From book cover: Katniss Everdeen survived the Hunger Games. Now the Capitol wants revenge.
Anticipation is a funny thing. Like many people, I loved The Hunger Games, and I’ve been looking forward to book two in the series ever since I read the words ‘end of book one’. My excitement about Catching Fire has been steadily building all year until this week when, quite frankly, I was practically grinding my teeth with excitement. Then the moment came. I had the book in my hands. I had time set aside to read. And then, at the last minute, I got a little bit nervous. Had I overhyped this book in my own mind, to the point where it could never live up to my expectations?
As it turned out, no, I hadn’t. Catching Fire is every bit as exhilarating, as satisfying and as compelling as I’d hoped. Not many books could live up to the anticipation I’d felt about the sequel to The Hunger Games, but this one did on every level. The story thrilled me, the characters found their way instantly back into my heart, and I lost myself in Katniss Everdeen’s world all over again.
Suzanne Collins has widened her scope in this book, so this time around we find out more about the world outside of the hunger games tournament itself. We meet the ruthless President Snow, visit other districts on Katniss and Peeta’s victory tour, and begin to understand the true extent - and limits - of the Capitol’s power. At the same time, we follow Katniss’s deepening relationships with those around her, and witness her beginning to look beyond her concern for the safety of those she loves and towards a concern about everyone and anyone who is oppressed by the Capitol. Katniss has choices to make, and it’s not initially clear which path she’ll follow. Then, a third of the way into the book, just as it seems clear what she’ll do, comes a complete shocker of a twist - and suddenly the stakes have trebled.
As in The Hunger Games, the world-building in Catching Fire is exemplary. One of my favourite things about the series is the fact that it takes place in a future version of our world that has changed beyond recognition in some ways, whilst in others it’s more familiar to us than it is to Katniss herself. I’d still love to know what exactly happened to the world as we know it to turn it into the one that Katniss knows, but it’s the small differences that are most fascinating. The squirrel-like animal that Katniss eats for one meal might be a genetically engineered hybrid of her time, or it might be something completely familiar to the reader that she’s never seen before. Her shock and fear at witnessing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation might be surprising to us, and yet she’s unfazed to find a force field around the top of a tall building to stop potential suicides from jumping off.
I read Catching Fire at breakneck speed, and I have to confess that no matter how much I told myself to slow down and fully experience the journey, I just couldn’t help racing through each page to find out what would happen next. With some books, I probably wouldn’t have felt in the least bit torn about this - I’d have just enjoyed the feeling of being caught up in the story, and not given it a second thought. However, in a Suzanne Collins book there is much to appreciate beyond the bare bones of the story itself, and for this reason I will definitely be giving this book a (less manic) second read. Now I know what happens, I’ll have the patience to retrace my steps and enjoy how it happens. I can recall some of the tiny details that foreshadowed the major twist at the end of the book, but I’m very confident that - as with The Hunger Games - a reread will unearth a whole lot more besides.
I’m not sure I can agree with those who say that this book is better than the first. It goes deeper than the first book, it raises the stakes, and Katniss develops satisfyingly as a heroine - but I can’t think of any way in which it definitively surpasses The Hunger Games. The ending is more of a cliffhanger, but that's a mixed blessing when you're probably going to be hanging for an entire year! What I can say is that it’s every bit as good, and that’s a big enough achievement for any sequel with so much to live up to. They’re both a must-read, and if you haven’t read The Hunger Games then my advice is to get both, set aside a few days and prepare to become obsessed. This one’s compulsive.