Mockingjay is the third and final novel of the Hunger Games trilogy (the other two titles being The Hunger Games, and Catching Fire). The trilogy is science fiction aimed at young adults. It is set in a dystopic future, in which America has collapsed and then reformed as Panem, made up of the Capitol and thirteen districts. Three quarters of a century before the story begins, there was a rebellion. The Capitol was victorious. District 13 was destroyed and as punishment and perpetual reminder to the rest of the districts, the Hunger Games were instituted. Every year, two children between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected from each district. These children are called “Tributes”. They must go to the Capitol and compete in a televised gladiatorial fight to the death. Only one Tribute is supposed to survive the games and be labeled a “Victor”.
In the first novel, sixteen year old Katniss Everdeen volunteers to replace her younger sister, Primrose, as the female Tribute from District 12. She travels to the games and becomes attached to the male Tribute from her district, Peeta. Peeta and Katniss are the last two survivors of the games. Rather than kill Peeta, Katniss comes up with the idea to have them both threaten to eat poisoned berries – betting that the Capitol would be more willing to accept a break in tradition and have two Victors than to have no Victor. Katniss bets correctly. She and Peeta are both crowned Victor and get to return home.
Unfortunately this act of rebellion has angered the President of Panem and stirred up emotions across the districts. The first volume ends with this looming threat from the President. The second book continues this thread, as Katniss and Peeta travel to each district on their victory tour and attempt to convince the people that it wasn’t an act of rebellion, but one of young love. But, as the title hints, the spark of Katniss’s act is catching fire into a rebellion.
As punishment to Katniss and Peeta, and as a shocking gesture that will put the districts back in their place, the Capitol changes the rules for the next Games. The 75th anniversary Games will instead of consisting of two children from each district, will instead consist of two prior Victors from each district. The Victors are naturally celebrities in their home districts. This means Katniss and Peeta must both return to the games.
At this point, parts of the second book threatened to be repetitive of the first book, but Collins takes more effort to make each competitor a three-dimensional character and adds greater complexity to the Arena. As a last minute surprise in the second book, rebels rescue/abduct Katniss from the Games, but leave Peeta to be captured by the Capitol forces.
The third book finds the rebellion accelerating into full scale war and Katniss becoming an unwilling figurehead/propaganda tool of the rebellion, led by District 13, which apparently had not been completely destroyed, but instead driven underground.
Some characters from each of the previous two books return, largely to form the considerable and often unappreciated support system that is needed to keep Katniss going. The story alternates back and forth between a battle filled action story to a tale of political intrigue, with the ever present love triangle between Katniss, Gale, and Peeta. Katniss is a great character in that she is an honest narrator. While she has strengths that make her the heroine of the story, she is also flawed by being selfish and judgmental. The third book, like the second, improved the believability of the character by decreasing the political savvy she portrayed that was well beyond her years in the first book. In fact, part of the drama of the third book is that Katniss is being played from all sides and out of her league.
Like the first two books, the third is an exciting read that the reader won’t want to put down, but it isn’t without its annoyances. The ending feels rushed because Katniss is drugged because of injury and traumatized into shock by some particulary disturbing events. She is the narrator of the story, and isn’t really equipped at that point to tell the story well. There is also a specific event that I found very disappointing. It’s a spoiler, so I will put my complaint in white text over the next few lines. Highlight the area if you want to read it.
Prim, Katniss’s sister, is killed in a bombing, near the end of the story. While I can understand why the author may have made that choice – to illustrate the senselessness and tragedy of war – it just feels like bad storytelling in that it invalidates the noble and selfless act Katniss performed that started the whole story, when she volunteered to replace Prim in the Games.
All in all, the trilogy is a read well worth the cost. It’s a well told and exciting story set in a vivid and well imagined world. It will no doubt make three very exciting films.