I am monumentally late to The Hunger Games bandwagon, and I finally read it so every time I go to work I am no longer berated by teenagers who can’t believe I haven’t read it. So I finally took the jump. I also picked up another promising-looking YA in the library called Ashes, by Ilsa J Bick.
Firstly, The Hunger Games. I had read the first few pages before and not really been impressed with the writing. On reading, that opinion didn’t really change – but then, The Hunger Games doesn’t pretend to be a great piece of literature. It is a page-turner, first and foremost. I didn’t initially warm to Katniss and felt the setting was in need of some proper description as I couldn’t fully imagine it. Even by the end of the book I could only really imagine the arena in any clarity. But after the first hundred pages, Katniss is well into the start of the Games and it is here that she becomes a far more interesting character.
Much is made of her ability with a bow and arrow, and it is scenes where she is applying her skill that I found most interesting. It enforces her role as the breadwinner, shows the reader about her friendship with Gale, and my favourite example was when she gets frustrated at the Gamemakers! The undercurrent of the Capitol’s control of its citizens works well, too – you don’t ever quite get sucked into the excitement of the Games, as Katniss is there to remind you that it is the Capitol’s way of showing their power over the populace.
I particularly liked how Katniss manages her relationship with Peeta. She doesn’t ever switch to the damsel-in-distress mode which is too prevalent in current YA female protagonists. You could argue that if she plays damsel in the arena she’ll just be killed, but manipulating the sponsors into offering aid is also key to the Games, which we discover as the story progresses. Hopefully this won’t change in the following books in the series.
I followed this with Ashes, by Ilsa J Bick. The premise is that an electro-magnetic pulse has been sent across the earth and has killed most of the population. The survivors either acquire heightened senses, or become cannibalistic. The whole book is very dark, and little gorier than I was expecting – Bick doesn’t shy away from the gruesome details of the packs of cannibals that now roam the wildernesses of North America. The protagonist, a seventeen-year-old girl called Alex, is hiking up a mountain when the pulse hits. The novel then follows her attempt to figure out what happened and to find safety.
Alex is a curious protagonist. Much like Katniss, she refuses to be in need of rescue, and shows herself to be smart and resourceful when she needs to be. We are told at the very start of the novel that she has a brain tumour and she has refused to keep taking treatment as nothing has been working anyway. She has decided instead to go for a solo hike up the mountains towards Lake Superior. Much is made of her inability to smell anything (a side-effect of the cancer) and this does get a little repetitive in the opening chapters. There is foreshadowing, and there is labouring the point.
The one other thing that grated in an otherwise very good novel was her use of short sentences. Bick seems a fan of the “dramatic sentence, new line, even more dramatic sentence”. This works pretty well through the book but by the final third she is overusing it and it feels like the writer going “daa daa DAAAA!” a little too often.
Overall though I found the plot was really well-paced and you were consistently wanting to find out more. After the pulse, there are no communications and the characters are left trying to figure out what happened as well as surviving constant dangers. The resultant atmosphere really sucks you in and I read this nearly all in one go. It finishes on a great cliffhanger, and I’ve ordered the sequel *YA trilogy klaxon!* from the library.
The Hunger Games: 7/10