The Hunger Games trilogy has generated a lot of buzz recently, mostly due to the upcoming (and fantastic looking) movie adaptation of the first book....moreThe Hunger Games trilogy has generated a lot of buzz recently, mostly due to the upcoming (and fantastic looking) movie adaptation of the first book. So I decided to bump it up on my to-read list. And I wasn't disappointed.
For those unfamiliar with the trilogy, it's set in a dystopian future America, called Panem, where various unnamed wars and environmental catastrophes have devastated the human race and left much of the Earth's landmass underwater. Panem is ruled by a totalitarian regime called the Capitol, that showers itself in wealth while enslaving the people within its twelve districts. Each district has a specific trade that nearly everyone is expected (and forced) to contribute to.
The defining mark of the Capitol regime is "the Hunger Games," an annual event where both a male and female tribute from each district are forced to fight to the death in a massive booby-trap ridden arena as perpetual punishment for an uprising in a time called "the Dark Days."
The trilogy follows the life of a teenager named Katniss, who volunteers to take the place of her younger sister as a tribute from District 12. In the first book, The Hunger Games itself, Katniss fights for her life both in the arena using her honed survival skills and within the cut-throat (literally) politics of the Capitol. Her mentor, former Hunger Games victor Haymitch, who knows how to play the Capitol's political games, sets Katniss and fellow District 12 tribute, Peeta, up as a pair of "star-crossed" lovers, a theme that follows them throughout the entire trilogy.
The Hunger Games themselves are quite brutal to read through (and I imagine will be even more brutal to watch), as the scenes of the "Games" involve children killing each other in the most horrible ways imaginable. However, they mark the center of a well-written and poignant story about the nature of humanity and its relationship with power.
The end of the The Hunger Games is predictable (I saw it coming for a while), but that doesn't make it any less effective. In fact, it makes it even more so, especially as you learn more and more about the other tributes and become attached to them as well.
The beginning of the trilogy, in my opinion, is a perfect execution of the kind of world that Collins was going for. It has the perfect amount of drama, violence, and romance, all wrapped up in a powerful moral message that's lessons are defined by the abundant corruption seen on just about every page of the book.
So, the first book is an amazing read. But what about the other two?
The second book in the trilogy, Catching Fire, begins to shift the story away from the corruption itself and more onto its effects on Katniss. The major plot still chugs along just fine, but the focus on Katniss' emotional state as the story progresses is much sharper and incredibly shocking. And Collins pulls this off perfectly as well.
I often see a lot of authors gloss over ambivalence in their characters, as if keeping them "steady" is realistic. But Collins doesn't fall for this. She shows every little mistake, every moment of confusion, that Katniss experiences throughout, and if this doesn't make Katniss a realistic heroine, then I don't know what does.
One of the things I enjoyed most from Catching Fire is the abundance of new characters. Since most of the characters you come to love in The Hunger Games actually end up dead by the end, they need some good replacements. And Collins delivers, in my opinion, even better ones. This is because Catching Fire revolves around the "Quarter Quell," which is a Hunger Games round where the normal rules are thrown out the window and a special set of tributes is chosen.
And, of course, this Quarter Quell's tributes...are chosen from the previous winners. Seeing as Katniss is the only female winner from District 12, she automatically has to compete. You see, in the first book, Katniss uses a trick to save both her and Peeta's life (since there is usually only one winner).
The "president" of Panem, Snow, and makers of the Hunger Games, therefore, are humiliated and shamed. And beyond that, Katniss' defiance of the Capitol's rules sets off a rebellious streak in all twelve districts.
And so a target is painted on Katniss. One that is not erased until the very end of the trilogy.
Catching Fire then proceeds to introduce some of the most memorable characters ever. Since the contestants are past tributes, they each bring heavy histories and emotional baggage to the Quarter Quell. They also bring a plan to break out of the arena, unbeknownst to Katniss. To me, following the stories and plans of these new characters was far more compelling than the ones from The Hunger Games.
And so, at the end of Catching Fire, we are left with a setup that promises a grand finale.
Then we get to Mockingjay.
I'd seen a lot of people around before I started the series who didn't like Mockingjay, and after starting the series, I kept wondering why. Then I actually got to it, and I understood perfectly.
Mockingjay is not like the first two books. Whereas the focus in the first two is split about evenly between the main plot line and Katniss' emotions and thoughts, the final book suddenly tips the scales toward the latter. By a lot. While the plot still marches onward toward an exciting, horrifying, and bittersweet finale, its often overshadowed by Katniss' collapsing mental state.
