I know this is way overdue, as I finished Catching Fire three weeks ago. But the book fair, the two storms (and the great flood) that hit the country, my trip to Singapore (more on that on a future post!), and rearranging the house (ugh, reshelving my books, and still resuscitating those that went under during the flood) have kept me pretty busy and this is the first weekend I’ve had to myself in a long time.
If you’ve just discovered my blog, well, I read Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games (Scholastic Press) about a month back, and to my surprise, it slaked that craving I had for a really good read, and about time too, as I’d spent more than half of the year looking for a book to wow me.
Several days later, I got ahold of the I had newly-released sequel, Catching Fire, and finished it just before I had the thrill of watching the Hunger Games Live Action Role Play (LARP) at the Manila International Book Fair, organized by Scholastic and National Bookstore with the New Worlds Alliance.
I don’t remember wanting to read a sequel so badly in a long time; it’s a rare flash of feeling that I’ve only ever felt for Harry Potter books, Jasper Fforde’s The First Among Sequels, Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Angel’s Game, and Jonathan Stroud’s Ptolemy’s Gate (book 3 of the Bartimaeus trilogy), and the last two books of Darren Shan’s Cirque du Freak series, Lord of the Shadows and Sons of Destiny.
Writing a review for this book without going into particulars is really hard, especially because I’m dying to talk about the book, but to be fair, I’m discussing the book in general terms so those who haven’t read the second book, as well as those who are planning to try out the series can read on without fear.
(And you’re welcome to email me after you read it so we can all have some fun!)
Catching Fire takes off with the aftermath of the 74th Hunger Games in the post-apocalyptic country of Panem, where Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark’s actions in the arena (covered in book 1) have made an impact far greater than they intended to create.
Unrest runs through the districts of Panem, fueling small uprisings throughout the country. Definitely not pleased with the turn of events, the Capitol brings out the big guns to stage a grander – and more lethal – 75th Hunger Games, raising the stakes higher than ever in the history of Panem.
While I couldn’t wait to read Catching Fire, I was steeling myself for the possibility of sequel syndrome – that feeling when you’ve enjoyed a book so much and eagerly jump on to the sequel, only to get a lukewarm follow up (in case you’re wondering, “sequel syndrome” is not a technical term, that’s just what I call it). Not that I’m such a cynic, but Hunger Games sets the bar pretty high, and I thought it would be difficult to top the heart-pounding excitement and raw emotion of the first book.
But even from the first few chapters, I couldn’t believe what I was reading – Suzanne Collins manages to pull out twist after twist right to the end of the book and it just keeps getting better!
Catching Fire plays on the elements of Hunger Games and intensifies them so that the reader becomes even more invested in the fate of the characters, and even the nation of Panem.
I already found the plot of Hunger Games delightfully intricate and exhilarating, but reading Catching Fire reveals that the first book was simply setting the stage for the rest of the trilogy. The plot thickens in Catching Fire: an enraged Capitol laying down brutal measures to wield its might over Panem; an unprecedented twist in the Hunger Games resulting in a deadlier arena with hard-edged tributes as well as more lethal machinations by the gamemakers; a brewing rebellion spreading from district to district; and a continuing love story that gets more complicated by the page.
I marvel at Collins’ skill in crafting a multi-layered plot while reining it all in, without going off in tangents that are irrelevant to the story. I found certain developments in the story ingenious, which added to my appreciation of Collins as a writer. (How she comes up with these things, I’d love to find out!)
Another thing I like about this series is how the story encompasses a world that is greater than the characters, presenting a socio-political commentary without appearing pushy, pedantic or intimidating to a young reader.
I am also still a big fan of the romance in this series, albeit it’s taken on another twist… Let’s just say it gets more interesting, and Catching Fire contains some of the best scenes I’ve ever read in teenage romance (I swear!).
Catching Fire is definitely a worthy sequel to Hunger Games – the only thing you’ll regret is the wait for Book 3, which is set for release in 2010 (groan!)… I have some predictions in mind, but after reading this book, I’m sure Collins will surprise us all again! I. Can’t. Wait!!!!
More HG fever
Meanwhile, Filipino fans of the Hunger Games trilogy can stave off the anticipation with two contests currently run by National Book Store and New Worlds Alliance.
National Book Store is currently hosting an essay-writing contest for both books, with the following questions:
If you were to join the Hunger Games, what special skill would you have that would make you win? Give reasons why (“The Hunger Games” essay)
and If you were to choose between a man who has saved your life more times than you count, and a man who has taught you how to survive each day, who would you choose? Give reasons why (“Catching Fire” essay).
Scholastic titles and Hunger Games shirts await the contest winners. Full mechanics are available at http://www.nbsstores.com/promotions.asp?article_id=189.
A signed copy of “The Hunger Games” is also at stake for the Multimedia Book Review contest hosted by the New Worlds Alliance. Contestants must submit a creative book review of The Hunger Games either in text, text with artwork, video, audio or any other multi-media format. Full mechanics are available at http://nwa.fandomcafe.com/content/hunger-games-multimedia-book-review-contest.
“The Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire” are available at National Book Store. Until October 30, buy “The Hunger Games” or “Catching Fire” at any National Book Store branch and get a chance to win one of the following prizes: a trip for 2 to Palawan, books 1 to 5 of The Underland Chronicles (the first series from Suzanne Collins), a Hunger Games shirt, or a Laking National mug.
Oh, and Welski is giving away a copy of the book on her blog. Check it out here.
My copy: hardcover with dustjacket
My rating: 5/5 stars
On a more serious note, though, recent events in our country remind me that Panem is not as far removed from reality as we’d all like it to be. After the havoc wreaked on the Philippines by tropical storm Ondoy (Ketsana) on the metro and nearby provinces, Pepeng (Parma) unleashed its fury on more Filipinos up north. Food supply has been dwindling seriously – there are places where people basic food (rice, tinned sardines, noodles, dairy products) has run out, as floods and landslides have been blocking access to the provinces, making it difficult for relief operations to reach people in need.
As I watched news reports showing a chopper drop off parcels of goods in the air down to rooftops amidst the raging floods, I couldn’t help but think of how frighteningly close our country’s situation is to the Hunger Games, and how, like tributes, so many Filipinos have fought – and are still fighting — for their lives for the past couple of weeks now.
We’ve been donating clothing and goods to our parish, and offering the rosary every night for all the typhoon victims. Here’s a list of places where you can send some help their way – every little bit counts.