Over the end of 2020 and start of 2021, I read The Hunger Games trilogy (not the newly released prequel, though). The books are set in a dystopian world in which life is much changed from what we have at present, but people perhaps remain the same. The country is—Panem where the Capitol ruthlessly rules over 12 districts; originally 13 districts had revolted against the Capitol but the revolt was crushed and district 13 destroyed. The 12 that remain are paying the price, living under the iron hand of the Capitol and supplying one essential commodity each—coal, agriculture, textiles, and such. But this isn’t all, to be reminded of their ‘crime’, each year, every district must offer up two ‘tributes’ (something that reminded me of the Athenian tributes sent annually as sacrifice to the Minotaur)—a boy and a girl aged between 12 and 18—to the Hunger Games. Here the 24 children (for they are really little more than that) must fight for survival and kill each other till only one is left standing—and the Games—televised—are mandatory viewing for everyone. In this world, our story narrated by sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen opens in district 12, where the coal mines are. Katniss lost her father to a mining accident, and because of her mother’s resulting depression, has had to single-handedly look after her family—mostly by hunting illegally with her friend Gale. On the day of the ‘reaping’ when tributes are picked, Katniss’ sister Prim (Primrose)’s name is in the pool for the first time but as luck would have it, it she who is picked. Immediately Katniss volunteers to take her place, almost certain that she will not return. The male tribute is Peeta Mellark, son of the baker, and who secretly admires Katniss. Their ‘mentor’, the only previous winner from their district is the perpetually inebriated Haymitch Abernathy.
The Games may be a fight to the death for the 24 tributes but like the Roman gladiatorial arenas (the author mentions these), they are also a spectacle. The tributes are given a little training but also primped and polished (a lot) to make for good viewing, and sympathy from what can only be a blood-thirsty audience.
The Hunger Games tells of Katniss and Peeta’s experience at the games—and at the end of which she (perhaps more than him) has managed to keep them alive and make them both victors. But this victory is not a happy one for as we see in Catching Fire, Katniss finds her attempt at keeping them alive is misinterpreted as a protest against the Capitol and is in fact turning into a spark encouraging revolt across the districts. Katniss is unknowingly becoming their mascot. This leads her and Peeta into further trouble, and somewhere they would never have imagined they would end up.
In the final book, Mockingjay, Katniss is in midst of the revolution—part of the revolutionaries but unsure whether she can do what they ask of her. Peeta and some others are prisoners of the Capitol which turns more ruthless by the day. Can the districts win amidst all this, and will this get them their due?
The world of the Hunger Games is a dark one—as the author herself mentions (and I’ve noted earlier) in book 3—one can see influences of Roman society—the Games arena being a more hi-tech version of the gladiatorial arenas. In essence it is the same—a spectacle for the Capitol, a place of excess at the cost of the districts, characterized by want, with the gamemakers/organizers able to add their twists and play on the viewers’ sympathies or need for ‘action’. (One also wonders what became of human rights instruments in this world where children are forced to kill each other). And it isn’t just the games that are dark, the books get darker as we go on for once Katniss unknowingly sparks flames of revolt, she must contend with the enmity of the Capitol and the snake-like President Snow who holds her personally responsible and will do anything to repress it. But when a full-fledged revolt does break out with Katniss as its mascot, we begin to see the full extent of the President’s depravities (past and current). But worse still, life among the rebels is not turning out to be much of an escape either.
I somehow didn’t entirely take to Katniss though I could understand where she was coming from and why she was as she was. Having pretty much only herself to rely on (even her mother has failed her when most needed) and in a world where there are few one can trust, one can see why she reacts as she does or can’t see good in anyone. She does what she needs to do for survival, and perhaps ‘feelings’ don’t always come first even though she does have a heart, and one does end up rooting for her.
The story also has a romance angle which comes in slowly and develops as the books go on, and one is quite unsure until the end how it will turn out. In fact, the books (especially the second and the third) have their fair share of twists and turns and surprises.
While the books are dark, they are also fast paced and gripping—I found myself engrossed from start to finish and reading late into the night. While futuristic fiction does at times seem to actually foretell the future, this is one which one hopes does not fall into that category, though as fiction, it made for very exciting reading indeed!
Have you read this series? How did you find it? What about the prequel? Looking forward to your thoughts!
Cover images: Goodreads