Sequels normally don’t fare well in the land of books. Normally, they are let-downs that follow an exciting first novel in a new series. We rarely see the success of sequels, and it wasn’t until films like Harry Potter came around that sequels were actually celebrated and provided a full picture of the series’s story.
With Hunger Games, creating sequels would always be a bit more difficult because the series is only a trilogy. There is a beginning, middle, and end. That’s it. Suzanne Collins only had three tries to create a well-rounded story. When Catching Fire was published on September 1, 2009, many people were disappointed with the story’s plot. At first glance, it seemed like a replica of the first Hunger Games novel. Another game? Didn’t Katniss just win a game? Isn’t it cruel to throw her back into the ring like that?
When the popularity of the novels grew, even more people expressed their disappointment in the first two novels of the series taking place during a tournament. But despite what the haters say, Catching Fire is my favorite Hunger Games novel. And this is most certainly a hot take on a hill that I am willing to die on.
*Disclaimer: Major spoilers ahead if you have not read or watched Catching Fire!*
As a first novel, Hunger Games had already pushed the envelope. It strayed away from the fantasy realms that were popular in the 2000s and invited us into post-apocalyptic America. It made people wonder if all goes wrong, is this how bad things could become? So when Catching Fire invited us into another Hunger Games match, it is understandable why readers were disappointed.
However, I believe this story challenged reader’s minds exactly as the first book did. We all know Katniss and Peeta cheated their way to a joint-win in the first novel. And with two young adults out-smarting a government system, it was only inevitable that the government would have to get smarter as well. So to pull a 180 and claim that in honor of the 75th Hunger Games, The Quarter Quell would bring back past victors to compete for their lives once again was actually pretty genius.
Worse still, we begin to see Katniss lose some of her only friends outside of the games. Gale returns to work in the mines after being brutally beaten for his alliance with Katniss. He is shocked to hear of Katniss and Peeta’s (fake) engagement and pregnancy and is pretty much helpless to everything going on inside of the games. We also lose Cinna, one of the most beloved characters of the first novel. Like Katniss, Cinna was never afraid to speak out against the Capitol. He even created a statement dress for Katniss to wear and portray her rebellion before she entered the arena. Unfortunately, this decision is what cost him his life. And I don’t know about you, but when I read that we lost Cinna, all hope felt lost for Katniss and Peeta.
Because of this, we are introduced to so many new characters who will (spoiler alert) actually survive. The first book depended on everyone dying for Katniss or Peeta to survive the games. But as the book goes on, readers find out that many other Quarter Quell players also want to take down the government. This makes this particular game more high-stakes because the point is to get as many people out alive as possible. Besides the few characters who are against Katniss and Peeta, many join their alliance to not beat one another but beat the game itself.
That said, my most favorite character of the Hunger Games series is introduced as one of the past victors: Johanna Mason. Frankly, I like her more than I ever liked Katniss. She played her first Hunger Games tournament exactly as I would have: she pretended to be weak and quiet when in actuality, she was cunning and fierce. She is a great dichotomy to Katniss’s hesitant and thoughtful manner.
With nothing to live for (we find out President Snow killed her whole family), Johanna hates the Capitol just as much as Katniss does. She realizes that to save herself, she must help save (at the very least) Katniss, and so she pulls Katniss’s tracker from her arm to make people believe that Katniss is dead. Although portrayed as untamed and savage, Johanna is one of the most sensible characters in the book. And let me just say, I was absolutely ecstatic to hear that Jena Malone would play her in the films.
My favorite part about Catching Fire, though, is that it provided us with an overall conflict that carried the rest of the series. Katniss’s only goals of The Hunger Games were to protect Primose and make it out of the games alive. She succeeded in doing both of those things. Now what? Catching Fire provided readers with the Capitol’s opinions and retaliation to the events of the first book. The Panem government was mad, and they were going to do everything in their power to get back at the girl who found a loophole in their system. We finally have a conflict that extends outside of the games!
Not only this, but the sequel ends on a cliffhanger that separates Katniss from all of her allies in the Quarter Quell. When she shot down the arena’s force field, would her new friends make it out alive? The book forces a fantastic segway into Mockingjay because it compels readers to continue reading to find out what happens to the new characters they were just introduced to. Of course, this is in addition to finding out the conclusion to the Peeta versus Gale debate.
Overall, The Hunger Games series is a fantastic post-apocalyptic story that sets the bar high for its successors. But Catching Fire will always be the shining star of the trilogy for me. It takes a plot that readers are already familiar with and flips it on its head. Most importantly, though, it provides readers with a reason to keep reading, and that’s all a reader can ask for.
What is your favorite Hunger Games book? Let us know below! If you want to learn more about the series, click here to read our article about how Suzanne Collins came up with the story!
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