In a way, I'm glad I didn't get to this book as quickly as I meant to. That means there's less time to wait until the sequel comes out!
Catching Fire picks right up where The Hunger Games left off. Katniss has just won the cruel and terrible "Most Dangerous Game" style competition that the despotic leaders of Panem have devised to keep the peasantry in the twelve districts both entertained and subdued. She saves her fellow district member Peeta with a desperate gambit, pretending to be in love with him so the audience of the Games will take pity on them and spare them both. Katniss is just starting to realize that she doesn't get to go back to life as normal. She's now living in "The Winner's Village" and she and Peeta are expected to keep up appearances. Her erstwhile love interest Gale has been re-cast by the media as her "cousin." Still, she manages to sneak off and see Gale at least once a week.
One thing that really got my attention is when Katniss is pulled in for a secret meeting with evil President Snow. Katniss is intimidated by his vague threat that something horrible will happen to her family unless she can keep up the charade. As he leaves, Katniss can smell blood on his breath. I wondered if we are meant to interpret that scene figuratively or literally. If it's the latter case, then why is the president drinking blood? Just because he's totally psycho?
The 75th anniversary of Panem's Hunger Games means that a new twist is employed, and it's decided that the tributes shall be drawn from the pool of former champions, so Katniss and Peeta are sent back to compete again. This time, the game is set on a deadly clockwork island, with each section of the island timed to unleash a different danger every hour. Finnick, a former winner from one of the other districts makes an unlikely ally, as Katniss decides to use her time in the arena to secure Peeta's safety. Peeta, of course, is trying to do the same for Katniss, even upping the stakes by telling people that she is pregnant, as a way of trying to create more sympathy for her. As the Districts begin to rally around Katniss, they inevitably begin to rebel against the harsh regime they've suffered under.
In Catching Fire, Collins repeats the success that she had with The Hunger Games, taking an unlikely blend of violence and romance and somehow, making it work. One thing that I love about Katniss is how dense she can be. She's an athlete, a hunter and a young woman of action. She's not a thinker or an intellectual, and many of the political machinations that the other characters are engaged in are frankly, beyond her. This middle volume of the trilogy seems to make a strong case for a genuine romance with Peeta - he's a decent and wonderful person, who truly cares for Katniss. As the book ends, and Katniss is rescued by rebels from the long-lost "District 13" she is reunited with Gale, and I predict that the third book will give Gale plenty of face-time to try and sway readers back to his camp. For all of the excitement of readers who are cheering for either "Team Peeta" or "Team Gale" there is a third option - Katniss, in her heart of hearts, doesn't really want to be with anyone. An underlying theme of the books is "freedom" and as much as I root for Peeta, I think ultimately, Katniss wants to be "free" from any relationship. With an abrupt and cliffhanger ending, and a few months to wait yet for the finale, many readers will be eager to see how things will play out.
I borrowed this book.