There were times in the book when the only thing I could focus on was Katniss' obvious and severe post-traumatic stress disorder. She ends up in the hospital so many times, drugged up on the equivalent of morphine and suffering endless nightmares, that I often forgot what else was actually happening.
I still like Mockingjay, quite a lot, but it is hard to have the same feelings for it as I do for the first two. The story descends into a pit of severe depression and mental trauma that it never really climbs out of, and it tended to jar me a bit out of the story as a whole every now and then.
Now, don't get me wrong. The events of Mockingjay and Katniss' declining mental state were obviously planned by Collins to have this effect on the reader. Collins doesn't spare any expense to make you feel the pain her characters are in and to understand why they're suffering. It's plainly obvious that one of Collins' major points was to make the world of The Hunger Games universe as real as it could possibly be.
And she succeeded, in my opinion, because there really is no getting around the fact that the mental and emotional trauma, the horrors of war, and the stress that her characters face are eerily and horrifically realistic. But at the same time, that level of realism has the potential to turn some readers off, especially since the series is YA.
So, while I find that the series as a whole is a dystopian masterpiece, I will warn you now that it descends into some very dark and disturbing places. You will watch as teenagers have their lives completely destroyed, their families killed and tortured, their minds left in tatters, and their emotions horrifically distorted. Permanently.
And even at end of all things, you won't find any real happiness. You'll find realism. And that realism entails the depiction of horrors of totalitarianism and war and its lasting effects on the people who experience it.
So, The Hunger Games trilogy. Dark. Thrilling. Poignant. Realistic. Should you read it? Definitely. (less)
**spoiler alert** Dystopian sci-fi has really been on fire for the last few years, and Legend by Marie Lu is one of the newest installments to the gen...more**spoiler alert** Dystopian sci-fi has really been on fire for the last few years, and Legend by Marie Lu is one of the newest installments to the genre. I actually stumbled onto this novel on Amazon, while searching for new dystopian novels. The premise sounded pretty good, so I decided to ask for it as a part of my Christmas book bundle.
And I was not disappointed.
Legend is set in a far future America, ravaged by natural disasters (go figure), that has split into the Republic of America and the Colonies. The Republic is ruled by an "elected" Elector Primo, and the entire society is severely weighed toward militaristic. There is little to no equality among the people, with the small upper class being extremely wealthy and practically everyone else living in the slums.
However, all children from both classes are forced to undergo the "Trial," which is a supposedly fair test of intelligence, physical strength, and mental stability. The children who score very highly get their choice of university and occupation. Those in the middle ranges get to go to college, but don't end up in the most lucrative positions. Those in the lower ranges end up in the slums.
Those who fail get carted off to "labor camps."
Oh, and did I mention they take this "Trial" at age ten?
So, like usual, you have the dystopian totalitarian-style government that wrongs the majority of its people, torments them with poverty and militaristic police, and kills off any dissidents without a second thought.
Standard setup, yes, but Lu executes it well.
It's her characters, however, that really shine. The novel centers around the pampered military prodigy, June, and the young master criminal, Day, who get caught up in each others' lives when Day is accused of murdering June's brother, Metias, during an attempted theft of a cure for the plague that has sickened his younger brother.
From here, everything quickly spins out of control for both of them. Day's slum-dwelling family is forced to watch as the youngest brother gets sicker and sicker, and Day struggles to find a way to get the cure for him. His plight is compounded by the fact that he can't visit them in plain sight. His mother thinks he's dead, and there's a massive price on his head as the Republic's most wanted.
Meanwhile, June, shell-shocked by her brother's sudden death (and thus, the death of her only guardian), ends up recruited by her brother's former commander. She is graduated early from her university and immediately sent on a mission to track down Day. She also finds herself having to fend off advances from her and her brother's closest friend, Thomas, who continually attempts to get closer to her despite her rejections.
If there's anything I can say about Lu's story, it's that it never stops going. There are no pauses in the plot, no point at which the action wanes. As soon as her characters and story are set in motion, they just keep speeding up right until the end.
As expected, June and Day end up meeting in the slums while June is undercover, neither knowing who the other is. They gradually strike up a friendship (and, this being YA, a budding romance), and it's striking even to the reader (well, at least to me) how alike they are. Both highly intelligent. Both cunning. Both physically skilled. They see details in the same way. They dissect situations expertly. They're basically exact counterparts of one another, which I was quite happy to discover because it really makes Lu's points about their society come across loud and clear.
