Book Review: Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins

Warning:  heavy spoilers ahead, although I haven’t spoiled the final ending details.

Despite my lukewarm feelings about the first book of the trilogy, I’ve pushed ahead and am mostly glad for it.  Catching Fire is somewhat better paced than The Hunger Games in the front end, for starters.  The front half is a lot of talking and Katniss wavering in her feelings for her two suitors, but it is peppered with actual suspense and moments of dread, helping to buoy the tale along.  The Quell sequence is somehow not as action-packed as I’d expected, which is a bit of a downside, but is still more enjoyable than the Games for reasons I’ll elaborate on.  Overall, it serves as a good transition book, although it is still plagued by problems.

The book opens post-Games, with Katniss bemoaning her dreadful life.  Sure, she survived the Games with little actual blood on her hands.  Sure, she and her family now live in the Victors’ Village, wealthier than they’ve ever been.  She still hunts for the enjoyment of it, has Cinna covering her ass for the talent she should be developing in her plentiful spare time, and is generous to the people of her district.  But woe is Katniss, because she and Peeta barely talk (after she rejected him) and Gale’s busy being worked to death per customary Capitol oppression 6 days per week and is bitter about her macking on Peeta on TV.  Katniss is a foolish, oblivious young girl when it comes to matters of the heart, and it still detracts from and demolishes the “strong heroine” label people wish to thrust upon her.  Collins still doesn’t sell it well, and I’m still not buying it.

The Victory Tour – wherein the winner of the Games is paraded around like a show pony – begins with an ominous visit from the Capitol’s President, who basically calls Katniss out on her bullshit, tells her she was rebellious in her berry-actions that spared both her and Peeta, and says, “Convince me you love him or I kill you and all your loved ones.  Ta-ta!”  In true good and perfect Katniss form, she has been oblivious to how her manipulation at the end of the Games was a great big FU to the Capitol, sighing about only wanting to spare Peeta.

Katniss soon wakes up on tour as she begins to understand the rebellion that is beginning, of which she is a symbol, and it is here that we finally begin to see signs of the heroine she’s been trumpeted to be.  In celebrating boldly in the face of President Snow despite the message that she has failed to convince him and stop the rebellion, she demonstrates a comfort – a sense that being the enemy of Snow is far preferable than being the puppet that pleases him.  As rules become stricter within the Districts, Katniss starts fighting back in her own ways.  She is finally a girl on fire.

As for her love life…. Ugh.  Frankly, I agree wholeheartedly with Haymitch when he says she could never deserve Peeta.  She doesn’t, nor does she deserve Gale.  Let’s look at it thus:  Gale has spent years as her companion, so blatantly in love with her it hurts, yet Katniss has been so blind, she cannot see it, nor does she truly grasp why Gale might be annoyed with her PG-13 TV relationship until he points out that hello, he loves her…. to which she says, “I know.”  Wow, Katniss!  Peeta, having bared his heart on TV and bought into the Katniss act during the Games, is understandably pissed when he realizes she feels very different.  And yet, when Katniss is under duress on the tour, who’s sleeping beside her to soothe her?  Peeta, the ever faithful and loyal.  Once again, his genuine feelings and desires are manipulated into an act for the Capitol – and Katniss’ selfish benefit.

But it grows worse:  Gale is badly injured, and so she spends the night kissing him and realizing that gosh, I love this guy!  I do!  But mere days later, she begs Peeta to hold her until she sleeps, because she misses the contact.  She vows to die to save him in the Quell.  Katniss cannot make up her damn mind.  She has no idea what true love is, even at the end of this book.  It’s tiresome and grating, and she’s such a selfish prat that I can’t empathize with her.  Instead, I want to crawl into Peeta’s head.

Once again, everything works out perfectly for Katniss, without her lifting a real finger, because she is special and good and needed alive.  Blech.  Everyone risks everything for her, and she is incapable of the proper loving thanks, so why does anyone bother?  I call Mary Sue again on this character.  She’s tiresome, and were the plot and supporting characters not so fun and the books not so short, I couldn’t be arsed to finish the trilogy.

Speaking of the Quell…  I only half-bought that plot device.  It seemed far too convenient.  Far too dramatic and truly a “must top myself” moment.  I went with it, but spent the entire time rolling my eyes at the device.  It seemed counter-intuitive to the Capitol’s goals to suppress and silence all rumblings of rebellion in the Districts, and I think that is what bothered me most: it handed the Districts a reason to fight, ever so conveniently.  On the flip-side, the sequence didn’t drone on and on about Katniss kissing Peeta and BS’ing a relationship, and focused more on actual action and strategy, so that was a huge plus this time around.  I also liked the other contestants far more, given my ability to get to know most of them via the narrative.

Oh, and the pregnancy BS?  Really?  I simultaneously loved Peeta for it, and hate Collins, because it was so easily disproven. The Capitol easily could have done a blood test on her but oh ho, they don’t, just so they can get away with it… for now…

In spite of all these issues, I still rank this book pretty highly.  It’s snappy, breezy and does bring great action and drama.  The key is to take it as it is:  YA fiction meant to set-up a final book while appealing to teenagers.  Embrace it as a fun vacation/transit read, and it’s worth the time.

Rating:  4/5 stars

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