Catching Fire (The Hunger Games trilogy, book 2)
Scholastic, 2009 (YA)
The first book of The Hunger Games is good, but the second is better. In fact, it’s brilliant. In Catching Fire, the story begins to open out and we understand more and more about how Katniss’s story will influence the fate of her country, Panem. Against a background of civil unrest and brutal government ‘silencing’, she finds that she has inadvertently become a key player in the political battle beyond the arena – the game of power. But can Katniss survive in this role, dodging the vengeful manoeuvres of President Snow? And can she make sure that the ones she loves also come through unscathed?
As you can see, the stakes are raised in Catching Fire, and Katniss’s personal struggle for survival becomes ever more interwoven with the wider political events of Panem. Collins handles this shift with apparent ease and to great effect – the reader is shocked along with Katniss as she discovers the enormity of the events her actions have triggered, and feels keenly for her as she is once more caught up in other people’s machinations. The broader scope of Catching Fire also means that the Battle Royale similarities fade almost completely; as these were the main cause of my reservations about book 1, I found that enjoyed book 2 that much more for it.
And on top of that – while the first book was exciting, the second is even more so. New characters are introduced, with their own secrets and complex backstories; there’s more, and more varied, action; there’s an array of new settings, giving the reader a wider overview of Katniss’s world; and there are yet more unexpected twists – real edge-of-your-seat stuff!
This has been a rather shorter review than usual, but it’s safe to say that I thought Catching Fire was a fantastic continuation of The Hunger Games trilogy!
Scholastic, 2010 (YA)
After the excellence of Catching Fire, I was a little disappointed with The Hunger Games’s final instalment. The structure seemed less tight than in the previous two novels, which meant that it didn’t achieve the tense, climactic build-up I was hoping for. Also, in this book, Collins’s forthright style moved us along a little too swiftly at times. As you would expect from the third book in a trilogy, the stakes are raised to their utmost height in The Mockingjay, and sometimes I felt that Collins should have dwelt longer on certain scenes, to allow us to feel the full emotional impact of what she described. The action centring on The Nut, for example, felt as though it was rushed over, and overall I felt less involved than I would have liked.
And, while we’re on the subject of emotional impact, I have to say that I started to feel a bit uneasy about the number of gruesome deaths that occur in The Mockingjay. The Hunger Games is intended as a gritty YA trilogy (massive understatement), and I applaud Collins for her courage and for handling the violence well… for the most part. I had no problem (aesthetically speaking) with the level of violence in books 1 and 2, which generally served to emphasise how ghastly and wrong it was to kill another person (and to force children to kill each other). In The Mockingjay, however, I felt that Collins took this too far. We are of course meant to be disturbed by what she narrates, but after a while the sheer number of deaths begins to undermine the outrage about the violence in books 1 and 2, and I felt that The Mockingjay actually got a bit ‘trigger-happy’. So, whereas I zoomed through the first two instalments, I needed constant breaks from the horrors of the third.
Also, Katniss began to irritate me – especially when it came to her interactions with/thoughts about Peeta and Gale.
It is true, though, that my expectations of The Mockingjay had been raised to a perilous height by the quality of the first two books, and that, despite my griping, the final novel in The Hunger Games trilogy was very good. The atmosphere of overhanging danger and dread was sustained throughout, and Collins’s use of the rose references (you’ll see when you read it) was a stroke of genius, truly sinister. Moreover, the twists in the final book are very well judged – I was really impressed with how Collins concluded the power-play between the Capitol and… well, I won’t give it away – and the ending is both bittersweet and poignant. There was still something lacking that meant it didn’t *quite* fulfil its potential – maybe this was a problem with the structure/pacing – but nonetheless it was an admirable finish to the trilogy and certainly not a let-down.
In conclusion… Though I have grumbled about the shortcomings of the final book, overall The Hunger Games trilogy was fantastic. It’s ambitious, brutal, and consistently exciting, and dwells upon some extremely difficult issues – of oppression, war, sacrifice, and the price we pay for freedom.