Cover image adapted by Scholastic UK from an original by Tim O'Brien
THE HUNGER GAMES
THE HUNGER GAMES BOOK ONE
Publisher: Scholastic UK
First published: 14 September 2008
This edition published: 1 December 2011
On the cover:
(From the publisher's website.)
The TV game show only has one rule: kill or be killed. Katniss must play or die. But she won’t give up without a fight...
In District 12, where Katniss Everdeen lives, life is harsh and brutal, ruled from afar by the all-powerful leaders of the Capitol. The climax of each year is the savage Hunger Games – where twelve boys and twelve girls from each District must fight to the death on live TV in a murderous showdown. When sixteen-year-old Katniss steps forward to take her younger sister’s place in the Games, everyone regards it as a death sentence. Only one person can survive the horrors of the arena. But plucky Katniss has been close to death before. For her, survival is second nature...
Let's get one thing out of the way first. There has been a lot of talk about this novel, and the trilogy, being derivative of earlier works. There is no doubt that this is not the most original concept in SFF, but I don't think a real case can be made for it being any more of a copy than a lot of other SFF works. I will say more about the subject of this book's predecessors, and possible inspirations, when I have reviewed the whole trilogy. For now I'll just say that I don't think anyone I am aware has made a case for Collins being a copycat.
This brings us to how original, or fresh if you will, this novel feels. The short answer is that it depends very much on how much you have read. For me there was much that was familiar to some degree. But even so, I quickly lost any inclination I had to spot the similarities. Collins writes in such a way that you are compelled to keep reading, putting the book down before it ends is hard, and I finished this in a shorter time span than I anticipated.
Pacing wise this is all about the story, there is little worldbuilding done. We do get some info though, but the whole setting feels a bit sketchy at times. This is however not a flaw, it's clear that it is a conscious choice by the author. It does work in the context of the story, even though it makes it feel like the world we are in lacks some history at times. My personal preference would be to have more backstory to bridge our present with the novel's. Other readers will of course feel it refreshing that there is a focus on the story, and that the setting is left in the background to a greater degree than is found in many SFF novels.
I must add though that there is quite a bit of substance to this novel, and there is definitely a lot happening at times. There is an undercurrent of societal critique here. Although perhaps undercurrent isn't exactly the right word, the novel is pretty much in your face with everything. At times the lack of subtlety can be a bit too much. There were times I felt that Collins was laying it on a bit thick, times were the way the point was made felt repetitive. What this mostly did for me was make it feel like this is "starter" SFF. And since this is after all a YA novel, that is actually a good thing.
There is quite a lot of suspense here, at times you will be very loathe to put the book down because of it. Collins has put in some great cliffhangers that doesn't take a backseat to any you'd find in a good Thriller. Obviously there is also a lot of action, and quite a bit of it is fairly brutal. This isn't a sanitised version of the events depicted, and this realistic approach to violence makes the novel better than a "Disneyfied" version would have been.
The characters are quite important here. We are getting the story as told in first person by the main character, Katniss Everdeen. This gets us very close to what is going on, and we do get very intimate with Katniss's feelings and her interpretation of what is going on. Unfortunately I feel that this is somewhat of a weak point. Katniss came across to me as cold and distant, and the narrative didn't really feel all that personal. As a result of this I had problems empathising with Katniss at several points throughout the novel. I felt she worked much better as a character when she interacted with others, she basically comes off more "real" when she's playing off someone else.
I still liked following Katniss's "journey" though. Her coldness didn't keep me back from witnessing what was going on, they just didn't get me as close to her as I got the feeling I was supposed to.
Overall this is a really good action-filled SFF novel. It is an easier read than many other Dystopian Science Fiction novels, and this can lead to it being more entertaining than thoughtful. If you want to introduce anyone to this subgenre of SFF, or want an introduction yourself, this is an excellent place to start.
You don't have to have any "SFF baggage" to read this, and in some ways it is a bit of a distraction if you do. It was still a very enjoyable read for me, so if you can avoid being nitpicky this should be an entertaining read for the seasoned SFF reader.
Basically, if you are looking for an entertaining Earth-bound Science Fiction novel with a bit of substance to it, picking this up is a good idea.
LINKS: Suzanne Collins Scholastic UK