The Hunger Games – Book 2

See my intro and Part 1.

Let me begin by emphasizing that I read Catching Fire in one day.  I started it Friday morning on my commute, read it there and on my commute home, and the spent hours (after deciding to go to bed earlier) reading it through to completion.  It’s my favorite of the series, and there were actually twists in this one that made me physically sit up in bed.

Minor Plot Spoilers Below

The book begins with Peeta and Katniss going on a tour of Panem as the victors of the latest game.  She’s been instructed / intimidated by the president to keep any revolutionary actions well under wraps, though she never intended to be revolutionary in the first place.  All is well and good in the preparation for this dog and pony show, but the first stop is District 11, Rue’s home.  Peeta delivers the standard lines and avoids causing a ruckus, but Katniss jumps in at the end to give her respect to Rue and to thank the people for their bread.  This results in a moment of solidarity, originating with an old man whistling Rue’s song.  Then, as they are hurried off the stage, Katniss sees the Peacekeepers execute the old man.

The tour continues, and they do their best to not actively incite rebellion.  As it goes along, Peeta attempts to smooth things over with President Snow by publicly proposing to Katniss.  However, all of this is too little, too late, and the ball of rebellion has already started to roll.

Upon arriving home in District 12, the 75th Hunger Games is announced.  Every 25 years, the games have a twist to them, and this time, the twist is that the competitors will be chosen from the surviving victors of the prior games.  Since Katniss is the only female victor in District 12, she is automatically reentered.  Haymitch, their coach for the first games and an old victor himself, knows that if he is selected Peeta will volunteer anyway, so they begin planning for Katniss and Peeta to go into the arena once more.

For the press conference before entering the arena, Katniss is dressed in her wedding gown.  Cinna, her stylist, instructs her to spin at the appropriate time, which ignites the dress and turns the dress into a symbolic mockingjay outfit.  The mockingjay has been appropriated as the symbol of the rebellion, and as such, this is a direct challenge to the President.  Meanwhile, Peeta tells the world that Katniss is pregnant, creating one of the “Oh shit!” moments for me.

Unbeknownst to them, a large number of the other victors (and general revolutionaries) have been plotting further rebellion.  Katniss and Peeta almost immediately team up with Finnick, and slowly accumulate more compatriots.  They develop a plan to take out the rest of the competitors, but in reality it’s devised to take down the arena.  It succeeds, and some (including Katniss) are airlifted to safety by the rebellion, and some (including Peeta) are captured by the President.  The book concludes with the knowledge that District 12 has been destroyed.

End Minor Plot Spoilers

This is the Empire of the series, and just like in Star Wars, it’s my favorite.  It starts out a little slow, but more than makes up for it as the story progresses.  As I mentioned in the Book 1 review, the theme of not being able to go home again keeps on rolling.  With every action, there is quite literally no turning back.

The characters here get a little more life-like, but there is still a large number of named yet flat characters, in particular among the competitors.  They thankfully fleshed out Finnick, who very quickly became my favorite supporting character in the series.  The dynamic between characters was improved from the first book, and it seems like the author hit her stride with Katniss’s personality.

Since this book continues to be told only through her point of view, it’s interesting to see what the author allows Katniss to pick up on.  There are things that she (and many readers) might not pick up on at first glance, but they’re present in the story if one is paying attention.  What makes it interesting to me is that they aren’t always significant things that are dropped as foreshadowing.  Rather than always being the proverbial “gun on the mantle,” there are lots of little things that she misses in her naivete as well.  On top of making the character more real, it also makes the story more engaging.

The only complaint I have about the book is one that is only semi-valid at best.  The chaos at the end of the story is damn near impossible to sort through.  This is intentional, considering the disoriented state that Katniss is in and her ignorance of the overall plan, but it made me disengage from the story.  I started lightly skimming paragraphs because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to figure out what the heck was going on anyway, so I would get to a point that’s clear and work backwards.  Mockingjay clears a lot of the rubble through the other characters involved, but it was still a bit annoying as the almost-conclusion.  The clarity comes back at the last minute, which saves the ending in my opinion, but it’s still a bit meh.

Continued in Part 3.

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