Although it has been several years since The Hunger Games book series concluded, the franchise is experiencing a resurgence with the release of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. With the film adaptation of The Hunger Games prequel in theaters, now is a great time to revisit the book series.
The Hunger Games is a dystopian young adult series written by Suzanne Collins. It contains four books, including a trilogy and a prequel novel. The original trilogy—comprised of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay—is set in the fictional country of Panem, which is divided into 13 districts controlled by the Capitol, where the nation’s most powerful and wealthy live. The Capitol dissuades the districts from rebelling against its oppressive rule by forcing them to participate in the annual Hunger Games: Each district must give up one teenage boy and one teenage girl to fight to the death in the gruesome games just so the Capitol can reinforce its power.
10 years after the full trilogy was published, Collins released a prequel novel centered on Coriolanus Snow called The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. To this day, both the film and book series remain a hit among audiences of all ages, with the book trilogy having sold over 65 million copies in the United States. Readers are hooked by the compelling characters, an addictive premise, thrilling action, and intriguing sociological themes. Some books capture the series’ themes and quality better than others. Here is every book in The Hunger Games series, ranked from least to most compelling.
Mockingjay is the final book in The Hunger Games series. In it, the districts finally launch a rebellion against the Capitol. Katniss Everdeen has become the face of the rebellion, but is struggling to cope with the trauma she’s endured, her concerns about the rebels’ true motives, and what will replace the Capitol if and when it’s overthrown.
Given the massive cliffhanger at the end of Catching Fire, Mockingjay was expected to be a huge book. In a lot of ways, it was. Readers finally see a true rebellion unfold after a satisfying buildup and discover new secrets about the Capitol and its relationship to the districts. However, it is one of the most emotionally draining books. It’s not necessarily wrong that the series doesn’t have a genuinely happy ending; it captures the true cost of freedom. Still, some of the character losses and changes in the book may feel unnecessary and jarring. Plus, readers don’t really get to see the world after the Capitol, so it almost feels like the book is cut short even though the emotion suggests it should give readers something a little more substantial in the end.
Ultimately, Mockingjay drives home the series’ themes well, but there’s a slight feeling of the story being incomplete and some of the deaths being unnecessary and merely for shock factor.
3. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a prequel novel that follows the early life of Snow before he became the Capitol’s president. It tracks his humble beginnings and how he first got mixed up in the games. In particular, we see how his time mentoring Lucy Gray Baird set him on the path to becoming the most powerful man in Panem.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is an intriguing book that will thrill those wishing to learn more about the Capitol’s history and what the earliest Hunger Games were like. Those who enjoyed Snow’s character will also be pleased that the novel plays out much like a character study. Additionally, it dives into themes of power, oppression, conformity, friendship, and betrayal in a way that will leave readers thinking long after they’ve finished the book.
However, some readers may be disappointed by the premise, as Snow may not have been their first choice for a dedicated prequel. Collins also gets a bit carried away in trying to set up parallels between Lucy and Katniss that don’t really go anywhere. The story feels overly long and slow at times, and the ending isn’t as satisfying as the build-up suggests. If you’re looking for a character study to mull over and a small look into Panem’s history, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is an enjoyable but flawed read.
2. The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games is the first book in the series. It follows Katniss Everdeen, a young woman from District 12 who is forced to participate in the Hunger Games after volunteering to go in place of her sister, Prim. However, Katniss may actually have a chance to win the Games, especially when viewers take an interest in her budding relationship with fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark.
The Hunger Games will likely be among the most addictive books you’ve ever read. After all, the Battle Royale premise is hard to look away from. Readers will be thrilled by the constant action, thrills, and twists as they root for Katniss’ survival. The whole concept of the Capitol’s immense power and the contrast between how its residents live and how the districts live is very jarring. With a unique premise, intriguing characters, and compelling action and suspense, The Hunger Games is almost impossible to put down.
The only minor flaw is that it sometimes doesn’t seem to fully realize the power of its themes and premise. Collins occasionally gets carried away with simply making it an action thriller. This is part of why it’s so addictive and entertaining, but there’s also a feeling that The Hunger Games could’ve been even more.
1. Catching Fire
Catching Fire is the second book in the trilogy and sees the Capitol retaliate for Katniss’ small act of rebellion in the previous book. Angered that Katniss and Peeta undermined its power, the Capitol decides to celebrate the Games’ 75th anniversary by selecting tributes from its pool of past victors. Since Katniss is the sole living female victor of District 12, she finds herself back in the arena just a year after escaping it.
Catching Fire really doubles down on the series’ themes as it paints a startling picture of just how oppressive the Capitol is and how threatening the tiniest act of resistance can be to totalitarian systems. Meanwhile, the story is even more addictive this time, as there’s an added layer of complexity to each tribute, and getting all these experienced tributes into an arena again also ramps up the action. And the bombshell ending is truly jaw-dropping.
Catching Fire doubles down on the series’ powerful premise, maintains the action, expands on the history of the Games, and proves to be riveting and unpredictable. It’s The Hunger Games series at its very best.
(featured image: Scholastic)
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