Book Review: Mockingjay *Spoilers!*
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, was the very first book I paid to get on my Kindle. Its ardent fans swarmed the YWP NaNo WriMo website in such great numbers that I was willing to put down $5 for it without even bothering to get the free sample. And it was worth it. But at the end of the book, the story was clearly not over: Katniss may have survived the arena — and Peeta too — but she had got on the wrong side of the president of Panem himself. And, possibly of greater importance, she still had one too many suitors. So I willingly forked out $15 for the next two books: Catching Fire, the first rumblings of rebellion, and then Mockingjay, the final struggle between Katniss and the Capitol.
Having read Catching Fire, I am glad I read Mockingjay (though it may have been best to stop after The Hunger Games). It was a legitimate ending to the series. Collins’ style was much the same as in the first two books; the same first person present tense, the same dark intensity, the same dramatic chapter endings. The storyline was different — there was no Hunger Games — but we’ve been waiting for a showdown between the Districts and the Capitol ever since the end of the first book. Was the showdown good? In some ways it was; in many ways it wasn’t. Let’s look at it.
When Katniss became the Mockingjay and they started filming her first inspirational message, I didn’t like it one bit. The whole thing was so fake and scripted. It might have looked okay on television in the Districts, but it was clear I would hate a book-full of painfully fake telecast recordings. However I think Collins expected a response something like this, and indeed played for it. She used Katniss’s ineptness as a TV star as an excuse to send her to dangerous zones, despite the fact District 13 would be protective of someone they spent so much on rescuing. Katniss’s courageous acts in war zones (like shooting down Capitol aeroplanes) were far more inspirational than her telecasts, and there was more scope for suspense and danger there too. Even so, they were still a long way from her inspirational best — which we haven’t really seen since The Hunger Games.
One of the biggest shocks in the entire trilogy-ful of shocks was when Peeta turned against Katniss. District 13 rescued Peeta from the Capitol, and when Katniss went to visit him, he throttled her. From about three quarters of the way through The Hunger Games and then all the way through Catching Fire, Collins has built Peeta’s love for Katniss into a universal constant. So she could hardly have created a greater effect had she reversed the law of gravity (and this isn’t Phil Phorce).
In terms of plot, I think this was a good move by Collins: it provides a necessary and unexpected twist in their relationship. Does it seem wrong though to make Peeta’s steadfastness so easily vanquishable? At first I thought so, but in the end he managed to mostly overcome the effects: his love was that strong. As they journeyed through the Capitol, Peeta frequently argued for his own death — or if they would not kill him, at the very least tie him up — to keep him from killing anyone. So I don’t think this showed Peeta to be weak: if anything it highlights the strength of his character that he would rather die than endanger those he loves.
In The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, Katniss was in the clutches of the hostile Capitol, so there was great scope for danger. In Mockingjay, however, she is under the protection of District 13. Thankfully, about two thirds of the way through, she is assigned to a sharp-shooter squad and things start to go wrong.
Firstly, Peeta was added to the squad. Since Peeta’s mind still partly thought that Katniss was a muttation, this put her life in danger.
Then Boggs, the squadron leader and one of the few people Katniss got along with, stepped on a mine and died within minutes. Strangely, in a way this was a good thing for Katniss. Katniss had been wanting to steal the holo (the 3-D map of the pods) from Boggs and make off to assassinate President Snow. But since she was indebted to Boggs, it would have been a major twinge of conscience to do so. With Boggs’s dying breath, he transferred control of the holo from himself to Katniss.
Once Katniss had control of the holo, she revealed her plan to assassinate Snow, claiming that it was a secret mission. Everybody came along with her and they travelled underground across the Capitol. Strewn across it, just like above ground, were pods, and before long the Capitol sent muttations after them.
Most of their party perishes in that journey, including Finnick. Finnick’s death was for me the most tragic death of all up to that point. Not because I necessarily liked him better than the other characters (though he was likeable enough), but because he had just married Annie, the slightly deranged girl he loved so much. What would poor Annie do now that Finnick was dead, go totally insane? The marriage was a rare happy point during the book. But what does Collins do when she creates something happy, something good? She destroys it. Characters are only built up so that they make more of an impact when they are taken away.
