This was another book I heard about on the grapevine, one that seemed to be gaining some momentum, not least because of the updates regarding the forthcoming film adaptation. There were whispers this could the next Harry Potter (or rather, hopes).
Which is not to say the books are in any way similar, they’re not. The Hunger Games is set in a post-apocalyptic future where the tyrannical Capitol, risen from the ashes of North America, has beaten the various districts that surround it into submission and forces them to supply all their resource needs. Once a year they remind the districts that even their children belong to them by running a lottery called the Hunger Games, where a boy and girl are chosen from each district who must fight each other to the death in a large outdoor arena, with the event televised to all citizens.
The idea sounds similar to The Running Man and Battle Royale, although the author says some inspiration came from the story of Theseus, where King Minos of Crete demanded children be sent to feed the Minotaur. I also found it similar to the City of Ember, although their lottery is purely for jobs, but it shares a tough existence in a threadbare, dystopic future. You could also say the same of Tunnels too. While the idea might not be new, the execution is and the society and culture is unlike anything else I’ve read, seeming to draw on the past more than the future. The Capitol reminds me more of ancient Rome and the games a modern gladiatorial combat or perhaps a medieval melee, the mock battles fought between two sides of knights.
We follow Katniss Evergreen, a young girl from District 12, whose purpose is to supply coal. Most of its inhabitants work in the Seam, the coal mines. Before he was killed in a mine explosion, her father taught her to hunt and that’s what has helped her keep the family alive. When Prim, Katniss’ 12-year-old sister, is selected for the games, Katniss volunteers to take her place. Working with her team they craft a public persona for her to help raise awareness and sponsors, who can supply things during the game. Then she’s thrown into the arena to die or emerge victorious, but even that might not save her.
She’s a great heroine to follow. Most YA fiction seems to follow boys and any girls that appear are usually stereotypes of one sort or another or simply serve the main story, but Katniss is strong and resourceful, clever, if a touch too hard and cold sometimes (but that’s her character, not the way she’s written). Some of the other characters fall back on stereotypes a bit, bit not enough to take away from the story, which is gripping and non-stop action and intrigue.
For a book classed as Young Adult it really does take a different route. If people thought Harry Potter was dark, having a story which revolves around the contestants killing one another using a variety of weapons, surviving near-death experiences and picking up all manor of injuries is a step well beyond their sensibilities. Having said that, children do grow up and fight their way (sometimes literally) out of tough circumstances. It’s not a massive leap to see how this applies in the real world (the author says the idea came while channel surfing and seeing a reality TV show and war footage next to each other).
This isn’t the first book I’ve read by the author, having also read Gregor the Overlander, the first of the Underland Chronicles series. I enjoyed that too (and have been meaning to read some more).
Unlike The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which I read immediately before this, I couldn’t put it down. It really was one of those books where, if you’re not reading it, you’re thinking about it. I’m not sure I can bestow a greater compliment than that.