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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
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Tuesday, 3 April 2012

I Admit I Snacked A Lot: The Hunger Games Book Review

Yes, it's finally here.

After a week off while I recovered from a work-induced productivity slump, I have a treat for you: time for another review!

As most of North America is more than aware, The Hunger Games debued this weekend in theatres. I am keen to see it, but I never watch a film that I have not read the book for unless I am unaware of the book's existence.

Comparisions to Twilight (a series that will get its just desserts in a rant in the future) had me worried. Would another three or four years of idiotic fascination with hideously poor writing and cardboard characters grip the nation? Would another set of equally bland male babes and an anifeminist heroine serve as the newest and hottest role models? Would the prose be slipshod and poorly written enough to finally make me lose my shit?

Thanks, memebase! You can describe my feelings on almost anything!

Initial Prognosis

Fortunately for my 19th century novel-reading, academic, feministic-egalitarian little magpie soul, the answer is a solid and comforting 'no'. The Hunger Games are not perfect, but they are no vampire softcore romp. Let's start by breaking some hearts. I warn you in advance that this will be a fairly critical review, and I am going to focus on the things that don't work. That said, you're welcome to fanrage in the comments below. Cool? Cool.

The plot is not the most original, but I am not going to dock too many points for that. The impact of the games and the reality TV analogy are blunt and they work beautifully. I want to digress and go on about the well-constructed psychological awareness of both viewers and characters, and metagaming by Katniss and Peeta, but right now I am poking holes.

What's Love Got To Do With It

Gale: Gale is flat and uncompelling as a love interest. Her mother and sister are given actual personality and in contrast he falls flat. The love story that follows is well explored enough, especially in Katniss' mind, but t feels forced. Peeta's sweet nature makes him a serious contender and the audience is given some variety from the old home court best friend advantage trope, but the conflict feels forced. Someone give this boy a cookie.

Katniss: Katniss also seems over-powered and overly competent at first. (This is developed very well later and her skills are realistic, and her bravado and confidence are too realistically teenage for me not to like her.) Her recollections of her father are also forced, but so genuinely felt and moving that I enjoyed them very much. I look forward to seeing how she is developed in the next two books. I admit I like the way she's extremely mature and yet frequently impulsive and rebellious: if that's not a realistically portrayed teenage trait, I don't know what is.

Peeta: I absolutely love the way the author limits Katniss' perspective on Peeta and gives him complexity from the get-go. He's a better human being than Katniss is, but in no way is he an Edward, described as too good for the heroine while lacking the skills or cred to back it up. That said...the name. Was the spelling really necessary? It's a little detail, but it made my eyes itch.

Please, Sweat the Technique

Finally, the exposition. Oh god the exposition, IT BURNS. Not unlike salt, my favorte seasoning treat, a bit is great, but less is more. Too much of either results in an upset stomach, dehydration, and heart problems. The tangients and exposition are sometimes distracting and annoying. A barrage of detail here works better than elsewhere, and is often very heartfelt without too much maudlin violin solos or mawkishness,but it is still used too heavily. The prose itself is pretty rocky at points, but this is more bearable than usual for such cases. Still, a little more polish for prettier sentences wouldn't've gone amiss.

...But the descriptions of food and natural beauty made me forgive a lot. I had to make soup and boil some baby golden potatoes (no, not boil babies, what were YOU snacking on?) while reading this book. It made me famished; for good hearty food. Mmmm...foood....I need a minute.

Okay, back after a sammich.

Ahem. Katniss' emotional descriptions are no less conpellig than her meals and snacks. The death of Rue moved me to throat lumps. It was not quite on par with, say, the death of Hamlet or Mordin (10/10) but it got an 8 for sure. Shakesperian grandeur is a sure-fire winning element in the book. Cato's death seemed rushed, I have to say, and he doesn't really live up to the sinister reputation he's given, but the nasty ending here was also very satisfying.

Finally the pacing. Oh god the pacing. Speaking as an author, this book schooled me. The editing was probably great, but a natural flow that is smooth as glass made all the other little faults work.

Final verdict?

A solid 8 out of 10. I was talking about this book all night and I rushed off to write my review the moment I'd finished it. A great hook and a thought-provoking read about economic circumstances in the modern day got me interested, the dry wit is well-used, and it's about time we had a satire on reality TV as self-aware as this one. Now, if you will excusr me I need to call the speciality butcher about rabbit to roast for this weekend.

Oh, and Happy Easter, everyone!

Love me, share me, read more about me on Twitter at SciFiMagpie and back here on the blog. Coming soon: more about dystopias, why they are the best subgenre of sci fi, and soon, a Hunger Games movie review. Plus more teasers about the end of civilization through love!


  1. I'd agree with your 8/10. Really exciting book! And considering that I'm harder to please with books than I am with movies (much as I enjoy reading), an 8/10 is quite an achievement for me.

    My only complaint was that the first half of the book was a bit too much of a set-up for the hunger games, which is of course the reason why you read the book. The games themselves were very thrilling, but the first half really doesn't stand up on its own as an engaging story, well-written as it was. That, and I found some of the romance with Peeta to be a little sappy, though I appreciated the complexity of it and the effort the author put into it, and it fared better than some of the romance you see in movies.

    I'm looking forward to your reviews ot Catching Fire and Mockingjay. I enjoyed Catching Fire even more (9/10), but Mockingjay not as much (6/10).

  2. Interesting! I liked both, but I found the pacing in Catching Fire kind of painful...well, I guess I'd better get on that review! I kind of want to see the movie first, before I do the next book...

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