour, Katniss and Peeta have caught glimpses of civil unrest throughout the various Districts.

And so Katniss is worried.   Is the Capitol going to target her family?   She went to one Hunger Games to save her sister.   What would they do now?   Or are they going to target her best friend Gale, with whom a shared kiss has been witnessed by Capitol spies?   But what does happen is something she never predicted.

Every 25 years, the Capitol holds a sort of super Hunger Games, called the Quarter Quell.   When the Hunger Games were created 75 years ago, the founders supposedly wrote “special” provisions on slips on paper which would be drawn every quarter-century to keep things interesting or, in other words, to remind the Districts of just how bad and naughty they were.   During the 25th Hunger Games, people from the Districts had to vote on who they wanted to send as Tributes.   During the 50th Hunger Games, twice as many Tributes were sent.   For the 75th Hunger Games, the Tributes are to be reaped from the existing pool of champions.   And because Katniss is the only female victor from District 12, she is guaranteed a spot in the Hunger Games.

Sequel books are tricky, the second books in a trilogy in particular.   We’ve all seen sequels that don’t quite live up to their predecessor, especially when that first book is very memorable and stunning.   We’ve also seen how second books in trilogies function as bridges between the first book that introduces us to a new world and conflict and the final book that wraps it up with a bang.   While I do feel that Catching Fire is not as good as The Hunger Games and does indeed function as a bridge between it and the final book in the trilogy, I think it’s still an entertaining installment in its own right, albeit a flawed one.

I’m torn on the concept of the Quarter Quell.   On one hand, it fits within the context of the world and the Capitol’s methodology.   On the other hand, it’s also more or less a retread of the first book.   While the concept of the Hunger Games in and of itself is not a new one (see: Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale), it has a freshness to it in the context of this world and this series.   Returning to another Hunger Games when in truth, I was looking forward to seeing Katniss in a new arena — that of being a victor going up against the Capitol via secret rebellions and machinations, is kind of a letdown.

But on yet another hand, I did like seeing previous victors.   After all, my favorite new character, Finnick, came from this group.   In him, we saw a damning critique of our paparazzi’s tendency to oversexualize child stars and how they practically count down the seconds to when a child star turns 18.   In this respect and others involving the older victors, I did see more of the social commentary we got in The Hunger Games but was somewhat lacking here.   We have victors who are walking freakshows, who revel in their status and want nothing more than to return to the arena for more bloodshed.   We have victors who are well-past their prime.   And sadly, we have victors who have been broken by their experiences in the arena and who can only be called insane.

While I know this story is Katniss’s and the book itself is categorized as a young adult novel so the focus, of course, needs to be on the young adults, I do wish we’d gotten to spend more time with the other victors.   We only caught the barest glimpse of how the Hunger Games and the ensuing years as victors affected them, but except Finnick, the others’ individual stories didn’t really stand out.

I regret having to say this because I liked this aspect of Katniss’s character in the previous book and actually found it charming, but wow, is she dense or what?   I really wish we could have seen her getting more of a clue or at least being a little quicker to accept her role in the impending rebellion against the Capitol.   Yes, she’s more concerned with protecting her family and her own but I feel a bit disappointed that her time in the Hunger Games and on tour throughout the various Districts didn’t make her a bit more in tune to what was going on.

Along those lines, what was up with the ending?   I don’t really want to go into the details here but I was left feeling a little bewildered at the end of the book.   After I finished it, I immediately emailed Jane the following message: “WTF??????” To be honest, I feel as if the book came up against a hard deadline or a word count limit, which was why the ending was the way it was.   Because in contrast to the previous book in which Katniss was in control of the events culminating in the climax, it was nearly the opposite here.   Considering she’s the protagonist of the book, I can’t help but feel cheated.

Finally, to address that age-old debate of Team Gale versus Team Peeta, while nothing was explicitly confirmed, I do think it’s obvious which way the wind is blowing.   One team has far more evidence supporting it while the other not at all.   As for myself, I’ve abandoned the debate almost entirely because I discovered that Finnick is far more interesting a character to me than either Gale or Peeta and I’m more interested in seeing the (platonic) relationship between Katniss and him develop versus any romantic one she might with the two available options.   How’s that for fickle?

So while I don’t think Catching Fire is a match for, let alone exceeds, The Hunger Games, I do think it was a worthwhile, entertaining installment.   Given how the book ends — and yes, it is a cliffhanger once again although whether readers find it worse or better than that of The Hunger Games will vary — I still want to read the next book.   Because I’m hoping I’ll get that in-depth rebellion action I was hungering for but didn’t get in this one.   B

My regards,
Jia

This book can be purchased at Amazon. No ebook format.

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

28 Comments

  1. jmc
    Sep 14, 2009 @ 15:15:44

    I got to the end of Catching Fire and felt as if it was missing a bunch of pages because it stopped so abruptly. The rehash of the games was a bit disappointing, too. I wonder if I had waited for the third book (due out when?) and read them together, would the story feel less discordant? Too late now. A good book but not as good as the first book of the series.

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  2. Jia
    Sep 14, 2009 @ 15:24:36

    @jmc: I’m assuming the final book will come out next year. Hopefully, in September also.

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  3. Elyssa Papa
    Sep 14, 2009 @ 15:54:52

    Oh, I loved Finnick, too! I was much more interested in him and Annie. I had the same WTF reaction to the ending. I kept thinking this is the end?! I agree, too, that The Hunger Games was more awesome.

    I did like Catching Fire a lot and thought it served its purpose in making Katniss more set on her hero’s path. It wouldn’t have felt right if Katniss was all gung ho about the revolts. And I still love Peeta.

    I just hope that this series does have a HEA, but I’m not sure how.

    But a whole year! Gah! I want to know how it ends now.

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  4. Annie Mullin
    Sep 14, 2009 @ 19:50:01

    Thanks for the great reviews (both this one and HG), Jia. :)

    @jmc:

    I wonder if I had waited for the third book (due out when?) and read them together, would the story feel less discordant?

    That’s what I’m doing to do, I think. A friend already had me intrigued with what she was telling me about The Hunger Games (last night, funnily enough), though neither of us realized it was part of a trilogy. I hate waiting to find out what happens next when reading a series, so it’ll probably be better for my blood pressure to wait. *g*

    Totally unrelated to the rest of the comment: that’s a gorgeous cover. I love the style they’re using for the series.

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  5. Jane
    Sep 14, 2009 @ 20:04:27

    @jmc: The rehash of the games was quite disappointing and I thought the ending was a huge deux ex machina.

    While I thought Catching Fire was readable, I have no great urgency to read the last book.

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  6. Jill Sorenson
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 07:31:58

    I had the same reaction to the end of The Hunger Games. I didn’t know it was part of a trilogy when I started reading. I was hugely disappointed, because I really loved the book. I thought it could have been a children’s/YA classic if it had actually ended, rather than just…broken off.

    Think I’ll wait for #3 before I read #2. Can’t handle cliffhangers!!

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  7. Jennie
    Sep 17, 2009 @ 14:48:48

    I just finished it last night and think I liked it better than most of you – I’d give it an A-/B+. I was sort of spoiled as to the reprise of Katniss going into the Hunger Games, so that didn’t bother me much. Nor did the ending feel excessively abrupt, though it was obviously a cliffhanger.

    I felt that the games section read a bit differently than in The Hunger Games (and comprised a shorter portion of the book, as well), so it didn’t feel like a retread to me. Katniss working as part of a group from the beginning was different and interesting (I also find Finnick intriguing). Her motivations were different from the beginning as well; last time out she just wanted to stay alive.

    Katniss can be dense but I think it’s in keeping with her personality – she is good at survival and physical stuff but not emotionally perceptive, the way, say, Peeta is. (BTW, I’m still firmly Team Peeta.) It can be annoying – there was a moment early-ish in the book when a character tipped his hand to Katniss, and she totally didn’t get it, even though I found it rather obvious.

    The quibbles that I have are about the way that Katniss manages to mostly keep her hands clean in the games – I understand that perhaps extreme moral ambiguity is more problematic because of the target audience – and the way the romance aspects are dealt with (which again may be in part due to it being a YA book). Katniss has romantic feelings for Gale and Peeta, but the relationships are a little too G-rated for me considering that all three are hormonal teenagers. I am not asking for explicit sex, but at times it almost feel like the characters have Barbie and Ken genitalia and don’t get “those feelings” (though Katniss does finally succumb to them a bit late in this book). I understand that Katniss has mixed feelings about marriage and negative feelings about parenthood (for fear of giving birth to a child who might be forced into the Hunger Games someday), and I’d like to see those aspects developed more as a reason for her to avoid relationships.

    Finally, though I love her as a character, Katniss is a bit of a Mary Sue – doesn’t realize how significant and adored she is to just about everyone (except the baddies who hate her). It makes me roll my eyes a bit but it is at least in keeping with her personality; again, she’s not so good with emotions.

    Over all, I’ve just found both books enormously readable – Collins has an engaging writing style and creates vivid characters. Probably the main reason Catching Fire gets a slightly lower grade from me than The Hunger Games is simply due to expectations – even with all of the kudos I had no idea going into the first book whether I’d like it, whereas I was eagerly anticipating this one. I am definitely eagerly anticipating the final book in the series, though it seems to me Collins has a lot of story she needs to pack in to one book. I can’t wait to read it.

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  8. Victoria
    Sep 30, 2009 @ 04:05:45

    I agree, i thought the Finnick and Annie relationship was very interesting, but something about it nagged at my brain, like i was reminded of another well known current romantic couple. Who you may ask?
    “Tall athletic… bronze coloured hair and those incredible eyes.” – pp250
    *cough-edward-cullen-cough*
    The only girl in the world worth dieing for? – Annie.
    Annie, the mentally unstable one with her long brown hair – *cough-bella-swan*
    I’m not saying it was a bad thing to describe these characters like this, I still found them very interesting, but I just could not NOT see the similarities.

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  9. Carey
    Oct 04, 2009 @ 10:23:06

    I JUST finished Catching Fire and i am STILL in total shock of how quickly it ended. I actually found myself flipping through the book and making sure i hadnt lost any pages!!!!!!! I cant wait for book three and i am hoping i can stand the wait until it comes out!

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  10. Ashleigh
    Oct 12, 2009 @ 16:07:40

    This book was INCREDIBLE! I read it in a day and was locked in my room. I had to finish it. What I hate is that I can’t decide if I like Gale or Peeta better. I think Peeta is sooo romantic, one of those fairy tale guys. But then you have Gale who is Katniss’s best friend and they’ve known each other forever; not to mention Gale is all buff and can take care of her. And I loved how he said he had to kiss her that one time just to see how it felt. And my heart stopped when I read the part where he was whipped. I loved how Katniss just held his hand the whole time when he was unconscious. But then I felt bad for Peeta. Can not wait for the third book to come out. Does anyone know when that might be???

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  11. carey
    Oct 12, 2009 @ 16:13:40

    @Ashleigh: The date of the third book is around fall 2010 and i think it is called Tentatively Slates-something like that i read it on another site

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  12. Ashleigh
    Oct 12, 2009 @ 20:15:25

    thanks so much carey!! :]]]

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  13. Carey
    Oct 13, 2009 @ 14:15:17

    @Ashleigh: No problem! and remember I’m not POSITIVE but i am pretty sure those are the dates and things. :)

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  14. Ashleigh MacGillivray
    Oct 13, 2009 @ 15:05:36

    Carey
    Ok, but thank you anyways! :D

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  15. Carey
    Oct 13, 2009 @ 15:35:03

    UPDATE!!!
    ok i read that someone read an interview with suzanne collins and she says that she has two thirds of the third book done but it is untitled so i guess what i read before was just an opinion, but ALSO they are hoping to make a movie which release date would be 2011(but it is not official) and Suzanne would be writing the movie script herself so that should be good!!! :) also, Lionsgate Entertainment has acquired worldwide distribution rights to a film adaptation of The Hunger Games and she will start writing the script once she is done writing the third book!!!! I am looking for info every week so i will make more updates! Hope they help!!!

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  16. Ashleigh
    Oct 13, 2009 @ 19:40:53

    Oh! Thats awesome!! The movie would be hard to watch though with all the blood…oh well(:

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  17. Jordan
    Nov 10, 2009 @ 21:12:15

    well i hope the third book comes out soon cause i feel like the book stop to soon. i turned to the last page in catching fire and was upset that it ended. is there a movie coming out cause that would be great!!!! I would so buy it!
    Jordan.

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  18. Alex
    Nov 12, 2009 @ 01:43:50

    Victoria.
    Okay I too was suspicious about Finnick being an Edward when I read he was beautiful and everyone wants him (yeah,yeah,yeah…) but (hear me out) I really like him and want to convince you (and anyone else) that he’s much better, and that he is not Edward.
    Finnick is tan(that is a huge factor) , a person, green eyes, not a vampire , he embraces his sex appeal and doesn’t completely loathe himself to a point where you agree with him. Plus (for reasons we don’t know yet) he apparently likes to keep people “company” and Edward doesn’t.

    and Bella is crazy. Completely agree. and, yes, the brown hair. But Bella is annoying girl-in-love crazy while Annie is legitimately mentally insane. Possibly to the point where it’s completely heart breaking, and Annie has a much better excuse than Bella does.

