Trilogies make for interesting situations. You may hook people with your first book, but it is hard to make a middle book that doesn’t feel like it is doing more than treading water up until the inevitable cliffhanger. It can then also be difficult to make a final book that ends the whole series in such a way that people are happy.
Today though I’m giving my thoughts on Catching Fire which is the second book of the Hunger Games trilogy. How does it fare in regards to this fate? Does it work well enough on its own or does it simply set us up for the last book? Do we see it building on the themes of the first book, setting up new themes to consider, or simply meandering around to simply get where it wants to go?
Understand that I’ll be going into the plot and such of the first book when talking about the second. You just have to in some regards, so if you haven’t read the first book maybe you’d want to start with my thoughts on The Hunger Games.
The plot of Catching Fire picks up pretty much where The Hunger Games left off. You have Katniss and Peeta as winners of the previous Hunger Games, a fact that is rather controversial since there is only supposed to be one winner of the Hunger Games. Between this and a number of other aspects regarding the last games, the spark of revolt has been developing in a number of districts.
Katniss’ actions during the last Hunger Games were unintentionally that spark. The Capitol is not happy with her and wants her to put out this spark she started. She is to try to do this while on a victory tour that involves visiting each district as well as the Capitol itself.
As Katniss soon finds out, the spark is beyond her control. Coincidentally though, this year marks a special Hunger Games called a Quarter Quell that happens every 25 years. This involves having a Hunger Games with some special modifiers added. For the 75th Hunger Games it is that one male and female from the previous winners in each district will go back into the arena to see if they can survive again.
Now I’m trying to keep the plot as bare as possible. Overall though, I thought the plot was an interesting setup. To me the plot moved along rather quickly. The tension that goes on at the beginning of the book keeps the first half moving along fairly quickly and then moving into the Hunger Games itself is of course going to be more action focused and interesting.
Admittedly, one could argue that it is basically a rehash of the plot in the first book. I certainly understand that criticism, but I think that there is a shift that is pretty significant between the first and second books. In the first book, the Capitol is doing business as usual. In the second, it feels like the Capitol is focusing on getting rid of Katniss and stamping out any sign of rebellion that they can. It is not business as usual, but a reaction to stop what has been set into motion using ways that are already part of how the Capitol does things.
One of the worst parts of the book is also similar, that being the love triangle. Maybe it’s just because I never really like Gale from the first book and he felt like he was the forced love interest in the first place, but it’s even more annoying here. Oh well, it’s there and not much we can do about it.
Another weak point of the plot this time around is that it is definitely not a stand alone story. It ends with a fairly dramatic cliffhanger. Maybe it’d be better to say several dramatic cliffhangers. While the first book had the foreshadowing of more to come it wrapped up most of the story and stood alone well. This one doesn’t. I can’t fault it too much for that, since it is often the fate of the middle book in a trilogy, but it’s disappointing mainly because it makes you want to read more.
Like the first book you experience the events of Catching Fire from the perspective of Katniss Everdeen. Also similar to the first book this is both a strength and a weakness. You wind up knowing Katniss and her thoughts quite well with her as the only perspective you get. The negative thing is that Katniss doesn’t know it all, which allows for mystery and twists, but this also gives you the feeling that you know something is going on, but not quite sure what.
In this book though, it doesn’t seem like Katniss is quite as good as putting things together as she was in the first book. She was able to figure out Haymitch ‘s thoughts in the first book and able to play things according to plan. In this book though, it feels like she doesn’t have much of any clue what is going on during the Hunger Games.
Many of the District 12 characters return and they’ve all of varied importance. The most important are probably Peeta and Haymitch, but Gale, Prim, Madge, and Mrs. Everdeen all play some significant roles as well. Peeta winds up back in the Hunger Games this time around as well, but winds up feeling a bit more like one always needing rescued this time around.
In addition to that you also get to meet all the other tributes from the other districts. They are a bit more important to know and remember for the most part in this book since they play more of a role before the Games and during than just being people to watch out for and kill before they kill you. That’s not entirely true of all of them, but there are more significant people to remember than the first book.
Katniss also gets to meet President Snow and have a conversation with him as well as a few other shorter interactions with him. All in all he sets himself up to be a person you can dislike pretty quickly a good villain to root against. There are a few other Capitol characters that are of interest too. Cinna and his stylist team returns and Katniss also gets to meet the new head gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee who is somewhat of a mystery to her.
So overall the cast of characters expands quite a bit in this book. Where the first book focused mainly on the District 12 team of Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch with exceptions like Cinna and Rue, this book makes most of the characters seem a bit more important. That’s not to say that everyone you’re introduced to makes it out alive, but just that there is a bit more interaction with a wider number of characters.
Themes (May Contain Spoilers)
Really I’d say that many of the themes from the first book transfer over to this book, but maybe in different amounts. The theme of abuse of power increases. Here we see the abuse played out stronger as the Capitol is starting to lose control over its districts. People are killed for the slightest provocation, it’s heavily implied that the setup for the 75th Hunger Games is in order to get rid of Katniss and remove her from influencing people to rebellion any more. The abuse of power only increases as the power is now being challenged in an intentional way.
Survival is also still there as a theme, but I think that this time around the focus on this is reduced. Katniss seems more focused on the survival of those around her rather than on herself necessarily. She wants to make Snow happy so that he doesn’t kill her family, she primarily wants to help Peeta win the Hunger Games and survive, and so on. I guess you could say the theme transfers more to protection than survival.
A theme that is somewhat new with this book is the idea on who to trust. Can Katniss trust President Snow if she does what he wants her to do? Who can be trusted in the arena as allies? How far can they be trusted? In Katniss’ mind the answer is typically that nobody can really be trusted at least not for any length of time, with the exception of Peeta.
So overall, this book has similar themes, but the focus is slightly different. Instead of Katniss being solely focused on her own survival, she’s instead focused more on protecting others. She’s also more willing to be actively antagonistic to the Capitol as the book goes on, although still most of the time it winds up being unintentional than intentional.
I’ll admit, I didn’t quite like this book as much as the first one. The first was groundbreaking but so much of this book seemed like it was retreading the ground the first book did. This wasn’t all bad as I mentioned earlier, but I’m not sure that is was necessarily good. There were aspects of the book that were better like the arena being rather interesting and having more interaction with other tributes, but it just wasn’t quite enough to make me enjoy it more than the first.
Now I still read through this book rather quickly and was looking forward to the last book after I was done. It’s just that this wound up being a middle book of a trilogy after all. A story that really didn’t end, cliffhangers galore, and getting us ready for the final conflict and the final book. Catching Fire is still a good book, but I think I liked The Hunger Games a little better.