Saturday, 7 January 2017

The Review Games: A Review of The Hunger Games Series

I might be a little late to write a review of this series, but I wanted to. The Hunger Games are a trilogy by Suzanne Collins, consisting of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay. They fall into the Young Adult dystopia genre, but are much darker and more realistic then most examples of the genre.

The Hunger Games sets the scene and tone for the rest of the trilogy, and it does that rather well. The book takes a while to get going, but I also give it credit for starting on Reaping Day, and not giving us a few chapters showing Katniss’s daily life in District 12. Really, the short part of a chapter we got was plenty for us to learn about her normal going into the woods and hunting routine. We find more about daily life in the district from flashback snippets during the actual games, a much better way to handle it then leaving the reader waiting for the actual Hunger Games to get started.

I have to give Catching Fire credit for not feeling like more of the same. Yes, we see another Hunger Games, but the circumstances are so different that they manage to have a distinct feel from each other. We are also introduced to some of my favourite characters which hold over to Mockingjay – not many characters from the first one make a return for some reason – like Finnick and Johanna.

In Mockingjay, what started as a decent Young Adult dystopia becomes a psychological thriller about the effects of war on someone way too young to be going through what Katniss has. War is hell, it is hell on everyone, it is particularly hell on someone who has been thrown into being a symbol for the entire war almost involuntarily.

Katniss as a protagonist is badass, she’s awesome, she… hasn’t really got an ambition to speak of? But in this case, it works. Katniss’s major goal is surviving from day-to-day, either from hunting or in the Hunger Games. She never thinks about the possibility of her future, and the most she could probably have seen was working in the mines to earn money for her family. She is a reactionary character, throughout. She reacts to events thrown at her rather than trying to influence them herself, but since one of the main themes is how little control she has on her own life, it works.
On the topic of protagonists, Peeta gives us an interesting example of a male love interest that takes on a role more typically given to women. He needs to be helped by Katniss a good few times and he can survive because of the skills he learnt decorating. However, this also coexists with his strength, coming from his ability to haul around heavy bags of flour.

The world-building is where this series falters, or maybe that’s just me as someone who likes to find out everything they possibly can about the world a book is set in. We don’t even find out the main industry of each district from within the story. What about other countries that weren’t part of North America? Although, honestly, there is rarely a series where I don't end up wondering "but what around other parts of the world that aren't America?"

I must talk about one of the more unnecessary parts of the series – the love triangle. I feel like many events would have more impact if Katniss and Gale really had a brother-sister sort of relationship. The love triangle meant that many people ignored the more serious parts of the book and focused on that, and caused many people to glance over them as just another teen romance.

Many people have mentioned that the writing is stilted. I choose to believe that this is intentional, or at least that it works for someone with little education retelling parts of her life she doesn’t like to remember years after the fact.

It would be remiss for me not to mention the film adaptation. The movies, especially the first movie, are the best book-to-film adaptation I’ve ever seen. We trade in some extra explanations and Katniss’s internal monologue for that voyeuristic feeling that we are actually citizens of the capital. I have seen the first movie quite a few times and every time I am impressed with how they keep up the suspense in scenes where I know what happens. The two big scenes for this are Katniss dropping the tracker jacker nest and destroying the Career’s food.

I also have to mention the similarities with Battle Royale. Stories have been influencing other stories practically since storytelling was invented, so superficial similarities in a book I can overlook. I wouldn’t be bringing this up if not for the fact that both use a fire-and-birdsong method of distance communication at one point. Even then, I wouldn’t mind if Collins hadn’t mentioned she’d never read Battle Royale. To me, it’s too big of a coincidence to ignore, but not enough to spoil my overall enjoyment of the series.

I would recommend for absolutely anyone to give these books a go. The underlying themes are much more serious then they seem. I have introduced five people to this series, so it would be nice if I could get a few more to give it a go.

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