After their meeting, a rapid set of events unfolds, wherein June realizes who Day is, gets him captured, and then suddenly stumbles upon the truth about their society: those who fail the Trial don't get sent to labor camps. They get experimented on and killed. And not only that, but Day, who supposedly failed his Trial, actually got a perfect score (where June was supposed to be the first one ever to do so). They only claimed he failed. Why?
Well, June never discovers the reason herself, but it's heavily implied that they sent Day to die because they found him too "rebellious." Because the only thing more dangerous than a "dumb" rebellious boy from the slums is an ingenious one.
On top of all that, June realizes that her brother--who uncovered the truth--was actually killed by the military (read: his own "friend," Thomas) for doing so, and that Day was just set up to take the blame. And if that wasn't bad enough, the government also killed her parents after her father, a medical doctor, uncovered the truth about the ever-lasting and evolving "plague": that it is purposefully given to the slum-dwellers in order to test it as a viable weapon for the war against the Colonies.
Horrified by the government and what she's done, she sets up a plan to break Day out a prison before his execution. And, of course, she succeeds (or else this novel would be very sad and probably be a stand alone).
At the end, you're left with the quite the setup: Day's sick brother, Eden, who's been infected with a mutated plague, has been carted off to the front lines for military "uses." June and Day, now both fugitives, are on the run, and their only hope for survival may be the Colonies that the Republic has fought so hard to destroy.
So, my overall impressions of this story are quite good. It is predictable at times, but then again, it is YA, so you can't expect it to be overly complicated. The characters are a shining point for Lu, and I can't wait to read some more of their adventures. Her setting, while "standard" for a dystopian story, is well-designed and believable. And really, you can't ask for much else.
Although, I should mention something that really got me: the book design. If you buy this book, buy it in print. The design of this book extends beyond the cover. The fonts for June and Day's POVs are different, and Day's chapters are actually printed in a shade of gold. It's quite pretty and very different from your average book.
So, to read or not to read? I say read it. You certainly don't stand to lose much, and it's a fairly entertaining story. I can't wait to read the sequels.(less)
I just picked up the Blood Bloods series over my Thanksgiving break again. I started reading it back in high school, but stopped sometime after gradua...moreI just picked up the Blood Bloods series over my Thanksgiving break again. I started reading it back in high school, but stopped sometime after graduation (no more library, yeah?). Anyway, I picked up copies of the four books I didn't have and gave them another read through, including this one. And, well, I did have quite a few thoughts.
What I liked:
- Oliver and Mimi: They're arc of this book was excellent, in my opinion. It highlighted how both characters had changed since the series began, and well, it was just plain interesting. I loved Mimi's thought process through the whole thing, especially how her dedication to retrieve Kingsley at any cost began to deteriorate the more time she spent with Oliver. Her slow descent (or ascent, if you will) into a more human personality was well written.
- Kingsley: In general, I like Kingsley. And this book was no exception. His stay in hell was quite a bit different than I imagined it would be, but I can't say that the surprise wasn't a good one. The way he reacts to situations has never ceased to amaze me.
What I didn't like:
- Schuyler and Jack: Where do I even begin with this one? I just...they're part in this book was just plain awful, in my opinion. Especially Schuyler. I mean, what happened to the girl from the other books? Where did she go? It was like she was exchanged for a love-sick puppy in disguise. Her characterization completely fell apart. And Jack...well, I've always been on the fence about Jack, and while he was too awful bad, I still didn't like him nearly as much in this book as the others. Something about their relationship is just not working in terms of its translation into the plot of this book. It was way overplayed. Some parts of it bordered on stereotypical.
- General Comments: I've always had a love-hate relationship with the way de la Cruz writes. While I understand that the vampires are hundreds upon hundreds of years old, the way they switch back and forth between modern grammar and antiquated speech really annoys me, especially when its in narration. It comes off as incredibly unnatural sometimes. Really, it does.
Overall, it was a decent addition to the series, but I felt it was a bit rushed in places. Especially at the end. I'm interested to see where she takes the final installment though. She may be able to pull off something spectacular with the way she has things set up. We shall see. (less)
I started this in January, but due to unfortunate timing on the part of school, I didn’t get around to finishing it until last week. I’d heard quite a...moreI started this in January, but due to unfortunate timing on the part of school, I didn’t get around to finishing it until last week. I’d heard quite a lot about this book (and the author) before I started reading Daughter of Smoke & Bone, and most of it was raving praise. And you know, after finishing the book, I can understand why. However, there are a few things I would warn a potential reader about.
