A hero who is not only reluctant, but downright surly. Who could blame her? Initially acting out of defense for a beloved sister, the symbol of all that was right with her family, Katniss‘ bid for survival blossomed into a movement she isn’t sure she supports.
Needless to say, this contains spoilers for the previous books. So don’t read it if you care about such things.
Returning to District 12, Katniss is looking through the wreckage of her home, remembering days before the Games and feeling guilty at the destruction. Running her thoughts in a litany of the dead, much like fingering rosary beads, she reviews prior events and people, setting the book on a journey arc very similar to the past two books. There’s a reason this section is called ‘Ashes:’ mood-wise, it’s as depressing as sifting through rubble can be. “Ashes billow up around me, and I pull the hem of my shirt up over my mouth. It’s not wondering what I breathe in, but who, that threatens to choke me.” There is a very small bit of blessing to visiting the village, and when she brings her finds to the rooms where Prim and her mother await, her only thought is “So I guess the trip to 12 wasn’t a complete waste.” Surly indeed. When Peeta appears from the dead on the Capitol’s television station, Katniss is forced back into the role of rescuer, once again intent on saving Peeta regardless of the personal cost.
And here I can’t help but say, “will she never learn?”
Which is a sticking point when viewing the three books as a gestalt. Like Garion in David Eddings‘ Belgariad, we may journey in space and time, but only remotely in character and plot. Katniss’ fatal flaw is willingness to adopt a single-minded focus on the objective. In the first book, it was winning the game. The second, keeping Peeta alive. The third, rescuing Peeta. This time, she’s a little older, a lot more cynical, so she at least recognizes that in being used as an image for the revolution, she has the opportunity to make her own demands. But truly, this is no different than the revelations as the end of the first with the berries, or her shooting the arrow in the second. I don’t mind her depression as much as I mind the mental gerbil wheel she can’t seem to escape and her childish determination to compartmentalize into “sides.” It’s a phrase I was immediately tired of, and yet it kept reappearing to taunt me: “It does seem strange, my level of concern over the prep team. I should hate them and want to see them strung up. But they’re so clueless, and they belonged to Cinna, and he was on my side, right?”
Nonetheless there were parts that were redeeming. I like the exposition; the technique was a perfect way to refresh memory without the dreaded infodump. (view spoiler) I did appreciate Collins’ willingness to let ambiguity intrude into the fight between the Districts and the Capitol, and to make it clear that each side has their own agenda–however democratically decided–and is willing to act in inhuman ways. Still, I’m not 16, so that’s a message I don’t really need to hear. Still, the characters have enough depth; people are allowed potential for both doing good and being well-meaning but doing bad, a sophisticated development in a YA book. The best redeeming part? Buttercup, perhaps because of his own surly disposition and will to survive, no doubt a parallel to Katniss.
Collins’ writing is deceptively straight-forward, and evocative without flourish. “Her eyes are gray, but not like those of people from the Seam. They’re very pale, as if almost all the color has been sucked out of them. The color of slush that you wish would melt away.” There’s a nice balance of action and reaction. The plot pulled me in and kept me reading; I think only a day or two passed between Catching Fire and Mockingjay.
Overall, it felt a little more repetitive, not enough difference in either politics or character growth to make it truly an epic redemption of a three book arc. Still, satisfying enough, even if the end was tied a little too tightly with a beautiful bow.
Three and a half revolutionary stars.