I stare down at my shoes, watching as a fine layer of ash settles of the worn leather.
Mockingjay is the final book in The Hunger Games trilogy, so you might not want to read this review if you haven’t read either of the earlier instalments (The Hunger Games or Catching Fire). Some vital plot secrets are revealed!
I don’t envy trilogy/series writers one bit. The expectation for the final book and the inevitable polar reaction of elation or disappointment is unavoidable yet certain. As this is a reread I can reflect on my initial reaction to Mockingjay and how it shaped my return to it but I think anyone familiar with the series knows that this final instalment, more often than not, fell in the latter category.
I have to admit upon first reading I absolutely felt disappointed and proceeded to vilify the book and choices made by Suzanne Collins. Having demolished the first two I was dying to conclude the amazing Hunger Games trilogy and my expectation of Mockingjay was astronomic, a height it would never be able to reach. It was incredibly slow but rushed at the same time, with all the action packed into the final quarter of the book and important plot points skimmed over for the sake of a moving narrative (issues that do still exist and I still stand by). But in my rush to find out what happened to the characters I had come to care so much about, I didn’t take in everything Collins was trying to do and only focussed on the badly weighted story. However this time, with my expectation-level set for disappointment and knowing the outcome of the story already, I was able to take more time over the book and actually found myself pleasantly surprised (still not in love with it but much less disappointed).
The story opens on the brink of civil war, cemented by Katniss’ destruction and rescue from the Quarter Quell arena. Residing in the clandestine District of 13, Katniss comes to terms with what happened and just how heavy the expectations are upon her – will the rebel’s Mockingjay be able to fly?
Collins expertly weaves the recovery of our protagonist into the tonality and atmosphere of life in District 13, translating the trauma and confusion suffered by Katniss into the narrative. Because of this, the character of Katniss has developed and changed from the feisty volunteer of the first book. There is an element of self-pity and martyrdom that wasn’t present before and some readers may find it grating. Personally it’s only in thinking back to all the trauma Collins has made the poor girl suffer that I empathise with where she is, initially I really disliked the change in Katniss.
The focus in the final instalment is less of the teenage love triangle (which I was glad about) and more about the wide-reaching effect rebellion, war and power. There is a much darker, deeper focus in the novel than just who Katniss will end up with*, it’s all centred on the randomness and destruction of war – playing with concept of the known enemy. Characters do die, some in just the most torturous deaths (not entirely sure how they’ll manage to translate them into mass market cinematic scenes…) but they did not hit home as powerfully as I think they should. Again, this comes back to the issue of narrative balance for me.
*but just for the record, for me, she ends up with the right boy!
As a dystopian trilogy that is centred on a vicious twist on reality television with children killing children, you can hardly expect a joyous jolly-fun time. Collins is fantastic at allowing the story to take over but letting the premise to linger. The HG books certainly can’t be classed as happy and Mockingjay, for me, was the darkest of the three but what is undeniable about Collins’ trilogy is how compelling they are to read. The characters, the freshness of the story and momentum will keep you wanting more and bring you back time and again – and it certainly won’t be my last visit to Panem.