Sunday, January 3, 2016

REVIEW: MOCKINGJAY (THE HUNGER GAMES BOOK 3)

INTRODUCTION

Please note that while this review will be spoiler free for MOCKINGJAY (THE HUNGER GAMES BOOK 3), there will be some spoilers brought up for the previous two books in the trilogy.

In spite of all of the incredible challenges Katniss and Peeta have overcome over the course of Suzanne Collins' first two books in THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy, MOCKINGJAY (THE HUNGER GAMES BOOK 3) is a harsh reminder that the odds were never in their favor. This pair may have survived not just one, but two hunger games tournaments, yet now the real game is upon them, one that is even more impossible to walk away from. MOCKINGJAY deals with Katniss' journey after she, Finnick, and Bedee have been rescued by the secret resistance force in District 13. The fires of rebellion have spread across the districts and Capitol forces have sprung into action in an effort to quell them. In many ways MOCKINGJAY feels starkly different from the books that came before it, but in others it carries a distinct familiarity. I'm not sure if this is exactly the ending that I wanted, but it is definitely the final book that this trilogy deserved.    

HOW I RATED IT

 5/5 This is no fairy-tale ending by any stretch, but it is one that is worthy of the dark subject matter that distinguishes this from other YA series and provides a fulfilling conclusion to one of the most prolific pieces of dystopian fiction that I have ever read.

CHARACTERS
The cast that this series sports has always one of the best things about it and fans will be happy that basically all of the people from previous installments make a return for the third and final adventure. The only person I really wanted to see a bit more of was Effie Trinket who played a substantial part in the MOCKINGJAY PART 1 film. Her role in those events is instead fulfilled by members of Cinna's styling team as well as Finnick and Haymich. That said, a lot of why I liked Effie had to do with the actresses performance of her, so the way she appears in the book feels about right given how she comes off in this version of the story.

Characters like Finnick, Haymich, Peeta, and Gale are all featured heavily in this book, but as far more broken versions of themselves than we have ever seen before. Katniss, is perhaps the most battered of all and on top of that, she finds herself the face of a full-blown uprising. The first third or so of the book contends with Katniss' struggle to redefine her identity as "The Mockingjay." Along the way she meets a myriad of new faces such as Lieutenant Paylor and President Coin, the somewhat shady leader of District Thirteen. The rest, I'd hesitate to spoil for you, but will state that they are every bit as colorful as you might expect an addition to the cast to be.

In fact, it's hard to say a whole lot more about any of the characters at all without giving away some of the major twists in the narrative. Essentially what needs to be said about the characters as a general group is that they are in one of the most dire situations of their lives. Their bodies will be beaten, their minds broken, and their souls put to the ultimate test. The redefined relationship between Katniss and Peeta is heartbreaking, in fact, every relationship between Katniss and another member of the cast is utterly tragic in just about every way. People you have come to know and love will die, people you thought were good and wholesome may shock you with their brutality, and by the time the final pages come around, you will know that no one's lives will ever be the same.

WORLD/SETTING
The setting of this story has never been more exotic. Gone are the controlled arena environments - now readers are brought into a whole new theater of combat. District Thirteen, the Demolished District Twelve, the war-zone in District Two, and even the streets of the Capitol will all serve as the backdrop for the action taking place. Each of these environments is beautifully described, but it is the Capitol that is by far the most interesting in that readers are taken into darker, less elegant corners of it than what they had probably ever previously imagined.

What is far more interesting than the world itself though, is the twisted politics that ravage the landscape. When reading through this book, there will be no mistaking that this is a nation at war - a war that poses the very legitimate threat of wiping out whatever is left of mankind. It's the ruthlessly decisive decisions that both sides make, the blatant ends-justify-the-means mentality that makes this such a gritty and tense setting. Then there is the sense of unity that Katniss is trying to bring to the nation in spite of all of the darkness surrounding everyone. It's this dynamic between the big and the little picture that makes Panem seem like such a poignantly defined place and makes the narrative feel like there is so much at stake.

PLOT/TONE
THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy has never really been about The Hunger Games. Ever since the first book there have been nuggets of political intrigue dropped for us to guess at their implications. But now all of those little hints and references and allusions are in our face as far more than just speculation. The end-product of the games has brought Panem into the inevitable civil war that it was always bound for. In the midst of it all is the children (though they can hardly be called that at this point) who never asked to be thrown into the fray, never wanted to become figureheads in a war, and certainly never desired a life with this much violence and pain in it. But when Katniss and Peeta stood on the podium together before their first Hunger Games, their fates, along with the fate of everyone in Panem was sealed.

What we get in MOCKINGJAY is a far more adult type of story. Stakes are higher, hearts are heavier, and there is a distinct sense of hopelessness and strife that fills the prose. Collins' also does not shy away from showing off the darker side of her characters, especially when it comes to "The Girl On Fire" herself. The horrors that these people have faced have really taken their toll and worn down their ability to keep themselves together at times. The Capitol has found ways to mess with their minds and break their souls which leads to some interactions that you would never have expected after reading through the first book. There's also this new sense of unpredictability which is now present. In the games, the rules were clear, but now anything can and will happen. Some of this darkness does get a bit too heavy at certain points and left me feeling a bit too down in the dumps for a piece of fiction, but this sense of isolated depression and mild self-loathing definitely felt realistic and fitting given the events surrounding it.

CONCLUSION
By the time I turned the final page, I was happy, sad, angry, and relieved all at once. It's probably the most bittersweet parting I have ever had with a work of fiction and I feel like this is the only ending that could possibly have happened given all of the extraordinary circumstances at play. It's certainly not a "happy" end, but it is an immensely fulfilling one which is all you can really hope for in a story such as this one. THE HUNGER GAMES is unlike any other series I have ever read. It's thought-provoking, visceral, and will not hesitate to rip your heart out when you least expect it to. I'm sad to see the series come to an end, but immensely gratified now that I have now read it all the way through.

MOCKINGJAY (THE HUNGER GAMES BOOK 3) is available in just about every known book format on Amazon.

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