Mockingjay: A Good Conclusion to a Great Series
Well, now that those people are gone, we can talk about things openly. (Man, I hate those guys.)
First, I just need to make a complaint. I like to support bookstores and such, but I ended up trying to buy this book at Walmart (because I work in a cultural wasteland that has no bookstores, and I was buying this on my lunch break). (That cultural wasteland is: West Valley City.) Anyway, Walmart failed me. They didn't have Mockingjay anywhere--no displays, no shelf space, no anything--and this was the day after the book came out! I had to go next door to the Sears Grand, if you can imagine. They seemed shocked to have a customer (and rightly so, because their shelves were mostly empty). But, they had Mockingjay, and I purchased it, and the fourteen dollars I paid doubled that store's revenue for the entire week.
But on to the book.
I loved it, and it bugged me. But mostly I loved it.
My loves are many, but the biggest thing that I liked about the book is that it was written honestly. Mockingjay was the natural conclusion to The Hunger Games. Any society that would treat it's children as is protrayed in the first book, would do equally cruel things elsewhere, and overthrowing that society would reveal the worst elements of it. So, while some people have complained about the gore and the shock, I think they were absolutely necessary, and I really couldn't imagine the book without them.
But as far as natural conclusions go, I think Suzanne Collins excelled far beyond the requirements of the setting. Elana Johnson and I were recently talking about Hunger Games, and how the dystopian world was created. One worldbuilding technique for dystopia is to take a troublesome aspect of our culture, extend it out to it's furthest, most dangerous conclusion, and look at the consequences. Using this model, I simplistically said that Hunger Games is an extension of our love for reality TV and voyeurism. Elana looked at it much deeper: it's not just about reality TV, but it's about using the media to control people.
Collins took that theme--controlling the populace through propaganda--and took it to its natural conclusions as well. Katniss has been a propaganda puppet in every book, though managed in a different way. In Hunger Games, she's somewhat independent, but controlled by Haymitch, who teaches her how to perform on camera (and rewarding her when she creates the right TV story). In Catching Fire, she's controlled by Snow, performing on camera to prove that she's not a rebel leader--she's just a girl in love. And in Mockingjay, she's now controlled by the rebel government (which isn't so much good, but the lesser of two evils), and she's followed from photo-op to photo-op by stylists and producers.
(It's worth noting that every propaganda campaign is foiled when Katniss rejects the control of her puppeteers--attempting suicide, destroying the force field, and killing Coin. She did all of it on camera, taking temporary control of the propaganda message being spread.)
So, to me, all of this kind of thing is what really makes the book work. There are smaller aspects of the plot and characters that I questioned, but it's this ongoing consistency of the deeper themes and messages that really make Mockingjay a great conclusion.
I'm only going to quickly touch on the characters, since I didn't really have any issues with them. I think that Katniss is also the natural continuation of Katniss--she's exactly how we should have expected her to be. I think that there was a feeling among fans and internet forums that this book was going to be the romantic culmination: Team Peeta vs. Team Gale. But, while that is an interesting element of the book, I don't think anything in the previous two books have led us to expect romantic happy endings. Katniss has been Katniss since the first chapter of the first book, and her actions and motivations have remained very consistent.
(Sidenote: From a storytelling perspective, I've never understood the Team Gale crowd. While Katniss liked him, he's never had enough significant screen time for the readers to get to like him, and a romance where the readers don't feel emotionally connected is the touch of death. So, I think that most Team Gale people were deluding themselves. They were Team Gale because they didn't like Peeta; they liked the idea of Gale, not the actual character.) (TAKE THAT, TEAM GALE JERKS.)
(Another sidenote: I thoroughly enjoyed Peeta rediscovering Katniss and learning that she's kind of a jerk. He's always put up with her crap, because he's in love with her, but when he's no longer in love with her, he realizes that she's always treated him terribly. I found that phase in his recovery delightful.) (This is not to say that I dislike Katniss. I just think it was a clever turn.)
A few problems:
I have two main complaints with Mockingjay, and they both have to do with the final third. First, it was hard to suspend my disbelief with all the "pods" in the Capitol. To have so many of them, and so creative and wacky, all over the place would have been insanely expensive and logistically impossible. (For example: the Meat Grinder or the street that opens up--when did they build those massive crazy things? How did they keep it a secret from the populace? How did could they afford them all (because, presumably, there are wacky, enormous things like the Meat Grinder all over the Capitol).
Second, and more important, everything that happens in the final third--from the point where Katniss enters the Capitol and heads for Snow--is ultimately a failure that doesn't accomplish anything and costs a lot of lives. The government would have been overthrown just as effectively if she hadn't gone (because the rebels get to Snow at the same time Katniss does). I have no problem with her failing; I just didn't like that her failure didn't mean anything. Nothing was gained, and the losses were only chalked up to "War sure stinks", not "Katniss wasted all their lives for nothing".
But, all of that said, I think this was a phenomenal book, and a really groundbreaking series. It's always nice to see dystopia do well, but this one brought a whole new audience to the genre, and then kicked the genre's butt.