Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, picks up where the first book left off. Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark have conquered the Hunger Games in defiance of the rules; now they must conquer the vengeance of the Capitol.
President Snow pays a visit to Katniss and lets her know just how politically dangerous she really is–she could be the spark that sets off a revolution in all of the districts. The victory tour for Katniss and Peeta is coming up soon, and President Snow gives Katniss a mission. She must convince the people that her actions were those of a lovestruck teenager, not a subversive revolutionary. She must convince the people she is not interested in becoming the figurehead of a liberation movement–or else her family and friends will be the ones to pay the price.
Forced to continue playacting her relationship with Peeta, Katniss is also forced to confront the question: who does she really love, Gale or Peeta? Gale has been her friend and her hunting partner since childhood, and they long ago made oaths to support each other’s family should the worst happen. Peeta would have given his life to save hers in the arena, proving his protestations of a long-lived devotion. Catching Fire skillfully draws out more of the character of each of these young men, making the reader face the same dilemma as Katniss. Normally love triangles end up revealing one of the suitors as Mr. Darcy and one as Mr. Wickham, but in this case, both young men are admirable. It’s Team Gale vs. Team Peeta, and nothing will be resolved until book three of the trilogy.
(Jumping outside of the world Collins has created, I have one critique to level at the way Katniss’ relationships are portrayed. Just like in the Twilight books, the main characters engage in all sorts of hand-holding, kissing, spending the night in the same bed, all “without anything happening”–which seems to be a fairly unrealistic portrayal of teenagers and their capacity for sexual self-control. But, in all fairness, I was so immersed in the storyline that this aspect of it didn’t really bother me.)
When the revolutionary fires continue to grow, President Snow orders that the tributes for the 75th Hunger Games be chosen from the pool of previous winners. Katniss is condemned to enter the arena again, but this time, she has other plans besides her own survival. “Remember who the real enemy is,” says her mentor, Haymitch–not the other tributes, but the Capitol itself. Could President Snow have signed his own death sentence when he sent these 24 victors back into the arena?
Besides fleshing out the characters from the first book, Collins introduces some memorable new characters: Finnick, the handsome playboy from District 4 who is strangely insistent about allying with Katniss in the arena; Johanna, the surly ax-thrower with no friends or family left; Beetee, the old electronics expert with a plan that could save them all. She also continues to pile on the allusions to ancient Rome. Finnick is famous for his use of a trident and net in the arena, hearkening back to the Roman gladiator games. One of the things that I failed to notice in the first book is that everyone hailing from the Capitol possesses a Roman name: Seneca, Cinna, Octavia, Plutarch, Flavia, etc. Being fond of ancient history, I thought this was a nice touch, and I spent a significant amount of time pondering whether Collins meant to create a link between the characters and their historical counterparts. (My ponderings, in case you were wondering, were inconclusive in this area. I found some tenuous connections with the Seneca and Cinna characters, but no link to history with the others.)
The theme of self-sacrifice is very strong in this book. So many people want to give their life for someone else that it raises the question: what right do you have to do something for someone else’s “own good” if it is against the other person’s wishes? Do you have the right to save a person’s life if he has already determined to surrender it? Another theme which continues to pervade the series is the morality of killing someone else in order to save your own life. As I said in my review of the previous book, is it better to be a martyr or a murderer?
Readers usually only get to the second book in a trilogy if the first book was good, which means that the second book always has a hard act to follow. Catching Fire does a fabulous job of following up The Hunger Games, and having read all three books in the trilogy now, I can definitely say this second one is my favorite of the lot.