Monday, January 3, 2011

Future shock.

Mockingjay is the final book in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy and by far the goriest and most violent.

Katniss Everdeen's home district, District 12, has been bombed into oblivion by the Capitol's gunships following her destruction of the Hunger Games arena at the end of Catching Fire. Gale, Katniss' resourceful childhood friend, managed to save her family and a handful of other Seam residents, and they've been taken in by District 13.

The mysterious District 13 turns out to be a nuclear-armed Sparta that exists in uneasy detente with the Capitol. District 13's inhabitants live a regimented, highly structured life in a huge underground complex, having spent the century since the Dark Days preparing for another assault by the Capitol. District 13 is led by the stern, authoritarian President Coin, who, with her cadre of advisors, is coordinating the Districts' rebellion against the Capitol.

Coin understands Katniss' value as the symbol of the rebellion and a propaganda tool, but after Peeta's capture and the horror of her second Hunger Games and the bombing of 12, Katniss is clinging to sanity and distrustful of Coin and her plans. Finally, Katniss agrees to cooperate, and with the help of the renegade Gamemaker Plutarch,and her kidnapped prep team, Katniss begins starring in staged battles against the Capitol's troops. Think of it as a reality show crossed with a snuff film.

Of course, things begin to go awry when Katniss realizes that Coin is playing a dangerous game of her own. As the Districts rebels begin to pour into the heart of the Capitol, Katniss and a team of District 13 soldiers, including victor Finnick and Peeta (now dangerously unbalanced after being tortured by President Snow's goons) go rogue and set off after President Snow on their own.

Fortunately, Collins' didn't exhaust her inventiveness in the first two books, and although there aren't any Arenas, the Capitol is filled with a particularly nasty assortment of booby traps. She amps up the blood and gore but dials down the romance - it's hard to be in the mood when you're running for your life - and Mockingjay's climax is horrific and surprising, although the ending feels rather wan. Although Collins still relies on expository language and soul-searching questions that seem kind of obvious, there's a lot more subtext going on here than in the first two books, particularly with the excellently imagined Coin as a different but no less dangerous type of dictator, and the book's inventive use of media and propaganda - like Lord of the Flies for the Facebook set.

The Hunger Games trilogy gets my praise for its inventiveness, gritty storytelling, powerful heroine, and Collins' refusal to pull her punches. Sadly, the trilogy falls short in character development (Katniss' mother is a particularly weakly drawn character) and Collins' treatment of her characters' emotions is lacking in subtlety or depth, but overall, this trilogy is one of the better offerings in young adult fiction.

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