Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4.0
4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful.
In book two of Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss, Peeta, Haymitch, Gale, and the gang are back – and better than ever. In Catching Fire, Collins exposes her readers to the deeper horrors and animosities of the Capitol and of President Snow. Just when Katniss and Peeta begin to feel safe, President Snow, ever vindictive, turns up in District 12 to remind them that they have defied him and the Capitol, and vengeance would be served. Soon, the Hunger Games are brought to the districts and as uprisings begin to occur, Katniss and Peeta are dragged back to the games – their punishment for defying President Snow. What this sequel has that the first book lacked is a deeper and more realistic connection between this fantasy story and the world around us. The ideas of oppression, capital punishment, and resistance – passive and active- are well-developed, leaving the reader eager to find out what happens in the final installment of the series, Mockingjay.
3 – Characters well developed.
Though characterization is still one of the “weaker” elements in Collins’s series, Catching Fire was certainly an improvement over The Hunger Games. The majority of the story takes place in the districts, rather than inside the Games themselves, so the reader spends much more time with Katniss in the “real” world. This allows her relationships with Gale, with Peeta, and with Haymitch to grow and develop further, which is interesting to watch and builds the connections necessary for the reader to really start to care about what happens to them (something the first book lacked). Minor characters, too, like Cinna, refugees from various districts, and some of the previous Hunger Games victors are given page-time and attention, which adds to the believability and intrigue of this story’s universe.
3 – Satisfactory Prose/Style, conducive to the Story.
Once again, Collins demonstrates her talent for progressing a story smoothly, naturally, and at an appropriate pace. As with the first book, there are some disappointing deus-ex-machina moments, which provide resolutions to seemingly irresolute problems; however, in this case, the deus-ex-machina serves as a cliffhanger and catalyst for the third and final book. This is an added complication from the conflict resolutions employed in The Hunger Games and, overall, it works. There were moments where the story seemed to move too rapidly, as when the victors are called back to the Capitol. At times, these rapid changes made it seem as if Collins was writing the story without much forethought and without a clear idea of where she was heading with the story. This might not be the case, but the final impression is ultimately what matters.
Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.
The tension Collins builds in this second book is superb, and it adds that realistic element readers of the series might be looking for after the knock-out introduction to the story, provided by book one. The idea of this story is what to love about it – the writing is good, the characterization is getting better, and the setting is interesting, but it is really the premise and underlying themes which make the book tick. Basic human rights and the idea that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” are at the core of this series, and it is a notion which is easily relatable to current events and human history. President Snow is like the love-child of Hitler and Nero – a leader who rules by fear and who is so evil and sadistic, he must be clinically insane. The psychological aspects too – how family, friends, and neighbors cope with sending their children off to die (or fight to the death)- are intriguing, and the new element – the resistance of the Districts against the cruelty and corruption of the Capitol government is just what this series needed to lift-off. Interesting, entertaining, and thought-provoking. Not to mention a little bit terrifying.
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: MG, YA, Adult
Interest: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Dystopia, War Games, Politics,
“The bird, the pin, the song, the berries, the watch, the cracker, the dress that burst into flames. I am the mockingjay. The one that survived despite the Capitol’s plans. The symbol of the rebellion.”
“So it’s you and a syringe against the Capitol? See, this is why no one lets you make the plans.”