REVIEW: Catching Fire / Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins)

In my previous review of The Hunger Games, I had to admit that I read it despite it’s YA tag, which is a stupid book prejudice I’m trying to shake free of it. Catching Fire and Mockingjay help, because both these books run rings around half of the “adult” novels I’ve read in the last few years.

I bloody love these books. Ramping up from the first book, they are suspense pretty much start to finish. Collins has a knack for ending chapters with cliffhangers that avoid feeling forced or deceptive, and after pretty much every five or six chapters there is some draw-dropping shock in the last few sentences.

Katniss herself is a glorious female character, and her development into the Mockingjay is played so well–the fine line walked between the vulnerability of her narrative voice but the clear strength and steel demonstrated by her actions. The indecision between Gale and Peeta is escalated subtly and maturely, so that the reader genuinely feels the same emotions as her (I can’t reveal much else(ithout giving away spoilers.)

There’s been a lot of complaints in the media about the bloodthirstiness and darkness of the series, but I would really like to applaud the third book in particular for its depiction of war. It doesn’t sugar-coat–there’s no clear black or white or good-guy/bad-guy going on; the morals are muddy, and the ‘good guys’ may be as bad as the enemy in the end. The heartbreak and senselessness of war is brought home sharply with some well-chosen moments (such as the execution of the old man in District 8 in Catching Fire), but this is by no means a moralising tract–everything is in service of plot, suspense and a solid sci-fi/action novel.

Where I think these second two books really take off is in the background and secondary characters who have started to arise. Free from the straitjacket of the Hunger Games twenty-four-contestant format, all sorts of characters pop up, each one given small but memorable voices. Of personal note was Finnick, who develops from a neat capital stereotype in a fully rounded and heartbreaking character. Plus, that fishnet jumpsuit is clearly going to be VERY hot in the film. My absolute favourite side character however was Octavia, the green-skinned Capitol refugee who find simple happiness in pretty things, and whose quiet moments of heartbreak managed to hit me the hardest for some reason.

And it’s hard to talk about the books without revealing the ending, but suffice it to say it does not pull it’s punches. The action is prolonged without every feeling anticlimactic, and the only criticism I could draw is that in both books a pinnacle was reached in which the whole world was thrown into chaos, Katniss was knocked unconscious, and is then awoken to a nice rational explanation of exactly what was going on my. It falters a bit in explaining the end of Catching Fire as the clues were not quite as clear as they could have been, but in Mockingjay the moment is quickly smoothed over to make way for the dramatic conclusion.

In short, I genuinely absolutely loved these books, and I haven’t read a series like this as compulsively since His Dark Materials. It really deserves to shake off any of the negative preconceptions that YA might bring with it (and yes, I’ll fully admit that the preconceptions are probably unfounded.) It also really deserves a much better film to be made of it than the first adaptation, but that remains to be seen. But overall, I cannot recommend these highlight enough.

(Side note–in the acknowledgements for Mockingjay, the writer thanks David Levithan first and foremost as an editor. I love David Levithan. I like these little coincidences.)


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