The author starts Catching Fire with all of info to fill us in on the events and relationships from the first novel, but she does a good job of moving it along. I especially admire the little, but clever, details about the characters and setting. I suspect these are the key to drawing us into this novel. Here's an excerpt from the first chapter:
Haymitch is still dead to the world. Since nothing else has worked, I fill a basin with icy cold water, dump it on his head, and spring out the way. A guttural animal sound comes from his throat. He jumps up, kicking his chair ten feet behind him and wielding a knife. I forgot he always sleeps with one clutched in his hand. I should have pried it from his fingers, but I've had a lot on my mind. Spewing profanity, he slashes the air a few moment before coming to his senses. He wipes his face on his shirtsleeve and turns to the windowsill where I perch, just in case I need to make a quick exit.
See the clever details? It's not just Haymitch waking up wielding a knife (we've all encountered characters like this before)- he also kicks his chair ten feet behind him. It's not just Katniss dumping cold water (hey, I do that all the time to my kids, he he), it's how she perches on the windowsill. Later in the scene, even though Haymitch is no longer a threat, she decides to exit via the window - much more interesting than retreating out a door.
Here's another excerpt from the first chapter with little details that pack a big punch. Here Katniss is encountering a powerful and threatening character, President Snow. It's not so much what he says that threatens her, as these details about him:
I nod because, by the way he says it, it's clear that Seneca Crane has been executed. The smell of roses and blood has grown stronger now that only a desk separates us. There's a rose in President Snow's lapel, which at least suggests the source of the flower perfume, but it must be genetically enhanced because no real rose reeks like that. As for the blood... I don't know.
The scene ends with:
I don't watch him as he heads for the door, so I flinch when he whispers in my ear. "By the way, I know about the kiss." Then the door clicks shut behind him.
End of chapter. The beginning of the next chapter:
The smell of blood.... it was on his breath.
Whoa. Heady writing, there.
Here's another little detail that makes a simple kiss turn into something really powerful:
How his hands, which could set the most intricate of snares, could as easily entrap me.
Not only does the author hook us with these details, she keeps supplying a steady stream of them throughout the book, just as she did with the Hunger Games. That, combined with a constant stream of action and surprises, propels this story along like a predator relentlessly stalking its prey.
And as a girl (well, I'm still a girl at heart), how could I not love a writer who can have so much fun, and impact, with fashion? Are we not all dreading to find out what happened to Katniss' stylist, Cinna, in the next book? Who else could continue to stun us with amazing clothes that pretend to be on fire, or throb like coals, or a wedding dress that disintegrates into an entirely different sort of "fashion statement" ?
In this book, the reaping for the Hunger Games results in a set of competitors even more colorful than in the first book.
You've got Enobaria, who had her teeth cosmetically altered so each one ends in a sharp point like a fang and is inlaid with gold; playboy Finnick who at first impression seems shallow, but then we discover his deep attachment and protective attitude to eighty year old Mags, who also adds a powerful dimension to the games with her cane and her sacrifice. Wiress is described as "probably around my mother's age and speaks in a quiet, intelligent voice. But right away I notice she has a habit of dropping off her words in mid sentence, as if she's forgotten you're there." Her partner wears glasses but spends a lot of time looking under them. They invent things so the other competitors nickcname them Nuts and Volts. Then you've got the Morphlings, drug addicts who like to paint themselves, and Johanna who strips down in the elevator to make Katniss uncomfortable and goes naked for wrestling practice.
Then there is Peeta, Katniss' partner in the Games. I wish I still had the book in my possession so I could go back through and pick out my favorite parts with Peeta to share. Looking forward to see how the whole Katniss/Gale/Peeta love triangle falls out.