Mockingjay

Posted: May 6, 2014 in Book reviews

By Suzanne Collins.

And so we come to the final part of the Hunger Games trilogy. Before I start, a little warning. Whilst I’m not planning to include any major spoilers for Mockingjay itself, by necessity I will mention events that happened in the previous two books.

Last warning…

Ok then!

Katniss Everdeen has survived the Quarter Quell, her second Hunger Games, and been rescued, along with others, by the rebels of District 13. Meanwhile her home, District 12 has been firebombed, almost totally destroyed, with most of its inhabitants killed. The survivors, including Katniss’ mother and sister, Prim, as well as Gale (the boy she might be in love with) are safe with her in District 13. However Peeta (the other boy she may be in love with—do keep up!) has been captured by the Capitol and is tortured into becoming a mouthpiece for the Capitol by President Snow.

President Coin of District 13 needs Katniss to be the ‘Mockingjay’ a symbol of the resistance. Reluctantly Katniss agrees, but only on the proviso that she gets to kill Snow after the war ends, and that Peeta and other former tributes held captive by the Capitol are pardoned.

Suddenly Katniss finds herself in familiar territory as she’s dressed, scripted and filmed, much as she was in the run up to the Hunger Games and the Quarter Quell. She’s also kept away from any combat, although she and Gale manage to get involved in the defence of District 8 despite this. As time passes, and the war progresses, she begins to wonder at the carnage on both sides, and the moral high ground held by the rebels seems increasingly fragile.

Will the rebels win and end the Capitol’s dominion over Panem? Will Katniss get to kill Snow? And will she finally have to choose between Peeta and Gale?

I’d heard mixed things about Mockingjay, with some suggesting it was the weakest book of the trilogy, but I have to say I didn’t find it particularly weaker than the first two parts. Yes it is very different—in some respects- because it doesn’t feature an actual Hunger Games, but the conflict plays out as the Hunger Games writ large, especially in the later street fighting within the Capitol.

The similarity between Katniss’ role within the resistance and her former role as a tribute is at times quite uncomfortable. She might be poster girl for the rebellion now rather than a symbol of the Capitol’s dominance, but again her image is tailored for her, again she finds herself a prisoner of circumstance, a pawn in a larger game, although again she finds a way to rebel, even within the rebellion, and again Collins adroitly presents a three dimensional heroine; brave, noble, stubborn. Not at all perfect, but wholly worthy of our empathy, respect and support.

The book is perhaps the most brutal of the three, and despite it being ‘teen’ fiction, Collins doesn’t pull any punches. Hospitals are bombed, people are burned alive, supporting characters are mercilessly dismembered, and in the end whether it’s in war or the Hunger Games, children are sacrificed for some ‘greater good’ and as such Collins’ trilogy can be seen as a parable for every conflict in human history.

The moral ambiguity of the rebels is also well handled, there are precious few white knights on display, and they’re fully prepared to adopt the tactics of the enemy, with Gale in particular coming up with some vicious tactics. Katniss is not immune from this either, she’s no longer a child, she’s now a soldier in a war bloodier than any Hunger Games.

The supporting characters get plenty to do, and finally Gale shows some personality. People may complain about the love triangle at the heart of the story, but it’s played realistically, and Katniss is never doe eyed about either boy (you could argue they’re both more likely to be doe eyed over her) and in the final analysis the love story is just one element of a winder story. That said, personally I’m glad things end up the way they do.

No book is perfect, and Mockingjay does sag a bit in the middle after a strong opening, before picking up towards the end. Collins obviously knew where she wanted to take the story; she perhaps just wasn’t quite sure how to get there. The book is a trifle repetitive as well, on three separate occasions Katniss has to recover from trauma/injury, and whilst because the story is told from her perspective this gives Collins chance to skip ahead to keep the story’s momentum going, you do feel a little short changed. Similarly as with the other books the first person narrative also means a lot of things happen “off camera” although actually I found this device worked better in the third instalment than it had in the first two books.

Minor quibbles though, again Collins grabs hold of you by the throat and refuses to let you go. There may be happy endings for some characters, but quite a few will fall along the way, and even the eventual victors (see what I did there?) have to pay a hefty price for their happy endings. One shock in particular is quite heartbreaking, and caught me so off guard that it actually took me a while to process what had actually happened.

I came to the Hunger Games trilogy slightly reluctantly based on my viewing of the first film, but I’m exceptionally glad to have read them and to have known Katniss Everdeen, and I heartily recommend the trilogy.

I’m off to read something else now, but until I return, may the odds ever be in your favour…

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