Sometimes, in trilogies, the middle book gets short shrift. The first introduces the characters and creates the world. The third (hopefully) provides enough payoff for the whole series. The middle, alas, has to span the two.
In Stieg Larsson's "The Millenium Trilogy," the middle book was good, but nowhere near as good as the 1st or 3rd.
With "Catching Fire," Suzanne Collins manages to avoid this middle book disadvantage. "Catching Fire" picks up with Katniss, her longtime friendboy Gale, and Peeta, her cowinner and faked lover, living in a sort of detente.
All too soon, it's time for them to go on a Victory Tour, and Katniss receives a surprise, threatening visit from Panem's President Snow.
As Katniss and Peeta tour the 12 Districts, they find people ready for revolution.
By a twist of fate, this is the year of a Quarterly Quell, a secret theme, bonus Hunger Games that occurs every 25 years. When the Quell is announced, Katniss and Peeta find themselves back in the Games, fighting for their lives.
But odd things happen, alliances forming with obvious enemies. By the end of the book, we see that the machinations and sadistic puppetry of The Hunger Games is nothing compared to the game outside the arena.
Early on, I had a pretty good idea where "Catching Fire" was heading, and how it would get there.
I was completely wrong.
"Catching Fire" is a worthy sequel to "The Hunger Games," which is praise enough. It's also a hell of a novel in its own right.