Three of five stars
After their stunning Hunger Games double victory, Katniss and Peeta return home to District 12 and try to get back to their old lives. Being the victors, however, means their lives will never be their own again. As they are being prepared for the Victory Tour of all districts, Katniss is stunned to realize she must continue the pretense that she and Peeta are in love. But is it entirely pretense any longer? Katniss isn’t certain.
Rumors of rebellion, spurred by Katniss’ dramatic public defiance of the Capitol’s authority during the Games, leak out. Perhaps by coincidence, perhaps by design, the Capitol announces the names of this year’s Hunger Games tributes will be drawn from each District’s surviving victors. As the only female victor from District 12, Katniss knows she’s going back to the Arena. The only question is, will Haymitch or Peeta be accompanying her? And which one of them will she need to kill to survive?
The followup to The Hunger Games covers much of the same territory as its predecessor, but provides a somewhat deeper background for the world Katniss and her fellows inhabit. As Katniss and her victory entourage travel the Districts, I got a better sense of Panem’s history: still no real details, but I could see some of the blank spaces starting to fill in. I was much more satisfied with this section of the book than when Katniss and her partner re-enter the arena. Really, one visit to the kill zone of the first book was plenty. And, although this arena had an entirely different — and more intriguing — setup, there’s only so much slaughter this reader can take. Even if it is mostly “offscreen”. And the novel’s final twist felt contrived and arbitrary.
While it’s worth reading on the whole, I think Catching Fire suffers from Middle Novel Syndrome, a failing shared by the second novel of most trilogies — the story contains information necessary to set up the final novel, but the reader knows that final novel is where all the good stuff will finally happen. This is the chief reason why I haven’t re-read The Lord of the Rings in many years. I love The Fellowship of the Ring but I just can’t bear to slog my way through The Two Towers again to get to The Return of the King. It’s a personal failing, that.