Chances are, if you’ve heard of Suzanne Collins’ "The Hunger Games" you’re now a proud owner of the sequel "Catching Fire." But for those who haven’t heard, "The Hunger Games" is a surprisingly dark and refreshing new series that deserves more than a quick glance at the book jacket.
The "Hunger Games" is a fast-paced and fearless novel set in an uncertain, dystopian future where America no longer exists. The story follows a young girl, Katniss Everdeen, in the society of Panem; a pitiless country divided into 13 districts. Through the ill-informed Katniss, the only clues to our future lie in a past revolution against the government that resulted only in the decimation of the Thirteenth District as well as the institutionalization of the chilling and remarkably inhumane Hunger Games.
The Hunger Games are, in essence, the return of the Roman Coliseum; only instead of aged warriors or purchased slaves, Panem enters its citizen’s children into the arena. As a reminder of how easily the government can quell another revolution, they mandate that every citizen watch, "enjoy," and support the circus of monstrous slaughters. One of these unlucky tributes (as the entrees into the games are called) is Katniss, and the reader is immediately taken to the brazen and sobering arena. Throughout the story Collins achieves a feeling of depravity and urgency in the reader that lasts until the end of the games in a twist and ending that could almost be called unfair only because of its extreme cliffhanger. Now, with the arrival of the second installment, "Catching Fire" blows away its expectations by evolving the story into something as suspenseful as it is complex.
The transition from book one to two provides a well-deserved break not only for Katniss, but for the reader as well. Suzanne Collins takes the dramatic action of "The Hunger Games" and severely slows it down, turning it into the political thriller "Catching Fire." That is, until you get fifteen pages in.
"Catching Fire" begins almost tentatively. Though the plot is allowed to form more fully with the lack of action, expectations waver until the energy of "The Hunger Games" is violently resurrected, throwing the reader back into a familiar world of suspense and originality.
With little time to rest after the games have ended, Katniss finds herself torn between two choices. Stand up against Panem (which, as an eighteen-year-old girl, she has little interest in doing) or save herself and her family from its threats. And don’t think just because the title has changed that the "Hunger Games" doesn’t play its part.
A particularly endearing quality of "Catching Fire" is the main character herself. Katniss is not an average heroine, and the sequel likes to remind the reader of this. In fact, more often then not she’s extremely selfish and cold. But somehow, and possibly because of this, she’s more relatable than any of the other supporting characters in the book. Even her stabs at revenge seem almost as satisfying for the reader. Unfortunately, this satisfaction is robbed away as the final sentence of the book is punctuated, leaving the reader with another intoxicating cliffhanger.
"Catching Fire" continues to showcase Collins’ ability of immersion into the textures and tastes of Panem. With very few words the reader becomes so comfortable that in the second it takes for the story to turn from relaxation to pain and violence, the reader can almost feel the surge of whatever damage has been done. The only flaw is Collins’ repetition of information from the first book. Though not too often, there’s obvious drag where she takes the time to reiterate the introduction of a character or memory.
However, the mastery Collins has achieved is obvious and there is already much anticipation for the third and final installation of the series.