Monday, October 3, 2011

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Fans of dystopian sci-fi should gladly pick up this worthy successor to The Hunger Games, a series which has the thrills and imaginative vision of George Orwell’s novels, combined with the accessible first-person narration and comic relief of young adult fiction. Author Suzanne Collins does not disappoint with Catching Fire, an electrifying sequel that exceeds its predecessor in action and intensity.

Catching Fire chronicles the aftermath of Katniss Everdeen’s victory in the Hunger Games, and the subsequent rebellion that shakes the districts of Panem. Upon returning to District 12, Katniss and her fellow victor, Peeta Mellark, soon discover that citizens other districts have begun to revolt against the oppressive Capitol, and are using Katniss as a symbol of their uprising. In order to demonstrate their power and enforce their authority, the Capitol sends Katniss and Peeta back into the arena, where they must fight to the death against previous victors from other districts, and they soon become pawns in the power struggle between the government and the people.

Catching Fire lends development to the love triangle involving Peeta, Katniss and her best friend, Gale, which is more than generic teen drama. Katniss’s torn loyalties between her loved ones and the greater good of the districts are manifested in the character dynamics between her and the two boys, as she struggles to decide whether to escape the district with her family and Gale or to stay and fight the Capitol alongside Peeta. Though her two love interests are underdeveloped and thinly imagined, they nonetheless serve their purpose in representing the internal struggles of Katniss, who remains a soundly developed and rousing protagonist.

The uprisings in the districts may remind readers of the Arab Spring; indeed, part of Collins’ inspiration for the novels was the Iraq war. The districts’ fight for freedom and democracy meets violent responses from authorities, reminiscent of protests in places like Morocco, Syria and Bahrain. Needless to say this series functions as both a fun, action-packed read and an allegory of current political conditions in some parts of the world.

Adding to the fun of the arena action is a cast of colorful characters: Finnick Odair of District 4, a stereotypically handsome, flirtatious jock who wields a trident and is skilled in underwater combat; Enobaria of District 2, whose best weapons are her sharp teeth; and the beautiful Johanna Mason of District 7, who pretends to be a delicate ingénue and yet is a force to be reckoned with.

Powerfully pumped with adrenaline, Catching Fire provides a satisfying return to District 12 and a welcome reacquaintance with the brave Katniss Everdeen. Readers will likely catch the contagious spirit of rebellion as the districts rise to claim their independence, and eagerly move on to the final book in this thrilling series.

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