Hunger

Hunger

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for its prequel, Gone. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Although there are currently a lot of young adult dystopian novels on the market, few present such a bleak world view as Michael Grant’s Gone series. The books follow the battle for survival faced by the children of Perdido Beach after the disappearance of every person over the age of fifteen. The series spans for six novels: Gone (2008), Hunger (2009), Lies (2010), Plague (2011), Fear (2012) and Light (2013). For the purpose of today’s review, I will be looking at Hunger only.

Three months have passed since the events of Gone and the situation becoming dire. Food supplies are rapidly beginning to run out and attempts to harvest more from the fields surrounding Perdido Beach have proven to be impossible due to infestations of deadly worms. Driven to increasing desperation by their hunger, the kids gradually begin to turn on one another. Normals grow steadily more resentful of those who have developed powers and name-calling quickly escalates to violence.

Although Sam tries to keep the peace, he soon finds that he has bitten off more than he can chew. No matter how hard he tries to lead, bad things just seem to keep happening outside of his control. Try as he might, he just can’t seem to get the other kids to rally together. Although he can see that kids will soon start to starve to death, few seem to be willing to help him to resolve the problem. The pressure upon him has virtually driven him to breaking point but there seems to be no way out of their downward spiral.

Yet Sam does not know that the worse is yet to come. On the outskirts of the town a creature waits in a darkened mine, calling out to all those who have previously encountered it – Lana, Caine and Drake. They do not know what the Darkness is but they know that it is powerful and terrifying. It is also needs to feed…

Hunger follows on nicely from its precursor, gradually filling in gaps in the reader’s understanding as it further develops the threads left hanging at the end of Gone. The novel spends a lot of time building our understanding of the Darkness, or the Gaiaphage as we discover it calls itself. Although the Gaiaphage never reveals its nature within the story, its origin is suggested by a couple of different characters within the story and seems to be plausible enough and, based on the history of Pedido Beach that was revealed in Gone, sounds more than likely. While at first the creature is terrifying (there is something almost Lovecraftian about the unknown shapeless monstrosity that projects the phrase “hungry in the dark” into the minds of others), but it grows increasingly less so as its nature is revealed. Hopefully it will regain some of its mystique in future instalments.

The escalating feeling of desperation in the novel is very well presented. I noted in my previous review the similarity between Gone and Lord of the Flies and that is felt all the more in this novel as the hungry and desperate children begin to behave more and more like animals. Although starvation and the fear associated with it is expressed in many ways throughout the novel, isolated incidents emphasise just how out of hand it is getting. Desperate children fight over missing junior mints and resort to killing family pets in order to survive, culminating in one final moment were a mob is almost driven to murder for the promise of venison. It’s grim, violent and sometimes very difficult to read, but still realistically portrays the desperation that those trapped in the FAYZ are feeling.

However, despite its cruelty, the novel still never feels particularly original. As with Gone, it combines a handful of themes – Lord of the Flies brutality, X-men mutant powers and the basic structure of a Stephen King story (falling somewhere between The Stand and Under the Dome in tone). Beyond this, Hunger offers nothing that really feels fresh and unique. It combines themes in a way that I’ve never seen before, but never really brings anything new to the table.

It is also a lot slower burning than Gone. The cast of Hunger is far larger than that of its prequel and so the plot often slows to a crawl as chapters are devoted to showing what dozens of characters are up to. While Gone largely followed Sam, Astrid, Quinn and Edilio’s story (while occasionally allowing the reader to see the view point of a lesser character), Hunger quadruples the amount of major players. As the main storyline is still played out in Sam and Caine’s chapters, a lot of the others feel like padding.

The cast had grown so large that I found I had trouble remembering who was who. Duck Zhang’s sporadic appearances at the start of the novel were forgettable and only seemed to be there in order to allow for his significance in the end (which, in itself, was head-scratching for me. I don’t know if I missed something but why did Sam send for Duck in the end? How did he know that he would be required?). Similarly, characters that were important in the last book, such as Mother Mary and Orc, received little to do in this story. It was almost like the author had lost interested in them and moved on to creating new ones. For me, this was somewhat disappointing. I did not really want to be introduced to a dozen new characters. I wanted to learn more about the ones that I had grown to care about in Gone.

Not all of the characters suffered from poor development. Albert had a lot more to do in this story and I actually found his sub-plot to be one of the most interesting aspects. His attempts to introduce capitalism into the world are interesting and show that he has a better grasp of how to motivate the kids than Sam does. Unfortunately, it seems to be a road paved in ruin. While Albert is optimistic about what he is doing now, there is an undercurrent of greed to his actions and I am curious to see how it comes to bite him in a future volume.

Sam, also, is commendably realistic character. I really did feel for him, as he genuinely did try to get the kids of Perdido Beach working together. Although he is determined, he lacks the authority to make the others do as he wishes and consequently has begun to bear the brunt of the blame. Throughout the novel, as peoples’ expectations of Sam rise, he begins to buckle over the pressure. This is tragic to see as he is completely undeserving of their criticism. His speech about still just being a kid himself is utterly tragic and really did cause my heart to go out to him.

Although, as with Gone, I have a gripe with the shallow characterisation of some of the secondary characters, I noticed in this novel that there was also a problem with the female characters in this book. Primarily, there were several primary female characters but they never seemed to do a lot. They were always present in the novel, but they just never achieved anything. All the major actions in this novel were caused by men – usually Sam, Caine, Drake or Zil. If a girl tried to stop them, they usually failed and had to be rescued by a male character. Even the more powerful girls such as Dekka and Brianna do not really do an awful lot in the novel, which is a real shame. Dekka is rapidly becoming one of my favourite characters and, with the power of gravity manipulation, really should be kicking more ass.

I think that about covers everything and so time to wrap up. Hunger is as dark and engrossing as its prequel and maintains a dark atmosphere which leaves you genuinely concerned for the safety of every character. Unfortunately, I felt that it was a slightly weaker novel than Gone overall. The expanding cast bogs down the story, leading to more tangents and subplots that go to nowhere. It also suffers from some weak character development which leaves a lot of the secondary cast (particularly the girls) feeling 2-dimensional and forgettable. All in all, it’s a flawed novel but I’m still curious to see how the story will develop from here.

Hunger can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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