After a bad start with ‘The Maze Runner’, I restarted my attempt at a trilogy with ‘The Hunger Games’ series. It was recommended by several work mates, and fitted the ‘not something I would normally pick’ rule. I enjoyed reading it, but it began to niggle after putting it down. It was one of those stories that you enjoy while in the moment, but soon as it’s finished start going “Hang on…”
Book 1: The Hunger Games
A dystopian, crapsack future where all the world is reduced to North American territories, or districts, that must send their children to fight to the death in ‘The Hunger Games’ for the amusement of the ruling elites. Katniss, our protagonist, volunteers for the games in the place of her younger sister. It should be obvious by the fact that there are sequels that she survives. But be warned, we’re heading to the edge of the map marked “There be spoilers”.
This is the strongest book of the three, and is a decent, self-contained story in its own right. The abuse of hostages to make a point about power is a theme used in old classics like Theseus and the Minotaur, and stories of Roman Circuses. Katniss ‘wins’ the games, and even saves her boyfriend’s life, but this is no victory. It’s clear that the downbeat ending that Katniss has painted a target on her back and put her whole family at risk.
Book 2: Catching Fire
Katniss is living in the Victors Village in her district, she is clearly suffering as a result of her experiences in the first book, and is forced to compete in a special ‘Hunger Games of Victors’. She is also an unwilling, and unknowing, symbol of an underground rebellion. She survives in the games, which end when she unwittingly starts the revolt.
I found this book to be a bit, well, same-ish as the first one. Katniss is back in the games, she can see events happening around her, forges alliances, and narrowly escapes death. It reinforces the idea that the rulers are indeed a bunch of sadistic wankers. But really only acts as a bridge to the third book.
Book 3: Mockingbird
Katniss and her family go to District 13 to fight for the rebels. Her district has been firebombed, and she chafes at just being a figurehead. She wants to fight and does so, along the way she finds out that the rebel leaders are just as controlling, ruthless, and sadistic as the current rulers. Her breaking point is finding out that the rebels murdered a whole bunch of children and their own people in a false flag operation (including the sister that she tried to save by going to The Hunger Games), and wanted to run their own Hunger Games with the kids of their defeated enemies. Here is the new boss, same as the old boss. She pretends to go along with it and kills the new boss. Then retires to her old district, grows older, and eventually has kids with Peeta.
I really liked that there was no glorious hero, victorious against the odds, the whole thing was one horrible pyrrhic victory after another. The books pulled no punches about the effects of violence on the psyche, both as the victim and as the killer. How once good people can rationalise horrific acts, and be changed by them. Gale is not redeemed for his part in some of the atrocities in the war. Another thing I liked was that this was a book about an everyman heroine. Young adult fiction tends rely on the destined hero a bit too much, so does adult fiction too really.
What I didn’t like, and this is small beer folks, are aspects of the world that nagged at me. Firstly the greatly reduced population, but with very high tech. Modern technology relies more on infrastructure than on knowledge, and there just are not enough people in the world to support the technology shown. The only way there would be was if they actually lived in a post scarcity world, where the rulers just deprived people of the tech for shits and giggles.
Secondly, those elites are too stupid to organise a piss up in a brewery (a gripe I also have about Game of Thrones) let alone run what remains of the world. There’s evil and there is evil-stupid, thugs who do bad shit for dumb reasons and then die because of it. These people are supposed to be clever. Even the worst of the Roman Emperors were popular in the provinces because they did a lot of good things, not because they were good, but because it was the best way to cement their rule. They saved their heinous shit for their contemporaries where they could get away with it.
Thirdly, the number of soldiers, the baddies had wave after wave of goons and brutes, far more than you’d expect for a country with the population of a small city. Not many people, but lots and lots of bad guys.
Anyway that’s all I really have to say about The Hunger Games, it’s worth a look, the story has great characterisation, but is let down a little by flaws in the world.