I am not referring to the book in that title. Unfortunately, these reviews, since they are a book series, contain more spoilers than I generally like to give. Fair warning.
In Catching Fire by the wonderful Suzanne Collins (I really cannot say enough good about this lady), there is another Hunger Games. But this one? This one is special. It’s the 75th Hunger Games and every twenty five years, the game makers throw a wrench into the works. They call it a Quarter Quell. By the time this Hunger Games is announced, the reader already knows that Katniss’ actions in the last book (which I did not spoil and will not spoil) have incited rebellion. In the Victory tour she tried to do her best to reverse the damage done by playing innocent. It did not work.
So when the Quarter Quell is announced, Katniss and the reader are on edge. And so when it is announced that the victors from past Hunger Games are going to be the tributes this year, it feels half like a betrayal and half inevitable. A betrayal because it is a sacred contract that victors are left alone by the Capitol. They are provided for, with money and gifts and–most importantly–a sort of peace. They do have to be the new tribute’s liason at each Hunger Games, so they never really stop living their time in the arena, but at least they’re allowed to do it privately. Of course, this all feels inevitable because the government needs to get rid of their little rabble-rouser, however unintentional the rousing might have been. She means too much to the rebellion and unfortunately, as the only living female victor in District 12, she’s guaranteed to be back in the arena. It’s too convenient to be a coincidence. And now it won’t be children and strangers in the arena. It will be all ages and friends.
That’s as much as I’m willing to give away of the book, but know that when I said Suzanne Collins doesn’t do happy last review, that is equally true of this book.
This book feels more original than the last. I was in Ancient Greece almost immediately, others I know have compared it to Battle Royale. Having never been exposed to it, I was not bothered by the similarities. However, once using these two familiar stories to establish the world, Collins does a fantastic job of making it her own in this book. The writing is less like re-telling a story and more like telling a story.
This book’s set up take quite a long time, but it’s a necessary and good setup. After establishing a world, this section of the book builds it. Also, it gives the reader a much better idea of where all the Districts are (physically and politically), which becomes necessary in the next book. I never felt bored with the “set-up” section of the book. A lot of things happen quietly in this section. And, of course, I much appreciated the map that I was able to create in my head. I have a very strong theory as to where the Capitol is and I don’t really want to be proven right or wrong. I swing between wanting a definitive map or wanting to keep my own as definitive. I think the decision NOT to be explicit (in word or picture) as to where everything is was a brilliant choice on Collin’s part.
I adore that the main character is still emotionally and socially stilted while showing much more emotion. Considering the situations she finds herself in, I’m not surprised that this very closed character has these emotional outbursts. In fact, these outbursts feel real. The emotions have to come out, but Katniss does her utmost to make sure they don’t. The conflict within her is enough to drive anyone to the edge minus all the environmental pressures Katniss has to deal with. The writing is at times stilted, but I think that is a purposeful reflection of the character. She won’t process, won’t process, won’t process until her emotions mug her and force her to. Since these books are in first person, I think the writing MUST reflect this process and I think it does so admirably.
I wish I could just keep going on and on, but there is another book to review and a flight to catch.