Author: Jeanne DuPrau
Title: The City of Ember
Narrator: Wendy Dillon
Publication Info: Listening Library (2004)
This book is the first part of a series about a subterranean city built for reasons not yet explained over 240 years before the events of the novel. By this time, the people of Ember have forgotten about their origins and are dealing with crumbling infrastructure and dwindling supplies (a very clear analogy to climate change). The protagonists of the novel are Lina and Dina, two young people who have reached the age where they are given their “Assignments,” their jobs they have to do to contribute to the survival of the community (I don’t think the novel specifies their age, but they seem to be around 12 years old). A curious pair, Lina and Doon piece together instructions left behind by the “Builders” of Ember, and find a way out of the underground city. They are a clever and likable duo, albeit a bit one-note. The plot is very simple but it should be readable for it’s target age group. The book ends on a massive cliffhanger which makes of course makes me want to read the next book, but also a bit resentful because I didn’t find the book engaging enough on its own to want to read more.
Recommended books: Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde, and The Inventor’s Secret by Andrea Cremer
Author: Andrea Cremer
Title: The Inventor’s Secret
Narrator: Leslie Bellair
Publication Info: Listening Library (2014)
This is the first in a series of an alternate universe dystopia in which Great Britain suppressed the revolution in the American colonies and have created a deeply stratified industrial tyranny. I actually thought it was supposed to be set sometime in the far future, but since its in the steampunk genre, it’s supposed to be in the 19th century despite the advanced technology. The protagonist is Charlotte, a 16-year-old member of the resistance living with other children in camp hidden away from the empire. When a mysterious newcomer arrives, it moves forward a plot for Charlotte, her brother and other companions to infiltrate the imperial society in New York. It’s an interesting concept, but the story didn’t engage me . I could see it’s appeal for younger readers interested in a mix of fantasy, alternate history, and romance.
Author: Jasper Fforde
Title: Shades of Grey
Narrator: John Lee
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2009)
I’m a big fan of Jasper Fforde’s imaginative works, but a few years ago when I attempted to read Shades of Grey, I couldn’t finish it. But due to my ffandom, I figured it would be worth giving the book another try as an audiobook. The story takes place in a future dystopian society where people are sorted into castes based on their ability to perceive colors. So, the protagonist of the story Eddie Russet is classified as a Red because he has the ability to see that color. The concept is hard for me to grasp, and a lot of the novel, especially the early parts seems more geared to explaining this society that telling a story. I suppose all Jasper Fforde novels are set in a dystopia of some sort, but this one seems more serious than the others. Nevertheless, I say it was worth getting through to the end of this book this time as the story definitely picks up in the second half of the book. While not as great as Thursday Next or The Last Dragonslayer, I do look forward to reading (or listening to) future installments of this series.
Title: The Hunger Games
Release Date: 23 March 2012
Director: Gary Ross
Production Co: Lionsgate
Country: United States
Genre: Dystopia | Science Fiction | Action Adventure
I had mixed feelings about the novel, and was concerned that the typical Hollywood spectacle in the adaptation would miss the point and glorify the violence of children murdering one another. Luckily the filmakers took a restrained approach and while there are action-adventure tropes the film does not wallow in the violence and makes it grim and unnerving when it does happen. One of the effective aspects of the movie is the lack of music and sound at the most devastating moments. The film faithfully follows the events of the book and with so many things to cover, the relationships among the characters are not developed as well. It helps to have read the book previously to fill in those gaps. Jennifer Lawrence puts in a great performance as the lead character Katniss Everdeen and Stanley Tucci also stands out as a slimy television presenter.
Author: Suzanne Collins
Title: Catching Fire
Publication Info: Scholastic Audio Books (2009)
Books read by the same author: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Summary/Review: So I wanted to find out what happens next and couldn’t resist listening to the next book in The Hunger Games series. It’s plagued by some of the same problems as the earlier book with weak prose (especially narrator/protagonist Katniss Everdeen’s interior debates) and thin characterization for some of the characters. This especially hurts the first half of the book which is built around a love triangle that doesn’t work because neither of the indistinguishable boys is very interesting (they both fit the Mary Sue trope). There’s a lot of nitpicking I could do about this book but the plot kept me interested. In the second half of the book by a trick of the evil President Snow, Katniss & Peeta are returned to the arena for another Hunger Games in kind of an all-star battle of the victors. I thought this might be a cheap narrative trick but it actually worked pretty well at developing the familiar characters as well as introducing interesting new characters. The form of the arena is contrived but the response of the characters as they form an uneasy alliance is very interesting. Yeah, I will read the conclusion too.
Author: Suzanne Collins
Title: The Hunger Games
Publication Info: Scholastic Audio Books (2008)
Summary/Review: I heard a lot of hype about this book and when I saw it available for download as an audiobook from my library, I decided to give it a listen with no knowledge of the plot. The book is set in a future dystopia where the United States has been divided into 12 strictly controlled districts. Each year the authoritarian government holds a lottery for 1 boy and 1 girl from each district who are brought to a wilderness arena to battle until all but one is dead. The games are required tv viewing and serve as a cross between ancient gladiatorial combat and reality television. The premise is very familiar and reminiscent of works such as “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell, Stephen King’s The Long Walk and The Running Man and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale among others.
With the plot very familiar, Collins works on character development. The narrator and protagonist is Katniss, the tribute from the poorest of the districts who has to rely on her hunting and survival skills to compete against wealthier and better prepared opponents. One of the more interesting aspects of the book is that since the competitors know they’re being watched on tv, they can manipulate the audience in hopes of having them contribute gifts that can be parachuted into the arena. An added twist to the story is that the boy from Katniss’ district, Peeta, may or may not be in love with her and they use the star-crossed lovers’ story to appeal to the audience. Katniss is an interesting ambiguous character in that while knowing of the farce behind the tyrannical government she is also fully willing to participate in the competition. On the downside of the novel, there is far too much internal monologue that reads as expository filler.
The book is good enough although I’m not sure it’s worthy of the hype and I’m not certain I’d want to read the rest of the series. The completionist in me wants to know how the story ends but what I’ve read about the following book doesn’t sound like it would be all the interesting.
Recommended books: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Bachman Books: Four Early Novels by Stephen King and The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer.