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Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)I really liked the first book in this series and was so excited about reading the second one that I totally badgered my friend at work who loaned me The Hunger Games until she brought this one in for me. I tore through it in about a day and a half, but because it had such a cliffhanger ending I didn't know what to think of it until I'd read Mockingjay and seen where it was all going.

Perhaps precisely because I couldn't see where it was headed, I went back and forth several times during my reading of Catching Fire.

At first I was intrigued to see Katniss back home (yay Gale! yay Prim and the evil cat!) and to find out what happens with victors when they go home. Then I got bored because nothing much seemed to happen, and Kat wanted to run away and desert the rest of District 12, and the whole love triangle was boring me a bit.

Then things begin to heat up, with the ominous visit of President Snow and the hints that Kat has become a symbol for rebels in other districts; I was eager to see what Katniss would do with her notoriety and role as rebel-inspirer, since one of the things I felt got shortchanged in the first book was the political component. Then we get to details of the Quarter Quell and Kat and Peeta are going back into the Arena, and I was HUGELY disappointed ("Oh no, not this again, been there done that").

Then -- !excitement! -- the victors make inflammatory statements and stand defiantly hand in hand and I got REALLY excited, thinking that we were going to see Kat and Peeta lead them in refusing to play the game and all of Panem would erupt in flames like Katniss's dress as Cinna turns her into the Mockingjay. Then they started killing each other in the arena and I felt very let-down.

Well, you get the idea. In the end, I had to suspend judgment on this one until I'd gone on to the third one, though the twists and turns kept me engrossed and each time I thought it was becoming predictable it changed. And I admit I was very surprised at the ending. I'd expected that the second book would see Kat take her place as leader of the Rebel Alliance, or at least as their inspiration, but I wasn't sure how it would come about. That it never *did* actually happen, only being implied in the last few pages, was definitely unexpected. Finnick as their ally was unexpected. Haymitch calling the shots behind the scenes was not unexpected, though also not very credible since he spends most of his page time in a drunken stupor.

I very much liked the expansion on the cruelty of the Capitol and the Government. In the first book, they seemed simply brutal and oppressive. In this one, we get a sense that they've raised it to a positive art: for example, Katniss being forced to helplessly watch as Cinna is beaten to a bloody pulp. These guys aren't just thugs, they're artists of psyops and pain. This is disturbing, but it's much more powerful and hints that Kat's battle isn't going to be a military one, at least not wholly.

So having now read Mockingjay (which I'll talk about tomorrow), I give Catching Fire a three. Not because it's not as good as The Hunger Games, but because I don't think it really needs to be -- or works well as -- a standalone novel. Its contributions to the story arc, while crucial, could have been told in fewer pages. I would have combined the second and third volumes and then edited this section down a bit, so it was all a single volume.

Parenthetically, this second trip into the Arena gave me flashbacks to The Maker of Universes and its sequels in the The World of Tiers series. Totally different ambience, but similar in the protag's being constantly dropped into artificially-created more-or-less malevolent worlds where he has to fight his way through.

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