May 17, 2011

[Books] Catching Fire

Catching FireThe whole notion of civilization surviving a some major catastrophe in the future is a common enough setting in science fiction novels. As much as a lot of science fiction writers try to be utopian in their approach to things, there are also a lot of writers who think the worst of the human race. Or there are those who choose to express their believe in the resilience of the human spirit by pitting us against such apocalyptic scenarios in order to see how we will prevail.

Or maybe it's just a cool concept to revisit and explore. In the same manner that we choose to explore the worlds of steampunk or our far off future amongst the stars or whatever. Sometimes it's a deliberate choice of setting. Other times it's just exploring an already established meme or cliche.

In this case, I'm sure that the author didn't go this route since it was easy. If anything, it certainly feels that she had a particular message that she wanted to convey and this rather dire setting was exactly what she needed. In fact, she certainly had a lot more to discuss than just the ordeals of how people survive in a post-apocalyptic world.

Catching Fire is the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy written by Suzanne Collins. She also wrote the five-book series The Underland Chronicles.

Peeta MellarkImage via WikipediaWe're brought back to the harsh life of District 12 after the joint victory of Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark. Things have changed for the two now that they get to live in the Victor's village, receive a regular stipend of food and basically are living a much better life than before. But the time has come for them to go on their Victory Tour around the different districts and Katniss receives a personal visit from President Snow. In her new home he goes on to threaten Katniss if it turns out that their little love story turns out to be a lie.

It turns out that her last act of defiance in the previous Hunger Games has inspired feelings of resentment and even sentiments of rebellion amongst the different districts. There have bee a number of uprisings as it stands and President Snow is determined to silence all opposition - and to make sure Katniss doesn't do anything else to further inspire the rebels. Beyond the your, this year also marks the Quarter Quell - an even more special version of the Games given it's the 75th year since the original Hunger Games. And this typically means a new and startling rule that will change the flow of the Games - and this years' twist is certainly going to change the game for everyone.

The first half of the book felt a tad slow for me. The whole Victory Tour takes a while to grow on you, plus there was the need to sort of re-introduce us to the new Katniss after her Hunger Games victory. This may not sound like much given she was pretty much doing the same things that she was doing before but of course viewing things now with a very different perspective. The whole angle of President Snow and the uprisings was a slightly surprising one, and it's a plot thread that further defines the direction that the story decides to go to.

At first it felt like a bit of a stretch for me, this whole rebellion thing. But in time it makes more and more sense and Collins does a decent job of trying to depict the grassroots growth of this kind of a rebellion and how it leads to greater and greater uprisings and clashes with the authorities. And the whole time you have Katniss and Peeta in the middle of everything, trying to do their best keep their families safe while fulfilling their obligations as victors of the games.

I liked the growth sort of forced upon Peeta in this book. The first installment had him as the naive little lover boy smitten with Katniss, This time around he's become tad more mature and a bit wiser after fully appreciating that Katniss does not love him in return. Add in the fact that he has to cope with putting on the appearance that his love affair with Katniss is as strong as ever, he's certainly made to do the best that he can with the cards that he's been given.

The book certainly ends with a unique twist - but then everything always changes once the Games actually get into full swing. My kudos to Collins for doing a pretty great job of putting us in the mind of Katniss throughout all the events. The kind of emotional turmoil that she subjects the character to as the book progresses is pretty staggering and not the typical fare you'd expect to find in a young adult fiction piece. But it all makes sense in the end and thus the emotional pay off is pretty good.

Catching Fire is a pretty good follow-up to The Hunger Games. As long as you get past the slightly slow beginning half, the rest of it will be pretty awesome. It gets 4 pretty fearsome deathtraps in the new Hunger Games arena out of a possible 5.

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