You just remember who the enemy is. - Haymitch Abernathy
Released in 2009, Catching Fire is the sequel to the popular 2008 novel, the Hunger Games. Whereas the original Hunger Games novel focused on the Games, Catching Fire focuses on the fallout and repercussions by the totalitarian government of Panem. It is a common saying that the sequel almost never surpasses the original. Regardless of what some may say, Catching Fire is the peak of the Hunger Games trilogy. Even the movie itself is the best of the quadrology and I think there are various reasons as to why that is the case. Catching Fire is as close as to a perfectly written young adult novel rivaling the best Harry Potter novel.
Although more than half of the book is spent in building up to the Quarter Quell, the payoff is rewarding. The first third of the novel is tense. President Snow despised the ending of the 74th Hunger Games. Katniss and Peeta tried to pull a Romeo and Juliet like ending in an act of defiance. As a result, Snow visited Katniss’s house in Victor’s Village and threatened to harm her friends and family. He knew that Katniss’s and Peeta’s romance was staged and saw right through them. Of course, killing Katniss himself would ignite a revolution since the audience has fallen to admire her. This was the first time both the hero and antagonist met face to face, similar to how Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker met in the Empire Strikes Back. The whole novel has that same vibe where the empire or government fiercely responds to the actions of the rebels.
To further punish Katniss, President Snow declares that the tributes for the Third Quarter Quell (aka the 75th Hunger Games) will be chosen from the existing pool of victors. One male and female victor from each district meaning Katniss would be in no matter what. I think this is a turning point in the series as a whole. The Games aren’t seen as fun anymore, even if they were already clearly cruel and twisted. But to the audience that may have been interested in seeing them again, you want to see them come to an end once and for all. It makes you hope that somehow or someway, they are cancelled. Why can’t we just not kill one another for once and realize who the enemy is? It adds several more layers as to who truly is the enemy in the arena making the story as a whole much more complex, intricate, and entertaining while keeping it concise.
The pacing is equally if not better than the first book. Sure, the buildup to the Quarter Quell is much more tedious, but this is a special Hunger Games year. Even then, the slower parts are offset at the start to the novel by showing us the horrors and prowess of a totalitarian government. From beginning to end, the tension never ends. It is truly the most captivating of the trilogy never making me feel safe for the characters. I truly believed just about anyone, except Katniss of course, could die.
Katniss doesn’t change much throughout the series. However in Catching Fire, she is conflicted as to whether or not to kill her own allies during the Quarter Quell. In other words, she doesn’t know who to trust anymore and it’s hard not to blame her. She does however show compassion if you show that you are not in it for yourself. For example, she has thoughts of killing Finnick in his sleep, but after slowly learning his relationship with Mags and his girlfriend Annie, Katniss becomes to understand him much more personally. She sees that Finnick, like her, has been oppressed by President Snow. They understand that Snow is their enemy, not each other as the Games intend them to be. She begins to develop trust with him and both essentially become trustworthy friends.
During the victory tour, she mourns with Rue’s family. This earns her the respect of her family and of District 11. Unfortunately, her actions result in others being executed or tortured. As a result, Katniss feels discomforted and afraid of herself. That is when Peeta comes in and she realizes that he comforts him when they are together. Despite not actually loving Peeta, Katniss does appreciate him. Even after they propose, she seems indifferent to it since the act is staged. She simply wants to live in peace, but her actions in the previous book are coming into full circle and she must do her best to fend them off.
Character Score: 4.75/5.00
Peeta is still somewhat the same in terms of strength and capability despite surviving the Hunger Games with Katniss. Regardless, we see his character peak in terms of his strengths. His announcement that Katniss is pregnant during the interviews was clever in his part. This further embodied the thought that the Games should be cancelled. He serves as a stronger companion to Katniss this time around rather than a friend or fellow tribute. His kindness helps both of them make alliances that prove valuable.
Peeta is much more of a fighter in Catching Fire. He still depends on his allies to save him (e.g. Finnick giving him CPR; the morphling taking the brunt of a mutt bite), but he does hold his own. Near the end of the Games, it is later learned by Katniss that he killed Brutus, the tribute from District 1. Is it believable that he could have killed a tough tribute like Brutus? At first, I thought that was highly unlikely. I didn’t really believe it, but then I realized he loved Katniss so much that he would do something out of the ordinary to protect her. He would likely had to be pumping in adrenaline if killing him meant saving Katniss. That isn’t hard too believe as opposed that he just killed someone like Brutus with ease.
Character Score: 4.75/5.00
My favorite part that involves Haymitch doesn’t involve him in the present timeline. I’m referring to the Hunger Games he had partaken and won. That happens to be the Second Quarter Quell. Unfortunately, the manner he won angered the government leading to the execution of his family and those closest to him. He resorted to alcoholism afterwards. The winners of the Hungers Games don’t necessarily live happy lives and it starts to dawn on the reader.
Haymitch keeps many secrets in Catching Fire hidden from Katniss. The entire ploy of the Games was to get her and Peeta out alive which is a bit confusing to me. Why would he not tell her knowing she could have betrayed her allies? It seemed too much of a risk not telling Katniss the purpose of the Games this time around. Maybe he trusted that she would ultimately get along with her allies. Regardless, it is within his character to hide a lot from Katniss. He is her mentor and does give her better advice this around saying “Remember who the real enemy is.” Her enemy isn’t Finnick, Johanna, Beetee, Wiress, or Mags. It’s the Gamemakers and President Snow.
