Sublime Though Rampant Execution…

Saturday 26th December 2020 (17:25)

‘Now a major motion picture’ is not necessarily an endorsement of an original novel, even when the movie has enjoyed international acclaim, but “The Hunger Games”, first in a book trilogy, is equal to the hype. Technically, this novel is almost surgically dissected into three equal parts (beginning, middle and end) and is set in Panem (formerly North America), where, following a civil insurrection, the Capitol has enslaved the surviving twelve districts. Moreover, as an ongoing reprisal for the uprising, ‘tributes’ are periodically taken from each district in the guise of one boy and one girl, aged 12-18, to fight to the death in the arena of the Hunger Games. 

Clearly the concept is barbaric, made more shocking by the youthful combatants and the fact that the carnage is televised like episodes of “I’m a celebrity…”, only with weapons. Still, at the same time it is fascinating, in spite of the implied voyeuristic sadism. That this dystopian novel, reflecting a post-apocalyptic America, is pitched at young adults, might also appear surprising. Yet, from District 12, the poorest region and reliant on its coal production, the author provides the reader with a true diamond among modern heroines, Catniss Everdeen, whose sixteen year old voice carries the story.

From the drama of ‘the reaping’ (the district lottery to determine the identity of the tributes), to the sacrificial whittling down of the twenty four in the purpose-built arena and the ultimate triumph of survival, the tension and attendant violence is overlaid by the macro politics at play and the love and key relationships that drive the main protagonist. There is also a cast of sympathetic characters enmeshed in the fabric of this epic tale, some of whom will doubtless reappear later in the trilogy.

The world-building is exceptional, the plot superbly paced and the denouement expertly delivered, such that the reader is compelled to hanker for the sequel. In short this book is a masterclass in the YA genre from conceptualisation, to character development, to the almost faultless execution of the storytelling. Notwithstanding the contentious nature of her creation (the book has been repeatedly challenged as ‘dangerous’), in my opinion, Suzanne Collins is rightly lauded for her achievement.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“Power is the Ultimate Aphrodisiac…”

10:07 PM 20 JANUARY 2020

I thank Henry Roi PR for providing me an electronic copy of this novel, originally published in 2008, which I freely chose to review. This has in no way influenced my review.

This was my introduction to the work of Karina Kantas and notwithstanding the pace of the novel has much in common with a thriller, the underlying commentary on themes such as gang culture, knife crime, social identity and power lent the book some interesting depth, made all the more intriguing by the use of a mainly female cast of characters.

Cass is escaping a longstanding abusive relationship, which began shortly after leaving school and culminated in her isolation from family support. The attendant violence also coloured the young woman’s attitude to physical harm and hardened her resolve not to be a victim. However, when Cass is the subject of a random attack after a night out, she is rescued by the ‘Kittnz’, a gang of five female bikers, led by the indomitable ‘Raven’, and recruited (via a brutal initiation) to join their select gang. Part of the appeal for Cass, soon re-named ‘Ice’, is their flamboyance, “all loudly dressed in similar leather outfits; beautiful women who looked like glamorous rock chicks…” but more importantly, “the fear and respect they created was intoxicating.” In fact, Cass was won over long before the full implications of her commitment were known, any reticence leached away by her desire to join their ‘sisterhood’ and to be feared, it was sufficient to know that the gang’s activities were ‘rewarding and justified’.

The journey to a sense of liberation, self-esteem and empowerment are mainly observed through the experience of the newest recruit and the pent-up anger within ‘Ice’ and her desperation to be accepted, finds her capable of extreme violence. The raison d’etre of the Kittnz is allegedly to ‘do over’ people who overstep the mark. However, the clandestine nature of their existence insists that they each work in outlying towns (their professional personas – lawyer, doctor, journalist, psychoanalyst also providing a useful skill-mix), only venturing into Northampton in the guise of their alter-egos. The choice of a fairly nondescript provincial town made me smile, but I imagine was deliberate and perhaps enabled the Kittnz to enjoy the exaggerated rep’ that might go with swimming in a smaller pond. But, the tentative democracy underlying the gang’s activities is quickly exposed by the iron control exerted by ‘Raven’ and the expected sacrifice of family, friends and private life. The lifestyle upside of belonging, clothes, money, drugs and disinhibition are well described by the author, but so too is the price to be paid. I read with almost morbid curiosity the new depths of depravity that the gang might plumb to sustain their reputation. What started out with almost moral zeal, delivering a modest form of ‘justice’ for those let down by the system, quickly deteriorates into an escalating, toxic cycle of violence infecting the gang members and the corruption on which they depend. This is most clearly evidenced in the trajectory of ‘Ice’, raised high on her carefully nurtured resilience and her lust for fearsome power, ultimately, in a sad symmetry, subjugated to the will of her waning leader and a bigger, more ruthless male gang. A rather tragic victim transformed into an abuser and then a victim of another hue.

The take away from this book is perhaps that vigilantism is flawed, not by the gender of the vigilante, but the absence of transparent authority. However, the slightly implausible premise is nonetheless well handled by Ms Kantas and the story well-told. On this showing I look forward to reading more of her novels in future.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Tribute to Ian Fleming

11:20 PM 8 JANUARY 2017

The 100th anniversary of the birth of Ian Fleming is as good a reason as any for commissioning a ‘continuation novel’ for his most famous creation – James Bond. And who better to write it than one of the most popular British authors of the contemporary crop, Sebastian Faulks? As an avid Faulks fan, it was an intriguing thought, but one not without risk for this most eponymous of spy franchises and perhaps also for the author. Though I needn’t have worried. As early as the opening chapter, the reassuring velvety panache of Faulks was grafted onto the gritty style of Fleming, in a typically grisly, action-packed episode.

A global threat posited by a maniacal power broker bent on the destruction of west, in particular this time the UK, the ‘baddie’ is strikingly familiar, right down to a physical deformity and a penchant for cruelty, which in due course must surely get its comeuppance.

Also present, the romantic entanglement with a beautiful, tragic woman, which is as much a necessity for Bond, as his trusty Walther PPK.

A light read, the book moves along at a break-neck pace and is unadulterated escapism, but worthy of one of the nation’s favourite literary heroes and we continue to be lucky to have him.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.