Sophomore slump. The dreaded disease of the second novel in a trilogy is something I’ve encoutered many a times and I hoped it wouldn’t befall Catching Fire. I really really *repeat a lot* liked The Hunger Games and knowing that Katniss would enter the arena again, I was afraid of a less than spectacular novel or at least something that couldn’t live up to the expectations set by the first one. Oh boy, how wrong I was!
Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the Hunger Games. She and fellow tribute Peeta are miraculously still alive. Katniss should be relieved, happy even. After all, she has returned to her family and her longtime friend, Gale. Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be. Gale holds her at an icy distance. Peeta has turned his back on her completely. And there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol — a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.
Much to her shock, Katniss has fueled an unrest she’s afraid she cannot stop. And what scares her even more is that she’s not entirely convinced she should try. As time draws near for Katniss and Peeta to visit the districts on the Capitol’s cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever. If they can’t prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are lost in their love for each other, the consequences will be horrifying.
Truth be told, the beginning was a bit slow. The book picks up right where the first one left of and we see Katniss and Peeta embark on their Victory Tour throughout the districts. We do get President Snow being his manipulative and evil self, but for the first hundred pages or so, I feared the sophomore slump kicked in big time. We get to see the spark of a rebellion, but it takes a long while for things to get going. That’s all about to change when the Quarter Quell is announced. Katniss’ first games being the 74th, it’s a Hunger Games anniversary now and that is celebrated with a twist. For the third Quell, the Tributes will be chosen from the pool of living victors, once again one boy and one girl from each district, but this time without the age barrier. You don’t have to be eagled eyed or sharp witted to know that our beloved District 12 only has one female Victor. Katniss is in for a second round of Games. It also doesn’t take much to deduce that, even though Snow pretended like it’s just the odds that decided the nature of the Quell, he tipped the odds big time. If the book dragged a little before the announcement, we’re in for a wild ride now. It’s all happening really fast and before you know it, Katniss is in the arena again. At this point, we’re halfway through the book.
“No one had to die, I just wanted to know..
The whole Tribute parade and interviews are handled in a quick but elegant fashion. Since we already know the proceedings from book one, there’s not much point in letting this take more than a couple of small chapters, but despite the length, we get some moments that will take your breath away. For starters the parade. The atmosphere is so different from book one and this time it exhumes power, anger and hatred. The interviews are also more powerful than the first set, where Katniss once again shines. These scenes are also very powerful on screen and they give me goosebumps every single time.
I won’t go into much depth discussing the new arena, cause I could go on and on about it. It is a fascinating and gruesome piece of art which I loved. I just simply loved it. Compared to the first book, I can only say that playtime is over. That would also be my main issue here – albeit a small one – the playtime being over in the sense that the Quell is over before you know it. I consider myself kind hearted and not cruel at all, but I was a bit sorry when the Quell was over. Just a bit longer. Just a bit. I would have loved to know what the other clock-segments had in store for the Tributes. No one had to die, I just wanted to know..
“those children from the first book were just some meat for the grinder
A new Game also means new Tributes and this set of tributes is way more interesting than the previous. Because they are all previous Victors, they know the nature of the game and most of them aren’t children anymore. It gives a whole new vibe to what used to be a ‘children’s game’. Add to that characters like Finnick, Johanna and Beetee and you’re in for a treat. The thing here is, of course, that they don’t get slaughtered off like in the previous Games. Whereas those children from the first book were just some meat for the grinder, you really get to know the new Tributes and start to care for them. Well, for some of them at least. Another nice feature is how these Games develop. Last time, you knew there would only be one (or two) survivor(s), but this time, the stakes are different. We see some serious teaming up happening here and you’re left wondering who’s playing fair and who’ll be double crossing the others.
As for the writing, not much has changed in comparison to the first book so I won’t spend much time on that. It’ll suffice to say that the writing is simple, but powerful and effective.
In the end, I don’t know how I feel about Catching Fire. Well, I do know how I feel, but not in comparison to the first book. We’re not suffering from a case of sophomore slump here, that much is clear, but on the other hand, the novelty-effect is also gone. When I compare the two books, the build-up to the Games is handled way better in the fist book, but when it comes to the actual Games, I think the Quell overpowers the 74th in intensity, cruelty and also their players.
However it may compare to its predecessor, it sets the bar high for the concluding book.
★ ★ ★ ★