The second book in a trilogy can be a difficult thing to enjoy, I think, and I am sure it is a challenge to write. When you begin an exciting story, readers are always eager to know how it ends, and the author must have to struggle with writing a satisfying story on its own merits, along with something that leaves the reader hanging for the last book. I think that Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was successful in bridging the first and third novels, and in terms of movies The Empire Strikes Back and The Dark Knight were as well. The Song of Ice and Fire series are not as successful for me, as I have discussed previously – while I am desperate to know how the story ends, the middle books sometimes feel disconnected and unsatisfying. Suzanne Collins is successful with Catching Fire, I think. It is a well written, self contained story in its own right, with great development of the characters and a cliffhanger ending. I am glad I picked these up as a group, and did not read them as they were published, because it has a very emotionally fraught ending.
This book picks up a few month after the Hunger Games have ended, and both Peeta and Katniss are having trouble adjusting to their new circumstances – new homes, newly awkward relationships, and the threat that President Snow presents. Much of the beginning of the book refreshes the reader on what has occurred in the prior book and demonstrates how isolated how the victors, Katniss in particular, has become. This portion of the book is a bit slower than both The Hunger Games and the second part of this book are, but it is important because it demonstrates how Katniss has changed as a character and introduces the reader to the wider political struggle the Hunger Games and it’s most recent victors as political liabilities. The reader is made more familiar with other districts in Panem, and is shown more of the Capitol and it’s residents, which serves as a rich backdrop for the 75th Annual Hunger Games that makes up the last half of the book.
Catching Fire is a good middle book for an exciting trilogy – the characters change and are are made more familiar to the reader, it refers back to the first story while being exciting all on its own, and ends on a many layered cliffhanger. It certainly left me desperate for the last in the series.