Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Book #88 The Hunger Games : Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games : Mockingjay

WARNING : This review may contain spoilers of the previous two Hunger Games novels

Following her unexpected exit from the Allstars Hunger Games arena, Katniss Everdeen finds herself a resident of District 13, a district widely believed to have been destroyed many years before. She comes under intense pressure to become "the Mockingjay" the public face of the rapidly gathering rebellion, but after agreeing, discovers deceptions, ulterior motives and dangers from unexpected sources.

Mockingjay is very different from the previous novels and was less compelling for me in it's opening third. District 13 has to be established as a new society in addition to the continuing rebellion, its a bit slow, and then later, a lot of warfare segments which I'm not a great fan of anyway. What is clever about the depiction of the District 13 rebellion is its emphasis on propaganda, war is less about action and more about persuasion, hearts and minds. I thought this was a really interesting and important message to give young readers to think about. When watching media coverage think about agenda, think about manipulation, think that those purporting to be "right" may not always be what they seem. I liked it.

Where I am more critical however is with some slightly dodgy plotting on a number of occasions in order to get Katniss into the necessary position for the next event. Its weak, its like some of the highly unconvincing plotting that occurs in those awful Disney TV series, Katniss wants something, it looks impossible, she's told its impossible, but somehow it all turns out exactly as she wanted. Sigh.

The Gale/Peeta dilemma interests me as a writer because I actually think that Collins herself couldn't decide what to do with this decision, she doesn't choose the easy way of eliminating the choice, but it is done in a quite lame, anti-climax way. I decided that she really regretted the strength of the origins of one of them and didn't know what to do with him, and even the end resolution for the couple who do become the item, though the right choice, feels unromantic and halfhearted.  

Although, the "fault on both sides" take on war was well done. President Snow still fails to be at all threatening or scary. The pinnacle of Katniss's  desires is to be the one to assassinate Snow and yet, he's only really in two scenes. He just doesn't cut as a bad guy, even with Finnick's testimony to add weight to his crimes.

Still.....very readable, if rather flawed and the trilogy as a whole is massively enjoyable 7/10 

Friday, 14 October 2011

Book #87 The Hunger Games : Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games : Catching Fire

This review contains spoilers of The Hunger Games :

This sequel to The Hunger Games picks up more or less exactly where it left off. Following the choices she made at the end of the last novel Katniss Everdeen has unwittingly become a symbol, not of loves young dream, but of rebellion. Even though it wasn't so much a deliberate rebellion as an awareness she could outsmart the system, she has inspired an uprising and led her family and friends into danger.

Attempting to punish Katniss, the President makes the uprising worse when he forces her to compete in a second Hunger Games tournament, a battle pitting previous victors against one another in a series which reminded me of an "All Star" Amazing Race or Survivor.

Like its predecessor Catching Fire is compulsive and I read it over a matter of hours, it reads like adrenalin feels and you really do want to turn the page. Though it is called The Hunger Games it is less about the new tournament and more about the consequences of the previous one, and that was difficult for two reasons. 1) The Hunger Games game show is the best bit but 2) There is/would have been a danger of simply recycling the same story elements over again like a bad Hollywood sequel. Catching Fire doesn't do this, which is to its credit, but, personally I enjoy The Hunger Games scenario and found the competition angle a bit truncated, though I liked the creativity of the setting of the new arena. It's a tough balance to get right, on the one hand creative credit to Collins for not repeating herself on the other I wanted more....

In this novel, President Snow is presented as the antagonist both for this novel and the final novel Mockingjay, but, he himself, isn't really asserted as a proper villain, an evil man to be feared like for example, Mayor Prentiss from the Chaos Walking Trilogy. He's comparatively weak despite his threats and his intimations that he knows things and is watching. I didn't feel scared by him and didn't feel Katniss was either. He doesn't make a convincing 'big bad'. Even the Peacekeepers don't feel all that threatening. Though the Capitol has been playing The Hunger Games for decades it is hard to believe in it as a genuine sinister enemy when its citizens are so frivolous and weak and hard to see how it has maintained its hitherto lengthy hold on these Districts. I feel like this could have done with further exposition in the previous book as well as this one.

In addition the difficulty Collins has given herself with her Bella/Jacob/Edward esque love triangle (Twilight) with Katniss/Peeta/Gale is that Gale is given less time than even before to develop into a more rounded 3D character. It is Peeta who the reader has come to know and love despite the angle that Gale is meant to be Katniss's true love and best friend. Like the way in which Bella/Jacob doesn't quite work after establishing a romance with Edward, Katniss's love for Gale though he came first, has been outshone by Peeta's devotion in the original novel and continued self sacrifice in Catching Fire.

All in all an enjoyable 8/10 despite its inability to truly establish the feeling of "an enemy".