Tag Archives: Hunger Games

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes: Totally fun.

I was a big fan of the Hunger Games Trilogy (uhhh. don’t follow that link. turns out I read the trilogy but was too busy to post beyond saying I read it and liked it). But I’ve always been a skeptic of the prequel that seems only to be written to capitalize on a giant market demanding more of the series. Because (obvs) these books tend to be bad and obvious about their effort to rake in some more money (think: all the appendages to the Harry Potter franchise).

Happy was the day, then, that I picked up Suzanne Collins’ The Ballad on Songbirds and Snakes on the recommendation of David Plotz from my most favourite Slate Political Gabfest podcast. He was right! It’s a totally fun read. If you’re in to child murder? Okay, no. But it’s fun in that the world of the Hunger Games quickly comes alive in a fully developed and independent plot, with interesting questions to explore: how do atrocities (like a game about child murder) come to be accepted (and celebrated) by a general public? to what extent are individuals (in this case the eventual President Snow) crafted by circumstance or by choice?

I particularly liked the way the book unsettled expectations for the plot arc. I was expecting it to climax with the annual hunger games, but the games serve only as a pivot point to take the reader into a second build-up of character development and tension.

If I had one complaint it would be that the ending read as rushed and not entirely consistent. Without giving too much away the erstwhile romance takes a dramatic turn, and I’ll claim it was my fault, but I didn’t see the ending coming At. All. and as a consequence found it read like it wanted to get to a particular conclusion but didn’t have the logic (or perhaps the patience?) to bring the reader to that point.

So if you liked the Hunger Games by all means read this one. If you haven’t read that trilogy yet… what are you still doing reading this? xo

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Red Rising: Fantasy Mashup and Bestseller Bonanza

Red-Rising-2

I described Pierce Brown’s Red Rising to C. as a cross between Hunger Games, Divergent and Game of Thrones and then as she was reading the back, she pointed out the same description was on the cover. Probably because it’s an apt way of capturing the plot and theme points. And because I’m a book reviewer genius and the Kirkus Review has nothing on me.

Right… so like the Hunger Games in that we’re set in a dystopian society of stratified classes. Instead of Districts we have Colours (like the Divergent factions) each associated with a different professional role in the Society (capital S on purpose). Like HG the young must do battle with one another in an arena (or sorts) though instead of killing one another the quest is to establish dominance over the land (think Game of Thrones battles, strategy and endless betrayals). It’s a battle within a battle (sort of like Enders Game come to think of it) with our hero – Darrow – working to infiltrate the upper echelon of the Society so he can take it down from the inside and free his people.

There’s some pretty silly bits. In the early chapters Darrow’s realization of his captivity and subsequent awareness of the wider world reads as an obnoxiously similar description of Plato’s cave: like there’s an actual cave and actual fire. There’s a lot of searing pain (think Harry Potter and the interminable descriptions of How Much His Scar Hurts) and teenage hormone.

But these silly parts are endurable for the well-paced plot and the genuine interest and care cultivated for Darrow and his quest (cultivated in no small part in that Darrow is a very well developed character with complex and unpredictable reactions – except when it comes to women, more on that in a minute). I liked reading this one so much I couldn’t wait to order it from the other library and (actually) waited outside the bookstore for it to open this morning so I could get the second installment (it is, of course, a trilogy).

*light spoilers to follow*

I liked reading it even while I was troubled and annoyed with the representation of women. Darrow’s wife, Eo, is a singular martyr and Darrow’s romanticization of her throughout the rest of the book put me off as it made Eo’s entire purpose the inspiration and motivation of her husband-man: “They didn’t create me. She did” (115). His later love interest, Mustang, is more developed as a character, but similarly defined in relation to Darrow: she is a traitor, she is loyal, she is helpful, she is destructive all in terms of what she does to or for him.

A related sticking point is the representation of bodies. The women are – without exception – only loveable or worthy of character development if they also happen to be slight and wispy whiffs of a person: “Though she’s swaddled with wolfcloaks as thick as my own, she hardly comes up to my shoulder. And when we walk through deep snow, it’s almost a laugh to see her try to keep apace with me. But if I slow, I earn a scowl. Her braid bounces as she keeps up [for real. her braid bounces]. When we reach easier ground, she glances over at me. Her pert nose is red as a cheery in the cold, but her eyes look like hot honey” (309-310). Okay, this passage probably won’t make you want to run out and get the book (it really is a fun read and worth checking out). I highlight it because it’s an example of the fragility-made-tough that women are meant to have in the book. And the way our ponytails should bounce. Contrast with the male characters who are worthy of veneration for all kinds of body types and shapes.

All that said it really was a romp of a fun read with Allegory and Importance thrown in for some fun. You could easily enjoy on the beach, a plane or wait until – inevitably – the blockbuster movie comes out (unless you’re in book club, in which case you have to read it because we’re reading it).

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