Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Book Review: Catching Fire

So, a couple weeks back I did my book review of the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (click here for that review). As I noted in that review, I had a few problems with how the book differed with the film which I had seen a few weeks prior. Nonetheless, based on the thoughts of my wife and son, I decided to continue reading the trilogy as the books were easily accessible to me.

My mixed thoughts continue with Catching Fire, first published in 2009.

As the first book left off, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark made Hunger Games history: the two were crowned victors. Needless to say, the ever controlling President of Panem was none to pleased. The two are set upon the required Victory Tour of the other districts and quickly learn their actions have serious consequences. How far will the Capital go to keep them in line? It turns out, quite far indeed.

Without giving any more of the plot away, I will say that this second book in the series started out slow for me. Except for a few choice scenes, I felt the first one hundred or so pages really dragged on. Again, because of the narrative choice of first-person present tense, we only see what Katniss sees and know what she knows. It therefore keeps the reader in her very limited circle of perspective. And that, for me, makes this and the rest of the book very cumbersome.

Clearly there is a lot of potential to this world. How did it get this way? How far will the Capital go to keep the order in place? We see some of the later through the events of the Quell, but it is only from a reaction standpoint of Katniss and the others. I am a villain person - I love reading about the thoughts and actions of a good villain because, ultimately, they make the triumphant of the hero oh so more satisfying. Collins sort of robs me of that by her choice of character view-point.

I will give Collins props for a creative layout for the Quell (no spoilers here for those of you planning to read the book). There are also times when she has Katniss have moments of sheer brilliance in her defiance. The problem, however, is that Katniss bounces back and forth from that stance which would be typified by a sixteen year old girl caught up in a game that she clearly cannot win on her own.

I was then disappointed in the final twenty pages or so. It felt like Collins found herself running out of runway fast and had to pull out some rabbits to get it to the shocking ending paragraph, all just to set up the final book. There is a lot of "telling" as Katniss quickly learns everything that was going on behind the scenes. Some of it, you can link back to clues early in the book, but a lot of it seems to come a bit out of left field. Even so, the delivery method of this information is weak. Rather than hear the words directly from Haymitch's mouth, we get a Katniss recap of it. For me, that takes away a lot of the potential for emotional impact.

Since I preferred the first film over the first novel, I am hoping the second film elevates the prose for me again when it is released.

On to the third and final book Mockingjay tonight.

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