Winning means fame and fortune. Losing means certain death. The Hunger Games have begun…

Hey guys, been gone a few days, but now I’m back with the first book review on the blog.  This is a really cool scifi/fantasy trilogy, that while being aimed at young readers is equally good for older readers as well.

In the world of the book, North America has been destroyed by an unknown global war, and from it’s ashes has risen the nation Panem.  The nation is run by a wealthy modern city called the Capitol that rules over 12 districts that surround it.  Each of these districts maintains one industry, such as farming, coal mining, etc…, but for the most part the fruits of their labor is all given to the Capitol.  Aside from a few families, most people in the districts live in severe poverty, in conditions much like the middle ages, and this is more and more true the further you move from the Capitol.

Originally, there were 13 districts, but in the recent past, the districts rose up against the Capitol and were horribly defeated, with district 13 destroyed in the process.  In order to punish the people in the districts for their insubordination and remind them of what happens should they try and revolt again, the Capitol has created the Hunger Games.  When a child turns 12 their name is entered into a lottery, and then every year until they are 18, their name is entered once more per year.  In addition, a child can choose to enter their name additional times in exchange for a year supply of food for one person in their family.  From this lottery system, one boy and one girl are chosen from each district to compete in the Hunger Games.

These 24 children are then placed in an arena to battle to the death.  This is then placed on TV for all of the districts to watch.  All of the children start with no weapons or supplies at the start of the games, but are given the chance at the beginning to fight it out over a small supply located at the starting point of the arena.  In addition, each child is given a mentor (someone from their district who has previously won a game), to help coach them.  Depending on how well the children perform, viewers can send sponsorship money to the mentor of their favorite player, which the mentor can use to send supplies to the child in-game.  The final child alive is sent back to their district and given a place to live in a special victor’s village where they live a wealthier, more plentiful life.

The first book in the series is all about the Hunger Games.  For anyone familiar with the Japanese book/manga/movie Battle Royale, you will be very familiar with the way the story plays out.  It’s basically the story of a bunch of children thrown blindly into a place where they are all forced to kill each other; some are ready and willing to fight to survive, while some are more ready to hide and avoid things for as long as possible.

The first real difference between this and Battle Royale is the number of people.  Because there are so fewer people in this book, you really get to know each and everyone much more intimately as characters and through their interactions with the main character.  The other major difference is the weapons that they are given.  Whereas in Battle Royale everyone is given a weapon (whether useful or not), most of the people in the Hunger Games don’t end up with anything, and unlike the guns and grenades in Battle Royale, these kids have knives and bows and arrows at best.  This book also gets much more into the survival aspect of finding food and water, something that until now I hadn’t really noticed was missing from Battle Royale.

So apart from the interesting setting and the plot of the Hunger Games, this series’ major strong point is it’s characters.  You really get to know each and every one of them and you really get attached to quite a few.  As you read, you really do suffer along with them.  After the first book, much like in Battle Royale 2, the story becomes largely about a rebellion against the people running the game, and that’s when things get really interesting.  I won’t get into any of the story details, because it’s hard to do so without ruining anything, but the introduction of the rebellion really increases the drama as well.  Now, not only is it about the characters, but it’s about relationships and about how these characters and relationships are maintained and destroyed in times of war.

While each of these books tell standalone stories, the three of them together are actually one long story and it gets better and better from volume to volume, with lots of interesting twists and a fulfilling conclusion in the end.  If you can get over the slight skew towards young readers, I can’t recommend these books enough.

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