Inspired by this week’s release of The Hunger Games on the big screen, I made it my goal to read all three novels in the trilogy before I treated myself to the film. I’m glad to say that I’ve succeeded but it was no difficult task. I enjoyed The Hunger Games itself, as you’ll see from my review, but I now realise that one of the reasons why I’m very glad I read the first is that it led me on to its sequels Catching Fire and Mockingjay.
**If you’ve not read The Hunger Games, please go no further because inevitably a review of a sequel can’t avoid all spoilers.**
Catching Fire takes us a few steps even deeper into the horror that is the world of Panem, a collection of Districts which punishes and sedates its people by compelling each area to hand over one of its boys and one of its girls for slaughter in the annual Hunger Games – with every moment captured on big screens. But how could the Capitol have guessed at the trouble it would cause for itself by the selection of Katniss Everdeen? From the moment when she volunteered for the Games to replace her little sister Prim, she became a symbol, the Girl on Fire. And when she tried to save another small girl in the Games, Rue, Katniss’ influence spread beyond her own District 12. By cheating the Capitol of its final victory, she and Peeta have become objects of hope for the downtrodden and symbols of freedom for the rebellious.
As Catching Fire begins, Katniss and Peeta undertake their victory tour through Panem, watched by President Snow. When Katniss reaches District 11 and receives homage from the poor inhabitants there, grateful for her tenderness to one of their own, Rue, there is no going back – vengeance and revolt take off and spread. As before, there is only one way for the Capitol to deal with rebellion and that is through the Hunger Games. This time, though, it’s a very special Games – the 75th or the third Quarter Quell. There will be a twist.
Catching Fire is jampacked with everything that made The Hunger Games such a success but everything is increased, intensified and darkened. Katniss and Peeta again have to keep each other alive but this time they know there can be only one survivor and how can there be love in such circumstances? And is this even love? Was it all just to survive? Then there’s Gale, painfully impotent on the sidelines. The weight of the world lies on the young shoulders of Katniss.
It is good to see again some of the characters from the first novel – Haymitch, Effie, Cinna – and there are some wonderful additions – Finnick, Mags, Johanna, for example. A cursory glimpse of the names of the people who inhabit the Capitol speaks volumes for the values of the society they represent or inhabit – Caesar, Flavius, Octavia, Coriolanus Snow, Plutarch.
Throughout it all shines the Girl on Fire, the Mockingjay, Katniss Everdeen, the reluctant hero that, she maintains, nobody likes and yet can rally the people to her, inspired by her courage, compassion, love and fierceness. Suzanne Collins has done a wonderful thing with Catching Fire. She’s made a fascinating and intriguing young woman even more fascinating, even more intriguing. It’s no wonder at all that the film release of The Hunger Games is already breaking records. Who would not want to see Katniss Everdeen larger than life on the big screen?
As soon as I finished Catching Fire, I was compelled to begin Mockingjay, the concluding novel, instantly. This is storytelling at its best and most definitely deserves to be read by all adults, young and less young alike.