I really enjoyed the first Hunger Games book. It was relatively light fare and Suzanne Collins’ prose was clean and to-the-point (which is always a plus in my book). Of course, these days everything has to be a trilogy of epic proportions, so it would’ve been weird not to read the second book.
I had some issues with “Catching Fire” that I didn’t have in the first book. The exposition and introduction of Katniss and the world she lives in did not take much time at all in “The Hunger Games”. Soon enough, the book moves on into the hunger games part and this is where the Collins’ writing is best. The momentum throughout its middle part was what endeared the story to me. Sure, there were some cringeworthy parts, but this was almost expected considering the cast of characters.
The second novel is very much a transitional piece, made to expand the world, explain the wider ramifications of Katniss’ deeds in the first novel and set up the final escalation that presumably the third book is about. For what seemed a much longer time, the story revolves around her home and the people in her life. There are some unexpected turns that help the book pick up momentum and raise the stakes, so I was getting interested. It hinted at a lot more depth than there was in first book.
Too bad though that the hunger games portion didn’t grab me at all this time. The central struggle for Katniss is a different one this time, more complicated, but it also muddies the clarity of purpose from the first book. It doesn’t help that I can’t get myself to care much about the character that she cares so so much about. See, in the first games, she just wanted to survive. She couldn’t trust anybody, and only during the games does it become clear who the enemy is, in an organic way.
In “Catching Fire”, there is more stuff set-up before the games even begin, and not much development happens during the games. It’s quite straightforward, which made me impatient to get to the end. If nothing of note seemed to happen anyway (except for seeing who lives and who dies), why drag it out eh?
So almost in complete opposition to the first book, this time I was taken at the beginning, slogged through the hunger games part just to get to the ending. But the ending saves the book. There’s a good twist that neatly sets up the third book and even grants the middle section some depth in retrospective.
All in all, “Catching Fire” is a serviceable second book in the series that doesn’t stand on its own very well. It feels like it almost dropped the ball completely, only to make me care again at the end, enough for me to be interested in the final installment.