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Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games)

Posted by Linda | 2:09 AM

We all know the first book of a series is almost impossible to beat. I won't lie to you - that's true for the Hunger Games, too. But, all things considered, this is an unusually strong example of a second installment. (To be honest, I still like it much better than the final installment.)

The beginning is a bit slow as we're thrown into the slightly distanced aftermath of the 74th Hunger Games. Our main characters are living at home. And...well, for a little while, that's it. They are not engaged in their relationships or their lifestyles. Understandably, they're scarred; annoyingly, especially in Katniss's case, they are too lazy and uncaring to try and rebuild.

Nevertheless, it's a realistic start. As the plot progresses, things begin to change and we become increasingly suspicious. Katniss and Peeta should be finished and living easy lives, shouldn't they? But, of course, this is Panem and the Hunger Games, and nothing is quite that simple. Our conspiratorial dystopia can't just let that happen. So things change, deals are struck, threats are made.

I don't want to give anything away here, so I'll try to be vague. To put it simply, this book took exactly the turn I dreaded. I feared repetition; I was afraid this plot would become a dull, replicated version of the first. But honestly, just after that twist turned, I was proven wrong. It was dynamic and it was different, and the consequences were new. The secondary characters were wonderful and I adored Katniss's new acquaintances. The suspense wasn't hard to keep an investment in (although it simply couldn't match that of the first book), and the details were all fresh and original. What a relief that was.

Now, I do think there was a bit too much "middleness" happening here. In writing, you want every scene to have its own story arc and fit into the broader arc of the overall tale. The same should go for installments in a series; each, I believe, should have its own unique storyline with its own progression and climax and conclusion, all of which fit smoothly into the overarching story. I wish that was better done here. There are climaxes, but they are smaller than I'd like; the conclusion is a cliffhanger, which we accept as readers of a trilogy, but not a very satisfying one. Our story arc stays too high; it moves right into the next plotline without fully coming down from the one we just endured.

That's an exhausting way to read, if you ask me. I appreciate the newness of everything - but I wish it wasn't thrown in there just to confuse us and make us desperate for the next instalment. That's great and all, and it needs to happen for a series to be successful, but we can't ignore the needs of each book along the way.

To conclude: a steady increase of risk and twist for the overall series plot and a great new approach to our characters' experiences, but a bit too reliant on building the stakes for the future and not reliant enough on the now.

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