. . . is that darn book in the middle! You know how it goes - the first book is dynamite, because it's all new and there's so much to discover. The last book is explosive too, since we find out what happens "in the end." But the book in the middle . . . well, it's sort of like treading water. It's a place holder, filler maybe, a way to stall the reader until the good stuff can start.
Hunger Games was exiting and compelling; we found out about Katniss's world slowly, which drew us into it completely. My guess is, the final book will be equally engaging - after all, we'll learn all about District 13, we'll find out which of her two suitors Katniss will finally choose, and we'll get a glimpse of what lies in store for the Capitol and its totalitarian government. But Catching Fire is a disappointment. Nothing much happens. The plot can be summed up very succinctly - unrest grows slowly in the aftermath of Katniss and Peeta's Hunger Games victory. That's it. Katniss can't make her mind up about Peeta and Gale, she can't make her mind up about whether or not to rebel, and she can't make her mind up about who to really trust. In the end, not only is there no resolution, but little progress has been made toward one.
The biggest problem with Catching Fire is its pacing. The first third of the novel is really told in summary - Katniss explains what happened when she and Peeta came home, what happened on their tour of the Districts, what happened when she talked to Gale, etc. By telling it all in long paragraphs of summary, Collins removes the reader from the immediacy of the action - and it's both disappointing and disengaging. I wanted to experience Katniss's first meeting with Gale after she returned from the Games. I wanted be part of her trying to get her life together after her horrific experiences. But that's not the way this story is told. [***SPOILERS AHEAD***] Then, about midway through the novel, things start to feel very much like Hunger Games revisited. From the moment it's announced that Katniss will be thrown back into the arena it all starts to feel very much like a re-run. What was exciting and new in the first book, is expected and redundant in the second book. It's not that the final section isn't exciting - it is. There's plenty of action in the last chapters of the novel. But it just wasn't as gripping. I found myself reading to get to the end, rather than to find out what was going to happen. [***END SPOILERS***]
As with most "middle books," Catching Fire was written to set up the final part of its trilogy. There will be a rebellion. And there will be a love triangle. The sparks of the rebellion are there, although the reader is kept away from the actual embers. Collins put more time into Katniss's confusion over which boyfriend to pick - I found myself wishing for something, anything to happen to make that rather silly conflict moot. Katniss, as written by Collins, seems very, very young. It's hard to imagine her actually "torn between two lovers." Additionally, Gale plays such a peripheral role in this novel that it's hard to really know him. Peeta is present in almost every chapter - the sweet, loving, doting boyfriend who will be eternally true to Katniss. Gale, however, appears in only a few brief scenes, and never says more than a few words. Book 3 may give us a better picture of what these two young men really meant to Katniss; Catching Fire does not.
Actually, I think the title accurately reflects what this novel is all about - things in Katniss's world begin to catch fire. They don't actually CATCH fire - it just begins; it's "catching," so to speak. The conflict was set up in Hunger Games. The actual conflagration will play out in the third and final installment. Here, in Catching Fire, we just see the striking of the match. It's not a bad read, and fans of the first novel will enjoy this one. I just found myself wishing for more - more of an understanding of Katniss, Gale, and Peeta; more of an understanding of the totalitarian government they live under; and more of a connection to a story that won me over brilliantly in Hunger Games. This time, I felt a little lost.