When the remnants of the squad reached the heart of the Capitol, Katniss and Gale go to kill Snow. Gale was taken by peacekeepers on the way, and Katniss arrived at Snow’s mansion alone. She arrived just in time to see Prim killed by a bomb.
For me this is narrowly eclipsed Finnick’s death as the climax of tragedy in the series. If there was any lingering doubt that the series was a tragedy story, it is vanquished with this grand final stroke. The irony; the irony. Prim was not a terribly major character — to be honest, I think she was underdone — but she was the one who got the whole thing rolling; it was for her that Katniss entered that first Hunger Games. The first courageous thing Katniss did in the series, perhaps the most courageous thing Katniss did in the series, was to volunteer to enter the Hunger Games in order to protect Prim from death. And now, at the end of the series, Katniss fails. Prim dies.
This may have been the climax of tragedy, but it was not the final tragic blow. The next thing that I found terrible, that destroyed any respect that I had for Katniss (and I had plenty in the first book, but it eroded as the series has progressed) happened on the day of Snow’s execution. Coin suggested a final Hunger Games, a Hunger Games of Capitol children, to punish their parents for their oppression of the districts. She asked the surviving Hunger Games victors to vote on it. Peeta, Beetee and Annie voted no. I expected them to. Johanna and Enobaria voted yes. It lowered my opinion of them, but I was not surprised. Then Katniss voted yes. Her terrible ordeals, it would seem, had eroded all her morals and compassion. Perfectly natural under the circumstances, perhaps, but the heroine ought not be in a moral abyss at this point. Heroines are not there to do what is “perfectly natural under the circumstances”; they’re there to resist evil and make us love them for it.
Immediately afterward, Katniss killed Coin. All through the story she had been aching to kill Snow; all through the story, though they didn’t lay eyes on each other, Katniss and Snow had been engaged in a very real struggle. Then, at the end of the book when she finally has her glorious chance to kill him, she fired at Coin instead. I must say I quite liked this twist on the story goal. Even though a lot of the bad-painting of Coin was tell rather than show, it was clear (especially after the Hunger Games incident) that she wasn’t a great person. And Katniss was already in a moral abyss, so having her kill Coin in cold blood hardly made any difference.
Once Coin was dead, and Snow too by suffocation of his own blood, the only thing that remained was the resolution of the love triangle.
The new government sent Katniss to District 12 where she lived in the Victor’s Village. Peeta and Haymitch are sent there too. For a while nothing happens: Katniss just lolled around feeling depressed — and let me tell you, I was depressed at that point in the novel too. But eventually she came to realise that she loved Peeta. She didn’t need Gale’s fire, rage and destruction; she need Peeta’s hope and “promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses”. She chose Peeta.
I respect her decision — and her reasons — but I expected something more profound. There seemed to be a lack of conviction about her decision. Also, I expected that her choice would be set up — the clues would be there — and when Collins revealed the answer it would all make sense. In a way it was like that: I began to dislike Gale in the final book because of his desire for vengeance and his disregard for life. But Gale and Katniss had been so similar, they knew each other so well, they fitted together. And Gale had not only loved Katniss, he had looked out for her family too. So I felt that this conclusion was a bit under thought out, even though the last page was eloquent and relieved some of the depression of the last few chapters.
The style of this book was in keeping with the other two, and I enjoyed most of it. The suspense and action were high. Much of it was very well done. But on the whole I felt that Mockingjay was a disappointment, an underwhelming finish to the trilogy. I thought the end was too tragic, and I was very disappointed by Katniss’s vote for a 76th Hunger Games. Also, the resolution of the love triangle could have been done better. Thus for the rating: 3/5. Please tell me what you thought of the book too!
Posted on November 7, 2012, in Book Review, My Opinion and tagged book review, Katniss, Mockingjay, Reading, Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games, tragedy, YA fiction. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.