<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 Awesome!
In the second installment of her awesome Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins successfully ups the stakes, enriches her story's world and continues to make readers question who Katniss should be with -- Peeta or Gale. (For the record, I adore Peeta, but I'll try to stay neutral here.)
Catching Fire takes place a few months after the 74th Hunger Games have ended. Katniss and Peeta now live in the Victors' Village with their families in District 12. They are preparing to go on a tour of the various districts to "celebrate" their win in the Games. Unfortunately, President Snow feels that their strategy to both leave the arena alive has caused a risk of uprising. He tells Katniss that she must convince him -- as well as the districts -- that what she feels for Peeta is real. Is it?
I love the way that Collins ties together epic political struggles, combat and an (albeit unwanted by Katniss) quest for love. The role that love -- both what we really feel and what we show people we feel -- plays in The Hunger Games and Catching Fire is very thought provoking.
I enjoyed the return of several secondary characters, especially the stylist Cinna, and the roles that they played. What happens to Darius, for instance, is heart breaking. As sad as things can be, it shows that this is a world where actions have consequences. Often very dire ones indeed. It makes a solid backdrop for the brutal Hunger Games that the Capitol uses to keep the districts in line.
Another thing that impressed me with Catching Fire was how Collins paced this book differently then the original. While a different round of the Games does happen here, it is at the later end of the book and is not actually its only main focus. She spends an equal amount of time showing the situation in District 12 and showing some events going on in other areas as well.
Katniss remains a strong, capable and likeable heroine. She can be tough when she needs to be, but it in no way detracts from or shrouds her humanity. Peeta remains somewhat innocent regarding physical bloodshed. He tends to choose fighting with words over fighting with weapons, and he's generally good at it. I liked the fact that he took up painting. Cinna is back and awesome as ever. He does something really brave in this book and pays dearly for it. Heartbreaking, but it went well with who he is. Haymitch is also extremely awesome yet again. We get a peek at his time in the games, which I feel gives us a better glimpse of who he is now and how he got that way. I also found the prep team's tears very moving.
I think that what is happening between Peeta and Katniss is one of the most beautiful yet heart wrenching things I've ever seen done in a book. (Not bad for a subplot...) I love the fact that she is the warrior and he is the one she feels she must protect. He feels the need to protect her, but generally relies on his wits and his amazing communication skills to get this done. I feel that what is going on between them grows deeper with this book. (I felt that way with most things. Collins did a good job, in general, of raising the stakes and making me care more about everything.)
Can't say much for the Gale situation. Whereas everything Peeta does tends to be to protect Katniss (right down to that first loaf of bread when they were kids...) Gale has a certain amount of self centeredness ... His behavior about things that happen, his reaction to information she gives him, etc. He is also a very passive character. To see Peeta make the sacrifices he does and think people might want her with Gale confuses me. (Yet again, I'm biased here and ridiculously "Team Peeta" If someone who is Team Gale would like to explain their side in the comments that would be very welcome.)
The plot was interesting and kept me turning pages. The writing was smooth and did not jar me out of what was happening. The characterization was solid and didn't have me going "Why did (name) do that?" I feel that this is a book that I could gladly read again in the future.
I would highly recommend this book. I found it a joy to read and am excited to start Mockingjay.