Character Score: 4.50/5.00
Gale still has strong feelings for Katniss despite being in “love” with Peeta after the Hunger Games. To keep their love story going, Snow dubs Gale as Katniss’s cousin instead. Gale has been yearning for a revolution until now. He begins showing signs of recklessness. This puts him at risk once the Peacekeepers arrive in District 12 and publicly torture him on a whipping post. Katniss comes to his help and has her mother attend his wounds at her house. Katniss and Gale kiss one another despite not being boyfriend/girlfriend. They feel for each other, but can’t be consistent in their relationship due to the “love” story with her and Peeta. Gale feels like a character set aside in Catching Fire until he peaks in Mockingjay and we see the real Gale in full force.
Character Score: 4.00/5.00
Effie seems indifferent to the revolution at first and still does her job, but her bond with Katniss develops further that she slowly becomes less oblivious to what is going around her. She seems more concerned this time around because Katniss is involved in the Games yet again.
Character Score: 4.00/5.00
Cinna’s pinnacle act of defiance was designing Katniss’s interview dress as a mockingjay. It’s obvious he didn’t fear the government and had nothing to lose. To say he died without giving the revolution another spark is an understatement. In the end, Cinna was responsible for getting Katniss the attention of millions in Panem with her costumes and fire. He gave her an identity that stuck with everyone and transformed her into the headfigure of the Second Rebellion.
Character Score: 4.50/5.00
Snow speaks to Katniss for the first time threatning to execute her family and friends if she doesn’t continue to be in “love” with Peeta. We only see Snow a handful of times, but his presence is constant even when not around the main cast. It really feels as if he is watching Katniss’s every move. He is a master manipulator pulling the strings in every direction trying to get Katniss killed at the Quarter Quell without actually having to do it himself. He is a well written antagonist with little forgiving qualities despite his brief appearances, although there is a lot of mystery as to how he became so sadistic. He didn’t just become evil and twisted because he was born that way.
Character Score: 4.25/5.00
If you took Katniss’s badassery and combat skills and added them with Peeta’s kindness and humbleness, you get Finnick Odair. When I read the first pages about Finnick’s personality and attitude, I thought to myself “He’s going to betray Katniss in the arena after forming a temporary alliance. Him, Katniss, and Peeta will be the last three and will end up actually killing Peeta leading to Katniss killing Finnick in a rage.” I was wrong, like really really wrong and that made me happy. Finnick’s charm to young female readers are his looks, but to a male reader like myself who is close to his age, his likability comes from how badass he truly is.
Finnick initially comes off as cocky and arrogant. He is afterall a career tribute from District 4. Regardless, he is very friendly to Katniss and shows no signs of being rude or disrespectful towards her or Peeta. As the Games began, Katniss believes she should kill him before he kills her. But after saving Peeta’s life, fighting off the mutts as a team, and learning that he has a lover, Katniss concedes that he isn’t a threat. Finnick was never a bad person or her enemy. He’s just another victim to the system which makes the reader feel sympathy for him. His signature weapon is a spear/trident which adds more to his strength and credibility as someone who really did win a previous Hunger Games.
Finnick may be the best character in the Hunger Games trilogy because his personalities are well layered. In fact, he is my favorite character besides Katniss rivalirying her for spot of my favorite Hunger Games character. His relationship with Mags was one of loyalty and respect perhaps almost like a mother figure to him. In one moment, he may seem like someone you want to punch in the face, then in another moment, you want to hang out with him because of how badass he is and how his backstory cements him as a good guy trying to fight against the system. It’s easy to hate him, likewise, it is easy to appreciate how cool he really is. As they say, “looks can be deceiving.”
Character Score: 5.00/5.00
Like Finnick, Johanna Mason is very easy to hate and comes off as arrogant. “She’s going to die for sure.” That’s what I thought at first when she spoke to Katniss. I’ve seen it a dozen times in movies where the overconfident character is almost always killed off. Johanna likes to make fun of others calling Beetee and Wiress, Nuts and Bolts. She also taunts Katniss at times showing off to her. It comes off as petty and possibly jealousy at first, but it really is amped up rage that she doesn’t want to be at the Quarter Quell in the first place. Johanna challenges Snow’s authority by calling him out.
Johanna doesn’t show more of her true colors until the Games are underway. Initially, she is still untrustful as she was before the Games. However, she is very rebellious towards President Snow for killing her family by going off in tangents. She hates President Snow with a passion like no other and it’s easy to relate since everyone else has the same feelings. Even when we feel that she might be on Katniss’s side, it still feels as if she can turn against her in a dime. I was expecting it any moment for her turn and when it seemed that she did by knocking out Katniss, it was actually to save her life and remove the tracker latched to her to escape the Games.
Johanna is rowdy and speaks her mind whenever she likes because she has nothing to lose. That’s why she conspires to help and protect Katniss and Peeta resulting in her capture by the Capitol. Her last will was to see the rebellion continue to gain momentum to get her vengeance. Johanna is very hard to understand at times, but she has the same goals as everyone else except she isn’t afraid to achieve them regardless of the consequences. When all is said and done, Johanna is easily one of the best characters in the trilogy.
Character Score: 4.75/5.00
Ultimately, Catching Fire is the Hunger Games series at its peak. The new cast of characters is better than before. Without a doubt, some of the best character moments are in Catching Fire. Everyone is pushed to their breaking point. Katniss must pay for her past actions as the Capitol begins showing its true capabilities. It is nearly a flawless sequel that surely surpasses its predecessor in almost every way. Not only do we get a Quarter Quell, but also the start of the revolution. The Districts are beginning to fight back. The only way to stop them is for Snow to put Katniss in the Quarter Quell. This action backfires as Katniss befriends tributes from other districts joining her cause and are willing to sacrifice their own lives for her. Nothing plot wise feels slow or tedious. It’s perfectly paced never missing a beat. As a stand alone, Catching Fire is one of the best fictional novels ever written.
Overall Score: 4.75/5.00