Before I tell you about them, though, let’s review what Daughter of Smoke & Bone is supposed to be about.
A teenage girl named Karou lives a double life in Prague. On the one hand, she’s a student at a special school for the arts. On the other, she run errands for monster-like beings called chimaera. These chimaera raised Karou, and she has no knowledge of her parentage or origins. The leader of these chimaera, Brimstone, collects teeth for a reason undisclosed to Karou. In exchange for these teeth, he gives tokens that grant wishes.
As the story unfolds, the reader is pulled into the middle of a never ending war between chimaera and angels, some of whom appear on Earth to destroy the gateways that connect it to the other world, the doors that lead to Brimstone’s “wish shop.” This is where we meet the angel Akiva, the immediately obvious love interest. After a skirmish with Karou, who he perceives as a enemy, he finds himself–oh boy–strangely attracted to her. This attraction, which Karou eventually submits to as well, spirals out into a detailed mystery of past lives and lost loves and ends with the discovery of just what Brimstone uses all those teeth for.
Now, here’s what I think about all this:
Taylor’s characters are interesting enough. Karou, the protagonist, is quite a well-developed lead, and I was thankful for this. I have a problem following stories where the main character isn’t fleshed out very well (though I seriously doubt Taylor will ever fall into this category of writers). She has a quite few characters that appear throughout the book, and I think she does a pretty good job of juggling them all. Karou remains the prime focus even while the other characters temporarily take the spotlight for certain scenes, which is how it should be, in my opinion.
But when it comes to characters, they rarely do well if the world they live in isn’t also well-developed. On that note:
By far Taylor’s strongest point, she uses words to craft a world in ways I’ve never seen writers utilize. Her prose is, quite frankly, gorgeous, and her detailed–yet streamlined–descriptions leave little to the imagination. It really helps you visualize the world Karou lives in, especially if you have little to no knowledge (like myself) of Prague (as well as several other foreign locations). Taylor’s worlds (yes, plural) are unique and distinct, and each setting comes with its own history, emotional attachments, and subplots.
Unfortunately, Taylor’s greatest strength may also be her weakness. Which brings me to:
This was my biggest problem with the story. Taylor creates a beautiful world with beautiful characters and basically infinite details to pull a plot out of. And in so doing, she fails to pull together a totally coherent plot. The world is so rich that the story becomes muddled with subplots that don’t play back into the main one, hints that never come to fruition, characters that appear when they detract more than they give from the scene, and a host of other problems.
Now, any one of those things, by itself, is not a deal breaker. Writers have a quite a bit of leeway in this regard. But as the story chugs along, the little structural problems begin to compound, and I strongly believe Taylor takes it a bit too far with the nearly never ending flashback. Huh? What nearly never ending flashback, you ask? Well, a little over halfway into the story, Taylor jumps into massive flashback that lasts for most of the remainder of the book. At this point, the book seems to become two books, the second half a virtual prequel to the first.
And don’t get me wrong. I know why Taylor did it, and I know many people think it works just fine, but I found the sudden halt of the current storyline in favor of what amounts to an extended backstory to be a bad decision. Karou’s story suddenly ceases to exist, and we’re instead introduced to an entirely new character. Now, I did find this character’s story interesting. Very much so. And this new character is intimately connected to Karou. But every chapter, I kept looking for the return to Karou, and I didn’t get it until the very end, at which point there’s a rather unsatisfying ending that I’m not entirely sure I understand the motivations for.
While Taylor’s prose is delightfully fresh and unique, and her characters are well-developed, I found Daughter of Smoke & Bone to be in need of a bit of structural editing. The typical YA love story angle didn’t bother me too much. It came with about as unique a spin as one can conceivably put on a YA paranormal romance. Where it really fell short, I feel, is the management of multiple story lines. By the end of the second half of the book (and the end of the story), everything seems a bit jumbled. I feel like Taylor would have been better off revealing the massive backstory in bits and pieces as opposed to one big chunk that cuts Karou’s story off so abruptly. The last chapter left me feeling a bit confused and apathetic.
At this point, I’m not sure if I’m going to continue the series or not.(less)