fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book review Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games 2. Catching FireCatching Fire by Suzanne Collins

One of last year’s best, most compelling reads was Suzanne Collins’ dystopic The Hunger Games, in which a group of young boys and girls are sent into a large geographic area for a kill-or-be-killed TV spectacle — a sort of Running Man meets Lord of the Flies meets Survivor meets The Lottery. The book, carried along winningly by the strong main character Katniss, was suspenseful, poignant, and often breathless, ending with a clear resolution but with an obvious nod toward a sequel. That sequel is Catching Fire, and while it’s not as good as The Hunger Games, nor as breathlessly compelling (both tough standards to equal), it’s a strong follow-up.

Catching Fire opens up with Katniss and Peeta back home in their district, living with the spoils of their victory: huge victor’s houses, lots of food, no requirement to work, etc. But things aren’t all great, either personally (Katniss’ relationship with her best friend Gale, Haymitch’s return to drunkenness) or politically (hints of problems, possible repercussions, possible reverberations from Katniss’ televised defiance at the end of the Games). As they prepare for the Grand Victory Tour, a trip throughout the 12 districts, Katniss receives a chilling visit from President Snow and things begin to spiral out of control from that point on.

I won’t go into plot details as there are several twists and turns and, if not surprises, pleasant moments of revealed events. The plot germinates much more slowly in Catching Fire than in The Hunger Games and is painted on a broader canvas — more a slowly growing prairie fire than a sudden ignition and kitchen conflagration. But that’s no complaint: I appreciate that Collins isn’t looking to rewrite the same breathless contest she’s already given us once; the plot is much slower to gel but only a little less compelling and almost never dull (more on that later). Collins has always been good at pace and Catching Fire is no exception — look how seamlessly she moves us in time and space here, from a singular present moment out into weeks and miles:

A light hits us and I put on the most dazzling smile I can. We descend the steps and are sucked into what becomes an indistinguishable round of dinners, ceremonies, and train rides. Each day it’s the same. Wake up. Get dressed. Ride through cheering crowds. Listen to a speech in our honor. Sometimes a brief tour: a glimpse of the sea in one district, towering forests in another…

There are many such instances throughout the novel, with Collins showing an unerring eye for when to use scene and when to use summary. As always, her prose is crystal clear, not particularly lyrical or poetic (though she has a few such moments) but highly effective and well matched to the story and characters.

Katniss remains a sharply drawn character and one who matures throughout the novel, changing with circumstances — fitfully, naturally, sometimes taking two steps back, sometimes slowly, all of this making her change all the more believable. Peeta and Gale aren’t as fully drawn, nor as complex, but are solid characters and, as in The Hunger Games, several of the more minor side characters are sharply, vividly brought to life in concise fashion.

There are a few weak aspects. One section of the plot feels a bit perfunctory (for reasons that I can guess but won’t speculate on here so as not spoil things), but it’s relatively brief. A few side characters, mostly in that section, are pretty thin. The exposition in a place or two is a bit clunky. And while the plot covers a wide ground, the world of Panem doesn’t have that rock-solid feel to it that one wishes for; the whole thing remains a bit misty: visually, politically, geographically, historically. There’s enough there to carry the plot, but I’d have liked a stronger foundation.

But these are more minor nagging complaints in the back of the head, more often than not easily swept aside by the forward-driving plot and by Katniss’ character development. If Catching Fire doesn’t quite maintain the standard of The Hunger Games it doesn’t fall far below and certainly avoids the dreaded Book Two “bridge syndrome” where the second book of a planned trilogy merely gets us from A to C with little enjoyment. There’s a lot to like in Catching Fire, the plot a true pleasure as it unfolded, and I eagerly await the third installment. Highly recommended.

~Bill CapossereHUNGER GAMES

fantasy book review Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games 2. Catching FireAfter finishing the unputdownable The Hunger Games, I couldn’t wait to see what was in store for Katniss Everdeen and her friends in Catching Fire. As it turns out, quite a lot.

Catching Fire picks up six months after The Hunger Games left off. Katniss and Peeta have uneasily integrated themselves back into their lives and families in District 12, albeit with money and fame. Katniss is still torn between her two possible love interests: Peeta, whom she pretended to love in order to stay alive in the arena, and Gale, her childhood best friend, with whom she still hunts illegally in the woods. Then, Katniss receives a frightening visit from President Snow, who warns her that she must make her love for Peeta convincing on their upcoming Victory Tour. It seems their defiant act at the end of the Games has inspired unrest in the Districts. Only by continuing to portray it as an impulsive act of passion, President Snow contends, can Katniss and Peeta stem the tide of insurrection. The consequences of failure will be dire.

