The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
This week on Writing Excuses Brandon Sanderson proposes a three-pronged character model–sympathy, capability, and activity. In other words, an interesting character will have one of these three things in spades. Either the character is likable and endears themselves to the reader, is an expert in some way important to the story, or is actively making decisions that guide the narrative. How does Katniss Everdeen fit into this model?
Katniss is incredibly capable, at least physically and mentally. But, she’s weak emotionally, which often makes her unsympathetic. Her dithering when it comes to her feelings toward Peeta and Gale also make her rather unlikable as she strings them both along, often reflecting on her inability to even spend the time to really work through what she wants. Her activity level is an interesting question and, I think, open to some interpretation. I would argue Katniss is only active, in a sense of attempting to impose her will on the situation she finds herself in, at the end of each of the books. Her moment of finally reaching a point that she is unwilling to be pushed around by others is, functionally, the climax of every novel. However, until that point in each book, she is constantly pushed and pulled by forces like President Snow, Haymitch, and Peeta. In other words, I find Katniss to be an incredibly unappealing character who’s saved by being able (if tentatively unwilling) to kill her peers.
And yet, Kantiss is touted as a heroic character. She is something of a icon of the “strong female character”. I think shoehorning her into that role does her, and Suzanne Collins, a grave disservice. She is, actually, a much more layer character than that. She is lot more like Tyrion (minus the real horrible bits) than she is Aragorn. Because Collins takes us inside Katniss’ head we’re privvy to her thoughts and instability. We know she uses Peeta’s feelings for her at times to survive, and leads Gale on because she’s unwilling to let him go. She kills an innocent at least once without remorse and generally does the kinds of things we would not put in the “hero” box.
Why aren’t we talking about how awesome it is that we have a female character that isn’t easily put in a box? (I admit, we might be and I just haven’t seen it. I’m new to the whole YA thing.) Katniss is not a heroic figure. She is a woman, put through hell and comes out the other side totally broken. I dislike her a great deal, but I am so excited to have read the books. We need more characters willing to break the mold. And we need to stop trying to fit them into our pretty little boxes when they come around.
Oh, and I guess because this is supposed to be a review, I thought the books were entertaining if ultimately unsatisfying.
Honor Among Thieves by James S.A. Corey
Unlike Martha Wells’ Razor’s Edge, which I think missed Leia’s voice, James S.A. Corey nails Han Solo in Honor Among Thieves. Asked by Leia to rescue an undercover operative from an Imperial world, Chewie and Han fly into the teeth of the enemy. Of course, everything goes to shit and they end up in the hands of the Empire. Shenanigans ensue.
Frankly, the word shenanigans is more appropriate here than usual because everything Han does is fairly idiotic, but effective in equal measure. Corey manages to keep this inherent contradiction on display throughout. Because that’s what Han Solo is, right? One big contradiction. He’s a bad guy, who does good things. Or is he a good guy who’s made some mistakes? Or is he just a bad guy who falls in love? I don’t know! And that mystery of Han is what makes him so appealing. Corey, in capturing that conflict, makes Honor Among Thieves a delight to read.
However, it cannot totally absolve the novel from a major flaw–it just isn’t that interesting. Just like Razor’s Edge, Honor Among Thieves is forced to exist in a time of the Star Wars Universe that isn’t conducive to originality. The stories are simple and contain little in the way of meaningful conflict. I mean, we all know how it ends, right? It’s a major flaw in the Empire & Rebellion series that could have been solved by having side characters as protagonists with the canonical ones assuming secondary roles. I’m perplexed why Star Wars would recruit a new class of dynamic author to write books only to hamstring with so much baggage. The result is a solid, but not memorable novel.
Hounded by Kevin Hearne
I’ve pretty well established that, for me, reading the urban fantasy genre can feel like playing Russian Roulette. It’s either amazing or… damaging to my brain. So, I went into Hounded with a little fear because I find Kevin Hearne to be one of the most genuinely likable people in the science fiction and fantasy community. Thankfully, reading Hounded, Hearne’s debut novel, is to the darker side of the fantasy genre as the smell of bleach is to a public restroom. I don’t mean that the rest of fantasy smells like urine so much as I mean reading Hearne is refreshing and comforting. It reminds me that there is joy in the world and I don’t always have to worry about getting pee on my pants if I let them hit the floor. Wait, that’s probably not right either. Whatever. Hounded is fun, and joyful, and I’m really glad it exists.
The story is about a two thousand year old grudge between the Celtic love god and Atticus, a really old druid with prodigious charm. All that plot stuff is pretty well done, but the heart of the story is Atticus’ voice. Through it Hearne communicates Atticus’ love of life and the people (and dog) who surround him. He expresses this with a timeless humor, but never shies away from making a pop culture reference that’s firmly grounded in the now. Oberon, Atticus’ pet and sidekick, is one of the funniest characters I’ve ever read. In the end, it’s a novel that celebrates life even after Atticus has had 2,000 years to be bored by it. And I can celebrate that.
Start reading Kevin Hearne. You won’t be bummed. Oh, and it’s still only $.99 right now.