Tuesday, June 26, 2012

REVIEW: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Description: Every year in Panem, the dystopic nation that exists where the U.S. used to be, the Capitol holds a televised tournament in which two teen "tributes" from each of the surrounding districts fight a gruesome battle to the death. In The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, the tributes from impoverished District Twelve, thwarted the Gamemakers, forcing them to let both teens survive. In this rabidly anticipated sequel, Katniss, again the narrator, returns home to find herself more the center of attention than ever. The sinister President Snow surprises her with a visit, and Katniss’s fear when Snow meets with her alone is both palpable and justified. Catching Fire is divided into three parts: Katniss and Peeta’s mandatory Victory Tour through the districts, preparations for the 75th Annual Hunger Games, and a truncated version of the Games themselves. Slower paced than its predecessor, this sequel explores the nation of Panem: its power structure, rumors of a secret district, and a spreading rebellion, ignited by Katniss and Peeta’s subversive victory. Katniss also deepens as a character. Though initially bewildered by the attention paid to her, she comes almost to embrace her status as the rebels’ symbolic leader. Though more of the story takes place outside the arena than within, this sequel has enough action to please Hunger Games fans and leaves enough questions tantalizingly unanswered for readers to be desperate for the next installment.

My Thoughts: I was warned that the second installment of Collins's trilogy differed significantly in tone and, perhaps, quality from The Hunger Games. I'll agree to the first, but not to the second. (At least, not to the argument that the quality difference is a significant one.) The things I loved: that Katniss spends all of about thirty seconds dithering about whether or not she wants to lead a revolution before deciding to take every last one of those muthas down, one way or another. I will never apologize for how much characters unapologetically stepping up to right a wrong because it's the right thing to do makes me kick my feet with glee. I will also state that I didn't mind the increased focus on romance in this installment of the trilogy. Bleak and hopeless dystopia or not, Katniss is seventeen, and teenagers are hormone bombs. She's also for the first time in her life in a place where she can think about something other than her day-to-day survival. The girl's got a lot going on. And finally, Collins's world-building is every bit as original, strange, and gripping as it was in The Hunger Games.

Now, to pull the bandaid off: all right, the second book still isn't as good as the first. Part of it is a fine-line issue, as the descriptive writing simply doesn't pop as much (and Katniss says "Yeah" every other word now?), and part of it is Katniss. She's frequently petty in her anger in ways that she wasn't in the first book, and I didn't like her lack of self-esteem compared to Peeta in the slightest. The Hunger Games Katniss might have agreed to sacrifice herself for Peeta out of the pragmatic realization that he's a better orator than her, but she wouldn't have dithered about calling herself unworthy for being a survivor. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about Katniss being a pawn to the revolution rather than a participant, but I'll save my feelings and thoughts on that until reading the final book.

Oh, and Cinna is a freaking BAMF, but I hardly think that needs restating.

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