The concluding volume in the Hunger Games trilogy has a difficult task to accomplish. It has to take a series that until now has focused tightly on the very personal trials faced by its main character and expand it into the story of a continent's rebellion against a dystopian government while still telling the entire story from Katniss' perspective. There's also the issue that after the events in the first two books Katniss is seriously traumatised and at various times in the book is either catatonic or delusional, and has an increasingly volatile temper. I think it's very believable that Katniss should have suffered a lot of psychological damage from the things she has lived through, and I think it would have been completely unbelievable for her to still be the same character she had been in the first book, but it doesn't make it an easy book to read at times.
It's often a fairly grim read which sometimes make the earlier books in the series feel like halcyon days where the worst thing happening was a bunch of teenager being forced to kill each other in televised gladiatorial combat. Collins makes it quite clear that while it might be a just war, it's still a very bloody one and although the government's leaders continue to put most Bond villains to shame when it comes to villainy as the rebellions progresses the rebels themselves sometimes seem little better. In many ways this attempt at showing the costs and moral ambiguity of an armed rebellion is commendable, but it's also where this novel runs into its biggest problem. Throughout the series the world-building felt unsubstantial and not particularly convincing and that wasn't really a huge problem for the first couple of books because most of the world only served as a place for Katniss to stay in until she reached the arena, and its lack of depth was largely irrelevant. However, it does become more of a problem when the series moves away from being an escapist satire on reality television and starts trying to be a serious tale of a bloody uprising. The novel is trying to bring up some genuine moral dilemmas about how much violence would be justified in the fight against tyranny, but the setting and situations are so contrived that they detract from the attempts at trying to explore the novel's themes. It's difficult to really care about some of the battles and events when it sometimes isn't clear why they are being fought in that particular way and what the stakes really are.
Another problem is that the book is in a bit of a no-win situation with regards to how it shows the progress of the rebellion from Katniss' viewpoint. Katniss spends much of the novel in the relative safety of District 13, only hearing fragmentary information about the progress of the rebellion, which is frustrating for both her and the reader. On the other hand, some of the attempts to have Katniss on the front-line of the rebellion stretch credulity, a scene where Katniss and Gale try to shoot down incoming bombers using a bow-and-arrow is probably one of the silliest scenes in the series. The final part of the novel attempts to bring up similarities between the final assault on the Capital and the Hunger Games, but it feels contrived and some of the events are excessively manipulative even by the standards of the series.
This is a bold attempt to turn an entertaining escapist series into something with a deeper meaning, but not an entirely successful attempt. Sometimes it is a compelling read, sometimes a frustrating one and although it makes an interesting conclusion to the trilogy it is also the weakest book in the series.
Rating : 7 / 10
Katniss Everdeen has achieved a great victory in surviving the Hunger Games, but she is about to find that her troubles have only just begun.
"The Hunger Games" worked reasonably well as a stand-alone novel, so its first sequel had a bit of a challenge in trying to add something new to the story. Superficially, the structure is similar to the first book, beginning in District 12, Katniss' relatively peaceful backwater home and ending in the arena of the 75th Hunger Games, but this time around more time is spent in District 12 and on Katniss' fractious relationship with the dystopian government who see her as a potentially dangerous rebel for her actions in the first book. The novel is good at portraying the idea that everyone who takes part in the Hunger Games is a victim, even if they happen to be one of the Victors, and at times Katniss' predicament in this book seems trickier than when she was being hunted by the other competitors. She can often be a frustrating character, particularly when dealing with the potential love triangle between her, Gale and Peeta, but her confusion and sometimes foolish actions are very believable for a teenage girl thrust into an impossibly stressful situation. For much of the novel she really is in a no-win situation.
As in the first novel, it's the Hunger Games themselves that are the most compelling part of the story and in some ways this exceeds the similar section in book one. The new arena is more imaginative, featuring a number of memorable traps, and since more is known about the different competitors this time around the secondary characterisation in this part of the story is better. There's also an interesting subtext as it becomes increasingly clear that aspiring rebels have their own plans to subvert the Hunger Games to their advantage (although it takes Katniss' narration quite a long time to catch on to this). The part of the novel in the arena does seem slightly rushed and nothing in it has quite the same emotional impact as some of the Katniss-Rue scenes in the first book, but it does build to a great conclusion that manages to tie together many of the book's themes and subplots.
The could have been the difficult middle novel in a trilogy but it does a good job of expanding on the first book, while also being a satisfying read in its own right. Arguably it's the best book in the series.
Rating : 8/10
All Katniss Everdeen wants to do is live a quiet life in the rural backwater of District 12, but when her younger sister is selected as one of the competitors in that year's Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to go in her place. Most people don't give her a change of surviving the Hunger Games, a gladiatorial contest where teenagers from across the twelve districts are forced to fight to the death in televised combat as a reminder of the subjugation of the districts to the distant Capitol, but they may be underestimating Katniss' resourcefulness.
This series has been getting a lot of hype recently, and although this book is not without its flaws I thought this was a very entertaining read. The basic premise isn't particularly original (it's especially reminiscent of the ultraviolent Japanese film Battle Royale), but it does make for a compelling story. The world-building leaves something to be desired, it's not very detailed or convincing and the bad guys are cartoonish villains, but this doesn't detract too much from the book since the core of the story takes place inside the Arena which is meant to be an artificial setting. The writing quality is acceptable, although unexceptional.
Katniss is a good protagonist, she's a believably flawed character and although not immediately likeable or conventionally heroic she does make a good hero for the story, facing her trials with quiet determination and it's difficult not to sympathise with her. Peeta is also an interesting character, although possibly more so when his true motivations haven't yet been revealed and Katniss' irascible mentor Haymitch is the most memorable of the supporting characters. Since the novel is from Katniss' viewpoint the rest of the supporting cast don't get much development, possibly it could have benefited from knowing a bit more about some of her other opponents.
It's quite a manipulative story, which makes sense for something based on an extreme version of reality television, although the will-they-won't-they romance is a little bit irritating at times. The build-up, including the first part of the Hunger Games, is relatively slow as Katniss largely tries to avoid her fellow competitors but it does become compelling as the contest moves into its final stages. The best character interactions come as she forms alliances with Rue and Peeta and there are a number of tense scenes towards the end of the novel as Katniss and her allies try to survive the increasingly sadistic arena.
In summary, The Hunger Games is perhaps not a great book, but it is an enjoyable and memorable read.
Rating : 8 / 10