Between my publishing the review for Catching Fire and writing this one, I myself have published a new book. It took me quite a while to write when compared to my first novel. Probably because it’s twice as long and I would argue a better book all around. That having been said, the last entry into the Hunger Games Trilogy was good enough to make me dislike my own writing in comparison. This is one of the strongest finales I have ever seen committed to paper. I think that a good majority of what makes it so is that it is a complete diversion from the style of the first two books. The mood is darker and the stakes higher, as they should be in any sequel, but the manner of story that the author uses to complete the narrative is fresh when viewed through the lens of the series thus far.
It becomes a straight up war book. It still retains the strong themes of the power of propaganda and the tendency of those in charge to forget the pawns in their machinations. The point of the series is not lost in the turnaround, it’s just revealed under a different light. It’s really quite well done. While I personally think that the second book was actually the better novel, the finale does an amazing job in its own right. It’s actually hard to compare the two because of the shift in direction. It is a testament to Collins’ ability as a writer that even by the third book, when we’re used to characters being picked off one-by-one in the games, the deaths of major characters still evoke considerable emotion within the reader. Make no mistake, she goes for the gut punch more than once and it’s usually very effective.
I would say that I place some fault with the ending, as calling it abrupt would be an understatement. But it’s satisfying enough in that it makes logical sense, really, the way it played out. The events leading up to the climax force the resolution in a way. I think the ending may very well have been different if there were more entries to the series, which honestly I would have approved of, as having the entirety of the revolution contained to a single entry means that we don’t have much time to expand on the newly introduced themes and characters. The president of district 13 is shortchanged somewhat here, as we’re forced to form opinions about her very early with not a whole lot of time to let perceptions grow organically. But that’s only a minor quibble because I don’t think she was ever intended to be anything other than a minor contrast to President Snow. I think it’s mostly a statement on my expectations and not a reflection on the shortcomings of the book.
Now that I’ve read all three books I’m more than ready for the film adaptations. And now I can be one of those assholes who gripe about stuff that gets changed. Yeah. That sounds like fun.
I spent the majority of my Fourth of July weekend spending time by myself and reading but I also managed to get out and have fun with my friends so I didn’t even think about getting back to updating the blog until this morning but I had a mid-term to focus on and so I apologize for letting July get off to a less than stellar start.
But I’m back now!
I think if I ever met Suzanne Collin’s I’d slap her in the face with a NERF bat. She simply has no right to write a sequel as good as Catching Fire. I just finished writing my second book. I’m still in the middle of my literature degree at the University of Houston. To say that it frustrates me when I see a book like this is a bit of an understatement. I almost want to give up reading entirely so that my own insecurities never need to be explored. But then again, every time I read something like this, which is both commercially and critically loved, I recognize little bits of what works in the arena of modern fiction and I store that away for future use. But Collins fires on all cylinders here, giving us a book that rivals the tension of the first book but with a completely different spin.
The idea of fearing for your life and the things you will do to survive as well as to save the lives of those you love is a strong theme to dwell on and it’s expanded on here by taking the characters out of the public spectacle of gladiator combat and instead focuses on the idea of public relations and poltical intrigue. The introduction of President Snow as an ominous figure who can control the fate of anyone within the districts is an interesting counter-balance to the guerrila fighting of the first novel. Of course they revisit the games and that element resurfaces but the climax of the first book changed the game, so to speak, so that it doesn’t feel like a retread.
I could not help but recognize the influence of The Empire Strikes Back, in terms of sequel structure within Catching Fire. The lore gets expanded. The characters learn shocking things. The ending is a bit of a downer. If you’re going to follow an established structure there are worse ones to choose.
I’m moving on to book three now, which promises to be almost a complete 180 turnaround in style and tone, and I really can’t wait to get to the end. Expect a review pretty soon.
Next year we will be treated to the next big pop-literature film adaptation from the young-adult section, the first in a trilogy of books written by author Suzanne Collins called The Hunger Games. I only became aware of the series when the third book hit shelves earlier this year and I was informed that it has a rabid fanbase similar to that of Twilight or Harry Potter and I casually dismissed it because quite honestly I’m not particularly interested in jumping into another series where I have to defend my opinions on the work from its fanbase. I have enough trouble discussing comic books, I don’t need the people who spend their time writing slashfic on their tumblrs to come out of the woodwork because I don’t “get” what makes their particular property so great. I love the Harry Potter novels, but I don’t discuss them with anybody because the last time I did that it nearly turned into a fistfight. I had to read Twilight for a contemporary literature assignment and the only person in the class who liked that book essentially made a verbal comment that I should die in a fire as I tumble down a cliff.
So, yeah, fandoms and I are leery of each other at the moment. But sensing that I would probably be drawn into the pop-culture whirlpool surrounding the property when it came to theaters, I wanted to get ahead of it and actually read the books before they made it to the screen so that I could better understand the series as a whole, in it’s original incarnation and as an adaptation. Little things changed my mind that urged me towards picking up the novel. Comparisons to Battle Royale, which I love just a little bit more than a lot. The fact that Stephen King apparently loved the shit out of it and while I haven’t loved everything the man has done I DO respect his analysis of the art form and he’s usually right when he recommends the work of one of his contemporaries. Thus, I snatched up all three of the books with the intent of reading and reviewing them this summer.
What did I think?
Well, I have to give Suzanne Collins major props right off the bat for having the decency to craft an interesting setting that utilizes all the best traits that one tends to lean on in the process of world-building. The world of the post-rebellion North American coalition of districts known as Panem is vivid and interesting. Post apocalyptic worlds tend to be bland because everything is stripped away and rebuilt using scraps. Collins’ world is not so much like that, as the world seems bleak but it’s clearly still a civilization. It’s not the end of the world, it just feels like it to the people there. And her painstaking detail in giving each district a distinct identity, even if it’s never reall expanded upon, gives the book a sense of depth and reality missing from other such works.
Where the book truly excels is in its eagerness to revel in the bleak harshness of reality. Young adult fiction tends to be tepid and uninspired, following a very simple formula. Here, there is no reluctance to turn away from the darkness of the world that Collins has built. The concept demands a fair amount of darkness that other writers would likely have tried to avoid in the hopes of shielding the readers from being uncomfortable in reading for pleasure. But good literature has to be uncomfortable sometimes. When it is, that is the mark of truth. The writer has made you invest enough in the concept and characters that discomfort at the idea of a character death is genuine and real. The Harry Potter novels also recognized this. And it’s in this connection to the work that fandoms arise. In reading this particular novel, I could sympathize not only with the characters but with the fans who attach to them.
I’m actually quite looking forward to the next book. If it in any way manages to keep the energy of the first installment I’ll be more than pleased. Reading the synopsis it seems like the entirety of the second book hopes to maintain the tension of the last few chapters of this entry, which were honestly some of the best parts of the novel entirely. I’ll let you know how that turns out.