When The Hunger Games ended, there was no question that Katniss Everdeen was in trouble. She'd defied the oppressive Capitol in as public and inescapable a way as possible, and the ramifications of those actions carry both her and the reader through the second novel in the series, the excellent Catching Fire.
It is a rule of the fantasy trilogy that the second installment is often the trickiest. It must move the broader saga forward without sacrificing its integrity as a standalone story. Tolkien's The Two Towers and Weis & Hickman's Dragons of Winter Twilight spring to mind as second books that actually surpassed their predecessors (to say nothing of the best sequel ever: The Empire Strikes Back). Either this has become more difficult or authors have become less adept, because I have found many recent follow-ups tepid and uninspired. While Collins may not have eclipsed her success with book one, she has certainly not left her fans disappointed either.
The story picks up a few months after Peeta and Katniss return from the Games, not long before they are scheduled to begin their grand Victory Tour of the 12 districts. At the close of the first book, the reader is left with a strong impression that what's to come will focus on the three-way relationship between the two victors and Katniss's male best friend, Gale. While there is time and consideration given to that concern, I was surprised the treatment did not arrive closer to the beginning. After all, the three of them have lived in close proximity for several months, and yet there has apparently been no confrontation. I suppose my discomfort here could be ascribed to a certain taste when it comes to human reality in fantasy stories.
Broadly speaking, I am not one for actual human drama. I can get more than my fair share of that in real life. I would much rather my fictional characters be better or worse than real people. That said, I have to give Collins credit for creating believable human tensions and reactions in this book. I was probably looking for some progress on the relationship front so that the story could move on to more adventurous pastures. But who among us wouldn't avoid personal confrontations, especially when love is involved, even though it might mean months of awkwardness. Despite the surroundings and the setting, Collins's characters are imbued with real emotion, unlike the stylized human characters we've all been so conditioned to expect.