Review first published 21/04/12
Following the events of “Catching Fire”, Katniss Everdeen must ready herself for one final fight for survival against President Snow and The Capitol, but is she ready to take on the role of The Mockingjay as the figurehead for a fight where the stakes are higher than she’s ever known and the line between ally and enemy is more blurred than ever?
This is going to be a difficult review to write as I want to give my impressions of the book without committing the cardinal sin of spoiling and whilst being honest in content. I’ll start with giving my overall broad brush impression and say that although “Mockingjay” is a good novel, it didn’t feel as strong as the two previous novels in the series from a personal point of view.
Like the previous two novels, characterisation is a strong point, especially for Katniss. Following the aftermath of the previous novel, Katniss comes over as a person of contradictions. On the one hand, she has to embrace the role of “The Mockingjay” which has been foreshadowed since the day she received the pin of that bird from Madge Undersee. A symbol of resistance and vengeance for the District populations to rally behind. On the other hand, Katniss is portrayed as a woman riddled with doubts about her effectiveness in her role, the way it affects her relationships with the people she cares for and the responsibility she feels that she has to bear for an ever increasing body count, not only by her own hand but by virtue of the fact that she is a symbol.
In fact, given the epic scale of this novel, this is probably Katniss’s most personal story as you really delve into what makes her tick and, although the role of “Mockingjay” reflects her more political nature that is shown in “Catching Fire”, the Katniss in this book sees a return to the character of instinct that we were introduced to in “The Hunger Games”, albeit a version that is damaged by her experiences – especially given the choice she makes towards the end of the novel.
The two male leads, Gale and Peeta, could also be seen as “symbols” of Katniss’s dual nature. With Gale, you have a character who sees the people of Panem as absolutes – you’re either with the Capitol or against them. There are no shades of grey in his thinking and this has been a constant since his subversive discussions with Katniss since the first book. He is very much a reflection of her “spirit of vengeance”/”Mockingjay” aspect.
Peeta, given his “off stage” experiences, symbolises Katniss’s doubt. He doubts the effectiveness of war, his own abilities and the truth of his relationships with other people. Peeta is given the best character progression of the three main leads as you see a character who is a symbol for charm and optimism “through a glass darkly” becoming a man riddled with hatred and fear.
The majority of the main supporting characters from the previous two novels return and are given their moments to shine. However, they are not as prominent as in the previous novels as “Mockingjay” is a study of “the trio”, how they’ve grown and either remained consistent since the first book or changed given their experiences.
The pacing of the storyline is lopsided, but cleverly so as it plays with the reader’s emotions. The first segment of the storyline plays on the aftermath of “Catching Fire” – most significantly Katniss’s separation from Peeta. As a reader, I felt a growing sense of frustration and anticipation for Katniss and Peeta to be re-united and this is partly down to the fact that these characters have been so dependent on each other that you don’t want to see them separated and vulnerable and partly down to the fact that you are inside Katniss’s head, becoming frustrated with her inability to help Peeta and impotent as a proper soldier when she’s a glorified figurehead.
The second half of the book moves rapidly, so much so that when you’re pitched into the book’s climactic skirmishes you turn the pages rapidly and there was some flicking backwards, on occasion, to gain an appreciation of the situations the characters find themselves in. In fact, the best way to describe it is that you feel like you’re in the heat of battle – not only physically through the descriptions of death and injury that the reader is treated to, but psychologically as well.
Speaking of psychology, the main plot strand that runs through the book is of “Truth” – whether it be how it is flexible enough to provide hope or quash it, how a person’s own memory can be “rewritten” to handle a truth either through emotion or by a situation they are thrust in, or how a personal truth can be used to justify an act, even one that is totally abhorrent.
There are a couple of areas where the novel didn’t appeal to me. Firstly, the portrayal of the violence. After reading the violence contained within first two novels, I was prepared for the fact that this book would be likewise. However, I wasn’t prepared for the brutality within “Mockingjay” which I believe could be for a couple of reasons. Whereas the violence within the arenas were romantically shown through a mask of honour and using weapons such as spears and axes, the violence is now more contemporary with the inclusion of guns and the like. In addition to this, the description feels a lot more brutal including a sequence where Mutts pull people’s heads off when attacking them or legs being blown off in an attack. Now, I’m no prude when it comes to visual violence in warfare through films like “Saving Private Ryan” but I wonder how Lionsgate are going to keep the feel of the book whilst portraying this level of violence on-screen and seeking to keep their cherished 12A/PG-13 certificate.
Secondly, the ending for two reasons. My first point is that with the three leads you see their respective fates laid out before them pretty clearly and, certainly for Katniss and Gale. they are telegraphed from fairly early on in the novel. My second point is, and I imagine a lot of the people who have read and loved the books may not agree with my point, that the ending isn’t optimistic enough. Even though I enjoyed all three books, they are emotionally draining due to the fact that there is a feeling of a lack of hope within them and I just wish that Suzanne Collins had made more of an upbeat ending for this novel. However, this could be a case of “taste and fancy” on my part.
As I say, I liked “Mockingjay” but not as much as the first two. Overall, the trilogy have been a worthwhile read and I would recommend these books.