[Spoiler Note: While I intend—as usual–to keep the spoilers minimal (insignificant) for the book under review, it’s hard to review it without major spoilers of the first book in the series—“The Hunger Games.” If you haven’t read that book, you may want to before you read this review.]
As a surviving / winning tribute, life should have been cake for Katniss Everdeen. She returned to her family and friends in District 12, but instead of subsistence living she has a beautiful house and more money than she can spend. Of course, winning tributes are celebrities and have to serve as mentors to future tributes—most of whom will die. Still, the rest of the year she could be happy, except that the gambit by which she managed to save Peeta (one-third of her love triangle) as well as herself in the first book (one of them should have died, per the rules of the Hunger Games), has riled President Snow. Snow intends to do everything in his power to make sure she doesn’t live out her days in fame and comfort. The President might have found it strategic to let matters lie, but each Games brings Katniss back into the spotlight. As the 75th anniversary games approach, she will be back in the public eye, both during a victory tour and the Hunger Games.
At this point, one might be wondering whether a major criticism of this book will be the same as was leveled against “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”—i.e. that it’s a fine story but essentially a repeat of the original with a bigger death star. There’s an argument that that’s an apt description, but there are also counterpoints. The first retort is “What does it matter as long as the story is enjoyable and the tension is ratcheted up?”
The other major justification is that this part is a necessary bridge between the first and the last books in two regards. For one thing, we have to see the dawn of the revolution and Katniss’s—unwitting, but significant–role in it. A couple of the most emotionally intense moments of the book involve the first sparks of rebellion before the Games even begin to be replayed. For another, the love triangle is re-intensified. The survival of Katniss and Peeta hinges on their ability to continue to act out the star-crossed lover card that saved them in the first book—obviously straining the other edge of the triangle.
I enjoyed this installment, and think Collins did a good job of giving readers enough new tension to make the story gripping despite the fact that replaying the Games is at the heart of the story. I’d recommend the book for anybody who finds dystopian fiction appealing—whether a YA or not.