Thursday, April 10, 2014

Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

In continuing with this month's Hunger Games theme I have read the second book in the trilogy, Catching Fire. Now, I have heard mixed things about this book and upon completing it I can see how people might be dissatisfied with this novel. Overall, however, I thought it was fairly interesting and at competent as a second act, at least until the ending, but more on that later.

Warning to my kind and gentle readers: As this book is, of course, part of a trilogy, I may mention some spoilers during my review. If you're completely adverse to this please just take my word that it's worth your time and go read it. Otherwise you have been warned, but I shall endeavor to avoid spoilers as much as possible. 

After the furor over the seventy-fourth Hunger Games, Katniss has returned to District Twelve, trying to return to the life she had before. But, of course, the Games have changed her irrevocably and she simply cannot go back to the way things were, as much as she'd like to. In addition, Katniss's actions inside, as well as outside, the arena have inadvertently provided a spark for the ready tinder of rebellion throughout the districts. (Have you noticed fire gets used a lot as a symbol in this series?) Ultimately Katniss finds herself once again being used as a piece in the power games of Panem's political players and becoming far more important than she could have ever imagined.

What I really liked about this book in the series is that you get a very strong sense of desperation from the political leaders in the Capitol. As I mentioned in last week's post, the socio-economic framework of Panem is incredibly fragile and it doesn't take a lot to threaten its total collapse. The Hunger Games are, of course, an incredibly useful tool for the Capitol in keeping the Districts in line, so long as it remains effective. Katniss's actions, though, have severely undermined the efficacy of the Games and has begun providing a means for the people of the Districts to unite against the Capitol, a truly dangerous prospect. As a result the Capitol resorts to more direct and brutal measures, crushing any sign of rebellion beneath an iron heel, in an attempt to reassert control upon the Districts. While this is certainly bad for the Districts, and creates a great deal of despair and frustration, you get the sense that Capitol can only keep pushing these people around for so long before some of them decide to start pushing back, and hard.

I will admit that the middle to later part of the book becomes a little less interesting because we once again must go through the ritual of a Hunger Games, although in this case there is the change of it being a Quarter Quell with changed rules to remind the Districts of the Capitol's authority, rather than the more regular Games. However, I got the feeling that even the author was tired of writing about the games because the whole thing happens in a very abbreviated fashion. "Twenty-four people, fight to the death, do your best to stay alive, blah blah blah." Somehow something so horrific and terrifying the first time around has become positively mundane. There are at least some new characters to make it more interesting, but it still feels rather tedious.

The biggest weakness of this novel, and again, this is probably part of it being the second in a three-part series, is that it just sort of...ends, rather anticlimactically. There's a lot of emotional buildup and the book gives us quite a few emotional sucker-punches throughout, so you're thinking it's going to end with this really big finish setting up the third act but instead it just peters out. "Oh yes. Important things happened while you were asleep. We'll get to them in the next book." I can see how people could be really frustrated with the ending, especially if they had to wait for the third novel to get written.

Despite its weaknesses, I feel like Catching Fire is worth reading, especially the first third or so that really shows you how desperate things are getting for the Capitol. The other parts are necessary at least for setting up the third novel, which hopefully will provide a meaningful resolution to the series.

- Kalpar

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