Saturday, June 23, 2012

Hungering for Books After The Hunger Games?

Like many others, I'm a big fan of The Hunger Games. I devoured the trilogy, which sits on my shelf (thank you, anonymous crazy person who donated a pristine hardback of Mockingjay to the library's $1/book sale), because the series includes several things I love.

However, I've learned it's hard to trust new books that tout "if you loved The Hunger Games, you'll love [insert title here]!" because they are not The Hunger Games. They're trying to play off THG's hype, usually because of genre similarities and having a female protagonist.


That is not why THG is awesome. If it was, I'd enjoy the fifty thousand YA dystopias on my Goodreads shelf a lot more. Instead, here are some books that share some of the characteristics I loved about Suzanne Collins' series:

1) Emphasis on the story and action, rather than lingering on the main character's thoughts, feelings, and angst
2) Strong female character(s)
3) Romance, if there is any, is not the focus and/or is relevant to the plot
4) Appeals to both males and females

The Avatars trilogy (Tui T. Sutherland)
Without warning, five teenagers from across the globe discover that they appear to be the only humans left on the planet. They're drawn together, traveling through a world where mythology doesn't seem too far-fetched anymore, but what they'll find when they reach their destination is only the beginning.

If this were published now, it would be getting a lot of fanfare: comparisons to both The Hunger Games and Percy Jackson, big displays in bookstores, long wait times at the library, and a quickly-announced studio adaptation, because it's awesome. Unfortunately, it was published six years ago (only six!) and no one seems to have heard of it.

Wait, why? It's got a seemingly apocalyptic setting when five minutes before, everything was normal. Characters are diverse, and both the male and female characters have [inner and physical] strength. Plus, there's a good bit of snarking, action, and magic. Honestly, this is one of the few series I've read that could stand comparisons to The Hunger Games because of the parallels, including action and serious fights.

The Provost's Dog trilogy (Tamora Pierce)
Beka Cooper's life  revolves around thieves, thugs, murderers, and the crime-filled dirt-poor Lower City. She's a trainee in the law-keeping Provost's Guard, and has worked for years to be able to guard the place she calls home.
Work is hard enough, but the slum is about to face a crime wave, the likes of which has never been seen. It's going to take all her skills (which might just include a magical affinity for hearing the dead) to find those responsible. But don't underestimate Beka. Because this isn't just any slum.
This is her slum.

Tamora Pierce should be well-known to anyone who likes reading about strong female characters in fantasy, and her most recent series doesn't disappoint. Pierce writes within her created medieval fantasy world of Tortall, but don't go looking for places with unpronounceable names and too many apostrophes; it's easy to settle in and the magic, while built into the world, isn't the only way things get done.

Beka's shy in her social life, a terrier when she gets a hold of a case, and makes mistakes. Think of this as a police drama, in book form, before police dramas existed. It doesn't have the always-on-your-feet-run-for-your-life action that Hunger Games and Maze Runner (below) do, but it's no dull read and Beka is trained to kick butt.

The next two books expand even more, taking Beka up through the ranks and onto even more dangerous cases. However, unlike the other series I recommend here, Terrier (the first book) could easily be read as a stand-alone. No cliffhangers!

Plus, a bonus if you read any other of Pierce's Tortall-set books: you can recognize some of the same places, and even the same (and/or related) characters in other books; the series is stand-alone but you could pick up the Song of the Lioness quartet, for instance, and meet one of Beka's descendents.

The Maze Runner trilogy (James Dashner)
This is life in the Glade:
1. A new boy is sent up every 30 days. Like all the others before him, he has no memory before waking in the elevator that transports him.
2. The elevator delivers supplies on a schedule.
3. The Glade is surrounded by a giant, unsolvable maze with doors that lock them in every night.
4. There are no answers.
Thomas is the newest boy, amnesiac and arriving on schedule. The next day, a girl arrives: the first ever. Her arrival signals a breakdown in life as the boys know it--and, perhaps, a chance to learn what's going on. If they survive.

Questions. Lots and lots of questions. You have them, and the boys have them. They know how they live, but none know why: why it's only boys, why a new one comes each month, why the maze exists with its deadly creatures, why they're locked in each night, or why they are cut off from anyone else. The answers come, I promise, though you'll have to read the entire trilogy.

Teenage boys are hardly my favorite protagonists, but I found Thomas to be a fairly likable character, and the entire trilogy keeps the action going the entire time; it'd be good to have all three books on hand when you start, because you will want to find out what the heck is going on as much as the characters do.

 Honorable Mention: Eon and Eona (Alison Goodman)
Eon's master has prepared him for years to become a Dragoneye, an apprentice to one of the twelve magical dragons that keep the land in harmony. Should he succeed, both Eon and his master will have riches and power. But that's only if no one discovers that Eon is really Eona: a female, forbidden upon pain of death to learn the dragon magic. 
That alone would make her life difficult, but Eon's appearance strikes a dangerous struggle, and more than just her life is on the line.
Okay, I loved Eon. Loooooved it. Interesting fantasy world, smart and strong female character and smart and strong and interesting secondary characters, action, magic, and both it and its sequel are fairly long--I like being able to curl up for long periods of time. Heck, I love it so much this is the second time I've mentioned in on this blog.

However, without getting spoilery, I felt Eona slipped in quality. I felt the second book got muddled with interpersonal issues--really stupid ones, and way too many. The smarts and action slipped, giving way to issues that seemed forced for the sake of plot, rather than how these people we've been previously introduced to would behave.

And that's why it gets an honorable mention: the first book is wonderful, and very much in the vein of Tamora Pierce, but the story spans both books. However, the Goodreads' ratings are actually slightly higher for the second book, so try for yourself.

I'm not saying that you'll love these if you love The Hunger Games; I've been burned too often by too many books making that claim. But these books are ones I've enjoyed and for reasons similar to why I liked THG. It's been extremely hard for me to find a dystopian series that can compare, but I finally realized that The Hunger Games isn't awesome just because it's set in a scary future. The characters, writing style, and how the plot is woven together is what made me love it, just as those same elements did in these books.

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