Never has high school been quite so brutal. In The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins creates a world that is like Star Wars: filled with characters filling familiar roles and technically set in the future although really, it is set in the past. Collins does a good job at making the Empire reprehensible and just believable enough to seem possible. (I'm not convinced that the subjects of the Empire would ever be so bloodthirsty in the future as to make this show such a spectacle, but she might be doing something with that.) Collins keeps a fast pace for the most part, one nearly boring "healing" interlude notwithstanding, but the games themselves don't feel fully realized. Most characters die offscreen and just a few really interact. The one death that is fully focused on is surprisingly effective, I thought. Still, that's just one character out of 24 tributes. This chess game feels closer to a four-move checkmate than a championship match.
But it's not really about the games. It's about the characters, and Katniss's discomfort with filling the roles laid out for her is a genuine, nice touch. (Although, is there a law that every book like this must have a love triangle in it?) It's kind of weird to see one side of that love triangle formed by constantly playing to the cameras, and the falseness of that -- how many women feel like they have to "play to the cameras" in a relationship, I wonder?
This book played out about like I thought it would, but I'm more interested to see what happens next. Mostly because the true villain is the empire of Panem and I genuinely want to see that villain brought down, and how Collins eventually orchestrates that downfall. The one thing that seems to be missing is any element of faith, and I only say that because in real life the "Pax Romana" empire was brought down by external pressures and also an internal pressure of Christianity changing the way people think (and blossoming into the Byzantine empire but that's another topic). There's nothing like that here, but I wonder if, in some natural theology way, there might be a few strands that could run parallel to that change.
Not quite up to Harry Potter standards but I can see why this stands out, and I do think it has a good central character. I like Katniss and dislike Panem, so Collins was successful with this book, because those were the two things this book needed to do. I'm looking forward to the next two installments but will wait a while before getting to them because I don't particularly want to live in this world for a long time.