In an attempt to catch up on some of the more popular science fiction of the recent past I picked up The Hunger Games by Suzanna Collins. Since it was reasonably short I also read Catching Fire and Mockingjay. This is a story about a young girl who lives in a dystopian future where children are forced into a reality show style combat to the death.
Plenty has been said about this book and the most common comparison is to Battle Royale. This is a good comparison, but I actually found myself thinking of Ender’s Game, especially towards the end of the third book. Both are about children who are used by adults and mix very personal stories with huge political issues. Both also deal with death and how children deal with having killed. I still strongly prefer Ender’s Game, but I find it interesting.
Reading any young adult novel I try to give it a bit of a pass on the cliché level, but it is a bit difficult in parts of Hunger Games. This is mostly because several of them felt very unnecessary. The most notable of these was the love triangle. The problem is that it never really felt like there was a decision to be made. There were other commonly used ideas in these stories as well, but few of them felt as forced as this.
The biggest weakness of this story for me was its staying power. I enjoyed the first book quite a lot, the second book was interesting and by the end of the third I was ready for it to be over. This is the opposite of most books that I love. Most of this is because the longer the story goes the less it feels like Katniss is actually affecting anything. Instead it feels like she is riding the wave created by her first actions and trying to catch up with the events rather than creating them.
Still, while I am willing to criticize the story there is a lot to enjoy here. I like many of the characters and very few of them feel flat or like they don’t have room to change and the world building is very interesting giving you a real feel for each of the districts even though there are several that you hardly see at all. Even the villains feel like they have personalities beyond simply being evil though there is a bit of moustache twirling at times.
Just like with Harry Potter I am always glad to see kids excited about genre fiction and can enjoy the stories for what they are, but in the end this isn’t great science fiction, it is only good and I do hope that those who like this story will find their way to some substantial stories after they have finished it. Perhaps something like Ender’s Game if you enjoy the children and death theme, or the often mentioned Battle Royale if you like the life and death arena. For those who like the world building there are a lot of great science fiction universes such as Dune, Ringworld and the Foundation stories. Oh an if you like the archery you could try the Stephen Lawhead King Raven series that looks at Robin Hood from a different view.
Overall I would give this book about three and a half out of five stars. Worth reading, but without as much substance as I would like even out of a young adult novel, but with characters and themes that are worth spending some time with.