Book Review: Catching Fire

Previously: The Hunger Games

First, check out the new “online poster” for the Hunger Games film! Cool, huh?

Catching Fire, the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy, essentially takes every single problem Katniss Everdeen had in the first book and makes them twenty times worse. It rules. You find yourself wishing she could catch a break, but not in the “Oh my GOD, what is WITH this universe and WHY IS IT PICKING ON THIS ONE GIRL?” way that seems disingenuous and is prone to happening in a lot of books about the Hero’s Journey. It makes sense that she should have to deal with these horrific circumstances, no matter how horrific they get, because everything happens very organically and on a level where you can understand this world’s absolute hate-on for her. This is why she’s a great heroine–shitty things happen, she either resolves her issues or doesn’t, but they never stop being important, and her character development is both obvious and not at odds with the character we fell in love with. Or maybe didn’t fall in love with? Whatever, I don’t know your life.

Katniss’s life after the Games is probably the one situation in which the Money Doesn’t Solve Everything lie adage is successfully executed. She’s fabulously rich and set for life after co-winning the Hunger Games with Peeta, but still has to sneak out to hunt and feels swallowed up by her huge new house. She’s glad for the near-stability it gives her family, but her trauma and open defiance of the Capitol, the deaths in the arena, and the fact that her new station in life is all due to blood money basically means she is constantly paranoid and patently unhappy.

Of course, she has a reason to be. She comes home one day to find President Coriolanus Snow sitting at her kitchen table, he calls her on her bullshit with Peeta and her making him look like a giant wiener with the berries, and he takes a giant dump on her PTSD by threatening her semi-stable home life if she doesn’t sell the shit out of her fake relationship in the upcoming Victory Tour around the districts. People in the outlying districts have taken her defiance of the Capitol as a sign that they should start defying, too.

Katniss is miserable and Peeta is miserable but they give it a go on the Victory Tour, during which a bunch of people get killed and Peeta asks her to marry him. Since this series is an allegory for the state of public affairs in the modern-day United States, their celebrity wedding planning gets more attention than uprisings against the government; unlike the modern-day United States, the government of Panem controls all media, so it’s not like people have a choice.

In the midst of all this, the 75th Hunger Games is announced. This one is special because it’s a Quarter Quell, occurring every 25 years and subject to special rules or conditions. The conditions of this one? All of the tributes will be drawn from a pool of former victors, because President Snow really wants Katniss to suffer for those berries. No lie, this was the first of several moments in this series that made me go “Damn” and take a hearty gulp of my crappletini (also known as a Suicide Kool-Aid For Degenerates–just mix together a bunch of liquor in an oversized M&Ms coffee mug, then don‘t stop drinking until you feel like an alcoholic pirate has crapped on your brain) (see also the Alternate Haymitch Abernathy) because even though I knew something big was going to happen, the exact nature of that something was a mystery.

There is a lot of intricate plotting that’s too difficult to glance over and would take way too long to describe in detail–not that I’m unwilling to do that, but that isn’t fair for people who just happened to stumble on this review to see if Catching Fire is worth reading. If you liked The Hunger Games, Catching Fire is similar in tone, pacing, and action, but it focuses a lot more on Katniss’s feelings about Gale and Peeta, which is not really what I’m interested in. No shade if you are! But for me, this series is enjoyable because of the action and the characters and the tension, and when Katniss is all “Peeta likes me but I’m not sure if my feelings are real or if Snow is forcing this or if I‘m just post-traumatic and looking for someone to latch onto” or “Gale [anything related to Gale],“ I’m like “DID YOU JUST SHOOT AN ARROW INTO SOMEONE’S SKULL? LET’S GO BACK TO THAT.” However, I can’t say that it detracted from my enjoyment of the book itself, taken as a whole.

Plus, I would be willing to read twenty pages of boy troubles for just a single paragraph about Johanna Mason (though we don‘t have to, because the ratio is far more even). Johanna Mason is the best naked axe-throwing bitch princess in the history of bitch princesses. Please note that she is not literally a princess, but she is all of those other things. Suzanne Collins is very good about not having everyone on the planet be in love with her heroine, but the existence of Johanna Mason would mollify even that most egregious of YA errors. I would dearly love a Johanna Mason spinoff. I definitely don’t have a diary full of stories about how she teaches me to throw weaponry all over the place and we ride horses on the beach and have a secret handshake.

Other new, important characters are:

+Finnick Odair, the tribute from 4 (fishing) who became a giant ho after winning his games (on account of his youth and good looks). He’s not quite as cool as Johanna, but he comes close.

+Plutarch Heavensbee, the new Head Gamemaker, who is not the man he appears to be.

+Beetee and Wiress, the tributes from 3 (electronics). They are responsible for figuring out how the (awesome) Quarter Quell arena works, and also how to exploit it.

+President Snow, who counts because we get to see him up close for the first time.

I liked this book even more than the first one. Katniss is still a wonderful heroine, the writing is still accessible and fun to read, and it’s been a long time since I’ve read a series that has given me the visceral thrill of needing to know what happens next. I give it 300 stars.

And now, it is time for stupid pretend cocktails. Please do not attempt to drink any of these, because you may die.

The Finnick Odair

-make the sexiest drink you can think of
-go to the beach

For optimal results, drink it in your underwear with a rich hottie under each arm.

The President Snow


A perfect drink for your enemies!

The Johanna Mason


Try to find the kind that tastes the most like licking a drunk fireplace log (i.e. all scotch ever).

The Beetee


Drink it on the same beach as you drink the Finnick Odair. Watch out for copper poisoning, though.

The Alternate Haymitch Abernathy

-Ursus vodka
-peach brandy
-Bacardi Zombie mix
-Patrón? Maybe?
-watermelon schnapps
-I don’t know, some kind of whipped cream liqueur?

Things start getting fuzzy at this point, but Haymitch would want you to keep going. Not that he really has your best interests at heart, but he’s like your dad now, and at least he’s not going to let you die of alcohol poisoning before he’s done manipulating your sorry ass.