We then follow Katniss and Peeta through the Victory Tour, and their eventual return to District 12. But the District 12 they left is not the District 12 to which they come back. The government is cracking down on anyone who dares thumb their nose at the law or the Capitol. This section of the book gets depressing in a way that The Hunger Games, despite its twisted scenario, never did. I think it’s because almost any seemingly innocent action Katniss takes has the potential to get others killed, and often, this is exactly what happens. We feel Katniss’s despair as she realizes there is no course of action that can keep her loved ones safe. We also get tantalizing hints of the rebellions in the Districts. It’s a little frustrating to only have bits and pieces of information, but it’s perfectly realistic. We don’t know anything Katniss doesn’t. With the little information she has, she faces a tough decision. What to do now? Run away into the woods with her family and friends? Stay in District 12 and act against the Capitol from there? Fall in line with the Capitol’s plans for her?

Just when Katniss has come to a decision about her future, Suzanne Collins throws in a plot twist that renders the choice moot. This plot twist is maybe a little too reminiscent of the events of book one, but it’s still exciting and compelling. I only wish it hadn’t taken up so much of the book. Some of the events at the beginning of the book seemed a little rushed, as if they could use a little more page space, and then this section had perhaps a bit too much page space.

I also wished Katniss had been a little more clued-in at times. She can be especially oblivious when it comes to figuring out that people are on her side. I’m not sure how she could miss the significance of a mockingjay emblem when a certain character pointedly displays it to her, or that a certain other character is trying to help her, not kill her, in the climactic sequence. I suppose Katniss’s background wouldn’t predispose her to be trusting, but I still thought her cluelessness was a little much. It makes her a pawn in the events of the book rather than a player. I wanted to see her take a more active role in the rebellion. Unrealistic for a teenage character? Maybe, but it might have made for a more gripping story.

Catching Fire ends with a cliffhanger, and a chilling final sentence. There’s a little bit of middle-book syndrome created by the cliffhanger. The Hunger Games had loose ends too, but for me, there are two kinds of loose ends. One type gives an ending a touch of the “messiness” of real life, keeping the story from tying up too neatly, and the remaining questions leave the reader in thought, not in suspense. The other type needs more writing to resolve, or else the story feels unfinished. The Hunger Games has the former. Catching Fire has the latter.

That said, while Catching Fire doesn’t quite clear the bar set by book one, it was a high bar to begin with. I am looking forward to seeing where Collins takes this series next, and I hope book three sees Katniss playing a larger role in events.

~Kelly Lasiter

fantasy book review Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games 2. Catching FireBill and Kelly both captured this book in their reviews: it’s fun, but it’s not quite as good as The Hunger Games.

~Terry Weyna

fantasy book review Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games 2. Catching FireCatching Fire is a terrific read, picking up only a short time after Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games victors depart the train in District 12.

Catching Fire is more adult than the first in the series. The themes are a little stronger, the imagery a bit more vivid and the emotions run deeper and are more complex. The violence is more intense than The Hunger Games, but not because the language is more descriptive, nor more creative (although Catching Fire‘s Hunger Games are new and innovative). The story is large in scale. The characters actions have broad impact across all of Panem’s districts. Collins sets the stage for a Panem-wide rebellion and, all of a sudden, Katniss’ little world of troubles becomes something much more substantive.

We explore Katniss’ relationships further… things change between she and Peeta, and while the relationship differs from the first book, the intensity grows. We also explore her changing relationship with Gale. While older teenage girls should be able to relate to Katniss’ up, down, and sideways feelings towards the two young men, younger readers will will have a lot to absorb. That being said, I didn’t find anything inappropriate for more mature pre-teens and any teenager.

This second book of Collins’ trilogy is a real thriller and sets up what should be a terrific conclusion to the series. I couldn’t get through the final 150 pages fast enough, and felt throughout that the story was providing a very satisfying continuation from The Hunger Games, and a relatively satisfying conclusion in itself. Granted, I won’t have to wait long to read the third and final story in the series since it’s already available, but I certainly understand the agonizing anticipation for Mockingjay.

~Jason Golomb

Published in 2009. Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.


  • Bill Capossere

    BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

  • Kelly Lasiter

    KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

  • Terry Weyna

    TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She reads all day long as an insurance coverage attorney, and in all her spare time as a reviewer, critic and writer. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, two rambunctious cats, and an enormous library.

  • Jason Golomb

    JASON GOLOMB graduated with a degree in Communications from Boston University in 1992, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University in 2005. His passion for ice hockey led to jobs in minor league hockey in Baltimore and Fort Worth, before he returned to his home in the D.C. metro area where he worked for America Online. His next step was National Geographic, which led to an obsession with all things Inca, Aztec and Ancient Rome. But his first loves remain SciFi and Horror, balanced with a healthy dose of Historical Fiction.