So, the 'Hunger Games'. What a blazing book that was; 'Battle Royale' meets 'Big Brother'. But the first book only really got the story started. The main attraction of the book were the Games themselves, and only tantalising glimpses of the dystopian world were given.
In Catching Fire, we delve deeper into the history and mystery of this futuristic world. We learn a a few things about how Panem came to be, but also many more questions are raised. Did you think things would become less complicated for Katniss and Peeta after the Games ended? Far from it. Everything becomes far more complicated, and events spiral beyond their control.
The genuinely terrifying President Snow, a snakelike being who smells of blood and roses, is as threatening and hateful when he's not present as when he is. He's angry at our heroes, and getting angrier by the day as the unrest in the downtrodden districts grow. Katniss and Peeta are playing figurative chess with their lives as well as their loved ones. But there seems to be no escaping the power of Snow, and the revenge he brings crashing down upon them is horrific, devastating and, I will admit, completely unexpected.
In fact, that's the whole thing about 'Catching Fire', although the first 'Hunger Games' was an excellent book, it was a little predictable. This isn't. Every chapter seems to end on a plot twist, and your breath will catch in your throat as you fear for what could happen next.
On the downside, 'Catching Fire' is the second part of a trilogy, traditionally the weakest book in three because it neither has the advantage of starting the story nor finish it. Stories are followed up from where they left off, and some are started but not finished, obviously ready for the final installment, but 'Catching Fire' doesn't feel like it's own book. Plus, you could practically split this book in half, each half in very different places, with different stakes and different characters, and both almost completely inconsequential of each other, so it can feel a bit...tacked on at times. Plus 'Catching Fire' does sometimes retread familiar ground, making it feel a bit lazy here and there.
But honestly, these are just nitpicks. If you liked the first book, as I did, then you'll be just as delighted (and terrified) by this one. And, without spoiling anything, the last few chapters could be some of the finest, scariest, most heart-stopping moments I've ever read, and left me gagging for the final book.
If 'Hunger Games' left you hungry for more, then 'Catching Fire' will set you ablaze. Essential reading, for young adults and adults too. Not for the faint-hearted!