Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark are still alive. Katniss should be relieved, but now there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol – a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create. As the nation watches Katniss and Peeta, the stakes are higher than ever. One false move and the consequences will be unimaginable.
I read The Hunger Games on a train journey and couldn’t get the book out of my head – despite the fact that it wasn’t aimed at my age group. The tense page-turning action and unexpected twists had haunted me, as well as Collins’ spiky, conflicted heroine, Katniss. So – was Catching Fire going to be able to sustain the excellent story-telling skills Collins’ demonstrated in The Hunger Games?
If readers are expecting Katniss to be remotely upbeat about their survival after The Hunger Games, they are quickly put straight in the opening section. The whole experience has left Katniss traumatised. And once the ‘victory tour’ gets under way, that trauma becomes something else. For there are clearly signs in some of the Districts that the inhabitants are becoming restive under Capitol’s brutal control – and when President Snow has a private word with Katniss and makes it clear that he holds her liable for keeping any sort of rebellion in check, she realises that her responsibilities haven’t ended with keeping her family safe and Peeta alive… Hundreds of lives may depend on how she acts and what she says during their tour.
As for her relationship with Peeta and Gale… Snow points out, she now has to take a certain course in that direction, as well. I was gratified to see a complete lack of the self satisfied wriggling that occasionally accompanies a three-cornered relationship in some urban fantasies. Anyone who has been in that situation will know that it is generally a miserably painful business.
It is a lot harder to pull off a successful middle book in any trilogy than Collins makes it look. There has to be plenty of progression and action, sustaining the strong start that a best-selling first book has achieved, with sufficient exposition so that anyone reading the books out of sequence isn’t completely flailing around, yet without exasperating the reader who has the sense to read them in the proper order (something I rarely manage to do…). And the ending is particularly tricky. There has to be a complete story arc within the trilogy, yet with a couple of trailing plot points to ensure your loyal readership cannot resist rushing out and getting hold of the third book at the earliest opportunity. Collins gives a masterclass in getting this balance right. The concept of the whole series is neatly apt; her characterisation of Katniss is very strong with a compelling narrative voice – yet, I still think that Collins major talent lies in her ability to craft a classic story structure that pulls her audience into her tale.
I had resisted the pull of Chasing Fire by reading a couple of other books between The Hunger Games and its sequel on the grounds that often by reading a series of books by the same author, I become sensitive to the writer’s foibles which inhibits my enjoyment of his/her work. But as soon as I completed Chasing Fire, I reached for Mockingjay – I had to know what happens next. So if you’ve decided to avoid The Hunger Games series because you generally find books with a lot of hype surrounding them are often a disappointment – yet enjoy character-led near future, dystopian science fiction, then I strongly recommend you seek out this series. It’s worth it.