Warning! If you’ve not read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, please do not read this review. Instead, read the books as fast as you can and then come back!
Writing a review for the third and final book in a series is a near impossible task. One can barely envisage a scenario in which a reader would approach a trilogy backwards and if you’re reading the third book it’s a safe bet it’s because you liked a series enough to want to finish it. Spoilers from The Hunger Games and its marvellous sequel Catching Fire are hard to avoid entirely but I’ll try to keep them to the minimum. But what I do stress is that if you’ve read the first book, or indeed seen the excellent film, then you will want to read Catching Fire, which is even better, and once you’re set on that course then there is no reason at all why you wouldn’t pick up Mockingjay, the conclusion of the trilogy, as fast afterwards as is humanly possible.
It’s that kind of trilogy. It builds drama apace with its development of character and its visualisation of the entire state. As Suzanne Collins takes us outside the confines of the Hunger Games arena and shows us more of the workings of the Capitol, its tyranny and its cruelty, the books become ever more compelling, albeit bleaker. Finally, we have reached the full fruition of this reconstruction of Ancient Rome, this world of bread and circuses. This is a place populated by Plutarchs, Caesars Cressidas, Coriolanuses, Catos, Flavias, Castors, Aureliuses and many more, reminding us of a previous state built on sedating its population with games. But we all know what happened to Rome.
The third book, Mockingjay, portrays the fall of Rome and the rise of another power, which might be better than what it’s replacing but, then again, very well might not. At its centre is Katniss Evereen, survivor of two sets of Hunger Games and symbol of revolution for her own District 12 and all the other Districts that have witnessed the death of their children for the amusement of the pampered and grotesque citizens of the Capitol. And yet, even they are victims of a sort. But 75 years after the original revolt by District 13, long believed destroyed, it’s time for vengeance.
Mockingjay presents a whole new side to this remarkable dystopian vision created by Suzanne Collins. Katniss, Peeta, Gale and Prim are taken to yet another place and must adapt all over again. Some manage it better than others. But as Katniss becomes increasingly aware that she will always be little more than a symbol to people with power, she also has to fight her own brave war to avenge her fellow competitors from the Games, past and present, and to come to peace with Peeta. Peeta, perhaps more than anyone, has suffered the most.
While this is a novel for teens (although it definitely should and can be read by all ages), it doesn’t spare the reader. It is violent and it is bloody. It is also in places upsetting and disturbing as characters we’ve grown to care for very much pay the price for rebellion – or for winning. It’s touch and go whether any will survive. This is a darker novel than Catching Fire which, for me, had much more hope in it. Hope doesn’t fare too well here. There are compromises.
Mockingjay has come a long way since the chariot processions of The Hunger Games. So has Katniss and so have we. What a wonderful series. Watching its development on the big screen will provide the perfect excuse to keep the books close through the coming years.