Now that the generation-spanning, billion dollar franchise Harry Potter has ended (sob), many people will be desperately trying to fill the immense void it has left in their lives. Wait, that’s just me? Well, maybe I’m a one off, but the increasing popularity of Suzanne Collins’s trilogy The Hunger Games suggests that a new fantasy series is erupting onto the scene. With a film version of the first instalment due out in March 2012, and my Twitter page being invaded by virtual cries of agony as people finish the series, I thought I’d give it a try.
The Hunger Games is not something that you merely “give a try”, however. It is the most gripping, agonising and evocative series I have read in a very long time, and I have found myself being drawn irrevocably into the world of Katniss Everdeen, and the sadistic regime of her government.
Set in a future America, where the land is split into 12 districts and controlled by ‘the Capitol’, Katniss has spent her life trying to provide enough food for her destitute family to survive upon. The world she lives in is one caught in the iron grip of a government who have a variety of means to stay in power and prevent its citizens from rising against them.
One of these is called the Hunger Games, an annual televised reality competition, where 24 girls and boys have to fight to the death in an arena, with the last one to survive winning the tournament. When Katniss and her friend Peeta get called up to enter, we follow her journey through the Games, witnessing the atrocities and anguish she suffers, and becoming fully immersed in the tale Collins tells.
The series also provides thought-provoking commentary on the reality TV shows of today – whilst the ‘tributes’ take part in public appearances before entering the arena, bets are placed on potential winners. Collins also stresses the theme of identity, forcing Katniss to choose whether to go along with the Capitol’s intentions, or risk her life even more by staying true to who she is.
Her rebellion at the end of the first novel causes a spark that stays lit throughout the rest of the series, encouraging the embittered citizens of Panem to start uprisings. However, the twist that makes this series truly unique is how Collins shows the Capitol and the organised Rebel forces as surprisingly similar. As Katniss is manipulated by each side, she gradually learns the importance of family, friendship and love, and begins to lead the fight for freedom.
Katniss Everdeen is a refreshing heroine: by no means perfect, and completely unromantic – a far cry from the weak objects of desire we see so often in literature today. Although romance does feature in these novels, it is not in the way you might expect, again confirming the fact that this series, although similar to other rebellion novels, upturns the audience’s expectations, and leaves us gasping for more.