    I understand how you saw the similarities but in the end they are different, and in my opinion better. (I just think it’s really sweet and tragic how the most beautiful man who could have anyone in Panem loves a sad crazy girl who doesn’t have a grip on anything anymore.)

    Sorry it so long, :p, had to defend them.

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    Dec 07, 2009 @ 20:13:44

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  21. victoria
    Feb 03, 2010 @ 09:39:33

    Alex
    It’s good you felt the need to defend them, they’re good characters, and I completely agree with you, I think the Finnick/Annie story is way more tragic and beautiful, and really not that much like Edward/Bella. I just couldn’t not stop thinking about the similarities, even if they are small. I mean, my copy of catching fire has a freaking stephanie meyer recommendation on the front cover! :)

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  22. carey
    Feb 28, 2010 @ 12:51:21

    For book three it is called Mockingjay and will be released on August 24 2010! It is the final Hunger Games book and is 400 pages! Can’t wait until it comes out!

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  23. Hannah
    Apr 29, 2010 @ 17:59:05

    i don’t know, victoria… i think finnick and annie are quite a unique couple. i don’t see edward and bella in them at all… i would actually like to know more about their relationship. you know, like how they met and why finnick chose her when he had thousands of women throwing themselves at him. i find it very sweet and refreshing.

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  24. Michelle
    May 17, 2010 @ 05:19:03

    i can understand how people might find Finnick and Annie to be similer of Edward and Bella, but i think they are completly different. Sure they might have close appearences but at least Finnick seems to have a nice sense of humor when Edward is like a dry post. Annie is emotionaly unstable because of the terrors that the games had given her when Bella is just weak and most dependes on Edward every moment of her life. i think that Finnick and Annie are the awesomest couple in the world. There’s a guy who is loved by all and had a extreamly memorable victory at the age of 14. And there is Annie, a poor mad girl who won by chance. but the fact that Finnick still stuck by her is so sweet.

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  25. Lily
    Jun 03, 2010 @ 11:11:13

    I seem to have liked the book a bit more than others but i do think the Hunger Games were better.

    I thought the book did come to an abrupt stop but it does make you want to read the book more and more (which probably was the purpose) but still I hate cliffhangers!!

    I really had wanted to know more about the rebellion. But I guess I’ll have to wait for the third book.

    @Michelle. I totally agree with you that Bella is all weepy and completely depends on Edward and is so weak that when her boyfriend leaves she tries to drown herself. I liked the Twilight series,but I think the Hunger Games are just a more gripping story with more intriguing characters.

    Saying that I love Finnick’s character. Handsome, strong yet he has a caring, normal guy personality under all that. About the whole relationship discussions I am completely for Gale. I like Peeta’s character but while I’m reading i never see Katniss really liking him in that way. I mean sure there are some of those moments where it really seems like there’s a spark between them but even at those times she’s always thinking of Gale. Plus he’s been there practically her whole life. and has always been taking care of her family. And when Gale was getting whipped Katniss didn’t even stop to think before stopping the whip from hitting him. I just think their relationship is more…..

    I really liked Johanna’s character. Smart and Strong, and able to fend for herself. And always defending herself while focussing on the task ahead. I hope the third book holds a little more about her and the rebellion.

    I can’t wait to read more about the rebellion in the third book.
    You can pre-order Mockingjay on Amazon.com. Can’t wait!

    Oh and sorry this is a bit long,

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  26. Lily
    Jun 03, 2010 @ 12:04:36

    There’s no District 12 anymore and I’m hoping the next book holds more about who survived and how they’re dealing with it. I’m pretty sure that the survivors of District 12 have gone to District 13. And more about District 13 and how they managed to go underground. I really want to know more about this. Like how they can find food without revealing themselves to the Capital. About what they’ve been doing down there. Maybe finding a way to bring down the Capital or if they’re just plain starving. I REALLY want to know more about this.

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  27. Nara
    Jun 04, 2010 @ 09:58:52

    If anyone does not want to read spoilers DON’T read on. Although it’s only a tiny spoiler about the beginning of Mockingjay.

    Okay so I found out somewhere that the beginning of the next book is Katniss looking down into the ashes of District 12.

    So sorry if you didn’t want to be spoiled. But I just can’t hold back my excitement! I SO can’t wait till the next book!!!

    ReplyReply

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