October 08, 2009

BOOKS: Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins (2009)

Sequel to The Hunger Games, about which I commented here.

The grand gesture which Katniss made in a desperate attempt to save both herself and her friend Peeta at the end of the previous book has worked, and most people seem to have interpreted it as she'd hoped -- as the desperate act of a young woman in love. President Snow, however, is not convinced, and tells Katniss that if she and Peeta still haven't convinced him of their love by the end of their victory tour through the 12 Districts and the Capitol, there will be much trouble in store.

It becomes clear during that tour, however, that trouble is already brewing. Some people have interpreted Katniss's actions as a gesture of outright rebellion against the Capitol, and there are already signs of unrest and potential revolution in some districts. At first, Katniss wants nothing to do with this; she certainly doesn't want to be a symbol of the rebellion. But when President Snow stacks the deck in order to send Katniss and Peeta back into the Hunger Games for a second time, she begins to realize that revolution may be the only way to save herself, her friends and family, and perhaps even her nation.

Collins takes a big risk, I think, by devoting the second half of the book to yet another Hunger Games, but she finds enough new twists and variations on that formula to keep that part of the story entertaining. I do hope, though, that she won't go back to that well in the final volume of the trilogy.

Her characters continue to grow and deepen in unexpected ways. Haymitch, who is Katniss's mentor in the Games, takes on some particularly surprising shadings in this volume of the series. Katniss herself is still a marvelous protagonist, an immensely likable mix of street smarts and naivete, and her surprise and delight at how quickly she adapts to the rapidly changing world around her is a pleasure to watch.

The Hunger Games series is a genuine trilogy, and not simply one novel that was too big for three books; the principal storylines of the book are brought to a satisfying conclusion. There are, of course, plot points to be resolved in the final volume, and the last sentence gives us a spectacular bombshell of a revelation that will surely drive the action to come.

These books are written for the young adult market, but adult readers who enjoy a good post-apocalyptic dystopia will also enjoy them.

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