Mockingjay

Mockingjay

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier novels in the series. You can read my reviews of these books [here] and [here].

I really don’t think this novel needs much of an introduction. Mockingjay was written by Suzanne Collins and is the third and final instalment of the infinitely popular The Hunger Games Trilogy. It was first published in 2010 and follows on directly from the events of The Hunger Games (2008) and Catching Fire (2009), so you really have to read the previous novels to fully appreciate it.

Katniss Everdeen has managed to survive two consecutive Hunger Games only to be thrown into far greater danger. Following her rescue from the Quarter Quell arena, she is taken to District 13. Although the Capitol long maintained that this District had been destroyed, it actually hides a subterranean bunker where a rebel army has been growing.

On learning that the Capitol has firebombed her home in District 12, Katniss agrees to become the rebel’s Mockingjay – the figurehead of their forces – in order to inspire the soldiers to victory. To secure her new position, she only has a few conditions for the rebel leader, President Coin. Of these, the most important to her is that Peeta remains safe. He has been taken captive by the Capitol and she fears what will become of him no matter which side wins.

However, Katniss soon discovers that she’s still just a pawn and only the players have changed. Although all she wants is revenge against President Snow, it won’t be as simple as she first believed. Snow is safe in the heart of the Capitol, protected by his Peacekeepers and streets laced with bombs and Mutts. To kill him, she must enter into one final Game. One where a false move could spell death for everyone that she cares about…

Before I begin, I just thought I’d better warn you that this is another violent story. There is a lot more death and gore in Mockingjay than there was in any of the previous books, some beloved characters unfortunately don’t make to the out in one piece and a lot of children are killed during the final few chapters. While it’s not as gruesome as some other books that I’ve reviewed (still looking at you, Lord Loss), it’s probably not for you if you’re sensitive to such things.

If you’ve read my previous reviews, you’ll know that I adored both of the previous books in this series. The Hunger Games had its flaws but it was fast paced, complex and deeply engrossing. Catching Fire was a very similar story (perhaps too similar at times) but it did address the faults of the original and so was the stronger novel in my mind. Before I begin my review, I just want to make it clear that I don’t hate Mockingjay. I just felt that it was a deeply unsatisfying conclusion to the series.

Let’s start by looking at what Mockingjay does well. It’s a well written novel which addresses the effects of war as viewed through the eyes of a seventeen year old girl. Mockinjay never tries to glamorise the situation that Katniss is in. In later parts of the novel, she and Peeta play a game called “real or not real” to help him make sense of his shattered memories. In a sense, the entire story is this game on a grander scale. Katniss spends most of the novel uncertain of who she can trust. Although Coin is calling the shots, she frequently endorses things that Katniss finds morally reprehensible. Similarly, she’s horrified to find that some of her old friends are changed by the war, doing things that make her see them in an entirely new light.

The novel is also an incredibly realistic portrayal of post-traumatic stress. Following her two Hunger Games victories, Katniss is now a broken woman. She has constant nightmares, hallucinations and frequently is forced to hide herself away when things grow too much for her. In essence, she has become a different person. She still feels the same desire to protect her loved ones (although the means to do so has been largely taken away from her) but there is an also a sense that she has been wounded in a way that can never be healed. Unfortunately, this brings me to what I didn’t enjoy about the story.

I didn’t start reading this series because I wanted to read a war story. That’s not what attracted me to the other novels at all. Mockingjay loses much of the political tension that made the previous novels so suspenseful. My favourite thing about The Hunger Games and Catching Fire was watching the cracks form. Seeing how the seeds of rebellion were beginning to sprout in the Districts and the growing awareness of Katniss’s Prep Team as the glamour of the Hunger Games began to fall away. While there is a little of this in Mockingjay, the need for it has passed and we’re now thrown into the war itself. A war that Katniss has remarkably little stake in.

Some would argue that this is realistic. For all Katniss has done, she is still just a teenage girl and war is a game for adults. But I don’t read novels like this for realism – I get enough of that from real life. Katniss felt as though she’d lost most of her fire in this novel. The old Katniss occasionally shone through – when she decides that she will become the Mockingjay, when she tried to take on the Peacekeepers in District 8, when she braves the war-torn Capitol in the hope of assassinating Snow herself – but these are few and far between. For the most part, she’s just a pawn of the Rebels. She does what she’s told and watches most of the action unfold on TV. Oh, and she passes out. A lot. Every time things get a little tense, Katniss gets drugged or knocked out and, as she’s the narrative voice, this means we miss out on a lot of the background happenings. Nothing is more disappointing about this story than the way it treats Katniss – formerly one of the strongest female characters in young adult literature.

While the novel did pick up in its final act, it felt like it went a little too far. The traps that littered Capitol essentially turned it into a new Hunger Games arena, which really showed more than anything that Collins struggles to distance herself from this concept. Even though the Games are a thing of the past, Mockingjay still conformed to the same structure as the other books. The traps were also ridiculously over the top, more so than anything Katniss ever encountered in the Games. They ranged from pods filled with Muttations (though how they survived in these pods for years without food is beyond me), to bombs, barbed wire traps and huge pitfall traps that cause entire streets to collapse. Seriously, what was Snow thinking here? How to protect your city by killing off as many of its fleeing refugees as possible?

The ending of the novel was also very unsatisfying. This has been a problem with every novel in this series but I think that Mockinjay was the worst of the lot. It just all ended so quickly. Everything was wrapped up neatly and the final position of many characters is only really alluded to. The epilogue really hammers this home further. Two rather pointless pages that add little to the story other than the fact that Katniss apparently doesn’t know the names of her own children.

This review’s starting to get long so I think I’ll just round up with a quick word about the characters. I’ve already talked a fair bit about Katniss but the rest of the cast don’t really fair that much better. There’s not an awful lot of positive development for the cast this time around. My beloved Prep Team and Effie Trinket barely appear, Peeta is so broken by his torture that he regresses backwards and has to learn how to love Katniss all over again and Gale has just become a douchebag. Ok, the last one may be a little unfair as I do understand why Gale has gone so far off the deep end but I don’t understand why some people defend this character so much. Some people have told me that they preferred him over Peeta. I just don’t get it. What is the draw that this character has? I just found him over aggressive and more than a little controlling.

My biggest issue with the characters was the way that Coin was presented to the reader. She makes very little impression over the first two thirds of the story and Katniss only decides that she’s the villain based on what other people tell her. And one of these people is Snow. Who she trusts not to lie to her because he promised to never lie in Catching Fire. Because you would trust the tyrannical dictator who sanctioned the Hunger Games. Nothing weird about that at all. Despite the fact that it’s made pretty obvious that Coin is as bad as Snow, I never really bought her as being as much as a threat because she has far less of a presence. It felt a lot more like Snow was still the big baddie and Coin was just a strict military leader.

Anyhow, really racking up the word count now. I have so much more that I could say but I think I’ve made my point. Mockingjay isn’t a bad novel but it’s disappointing as a conclusion to the trilogy. However, I’d still say it’s worth a read. The series is dark, complex and its influence on literature over subsequent years has been profound. It’s certainly a necessary read for any science fiction fan.

Mockingjay can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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  1. Trackback: Raging Star | Arkham Reviews
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