Why would anyone read a review of the second and third books of a trilogy like this? Anyone who has read the first book probably knows whether or not he or she wants to finish the series. Anyone who hasn’t should be reading my review of the first book and deciding from that whether or not to begin the series. The only people left are people who’ve already read the whole series and would like to know what I think.

It’s rather impossible to say anything intelligent about what I think of these novels without spoiling anything for someone who (for whatever reason) is reading this but hasn’t read the first installment. So if that’s you, stop right there, read my review of The Hunger Games, and either read that novel or don’t read it. If you read past this paragraph, I’m assuming you’ve either read these novels or you don’t care about spoilers.

Thoughts on Catching Fire: It is rare that the events in a story surprise me enough and horrify me enough to make me gasp aloud as I am reading. That happened a few chapters into Catching Fire. When the announcement is made about who will participate in the Quarter Quell, I gasped. Lost my breath for just a moment. Put the book down into my lap and stared up at the ceiling, taking in the implications and trying to figure out where I thought this might go.

I wondered how Collins might out-horrible the first book, and here it is. The very notion that the victors would have to face off against each other is both genius (as a writer’s idea AND as a government’s weapon) and appalling.

There’s a cool camaraderie that develops in this second book, something that is teased but never realized in the first games. These second games show a Katniss with teammates and allies, something that makes the overall feeling a lot less lonely and a lot less stressful, ‘though other events make up for that loss of tension. The unexpected redemption of Finnick is maybe my favorite thing about this book.

Thoughts on Mockingjay: This is the right ending. The series could end where Coin assumes power, and we could have been treated to a grim outlook for the future of Panem. That might have worked too, but such a cynical finish after such an ordeal for the reader might have had everyone up in arms. What Katniss does at the execution is a brilliant way out of that possible ending.

Dreary? Yes, but what else was Collins going to do? Her characters have been through far too much before Katniss even turns eighteen. To pretend that there could be a happily-ever-after situation would be an insult to her readers. I suppose there might have been a way for a more lovey-dovey conclusion, but what we get makes more sense. In fact, I think the epilogue is extraneous; it subtracts from the realistic feeling of the end. We don’t need to know what Katniss and Peeta’s futures look like exactly because enough of that is hinted at the end of the last chapter. Collins should have let the optimists have their ending and let the cynics have theirs while letting the writer have hers.

I suspect many readers are going to be upset with Collins at Prim’s demise. I totally see that and can relate. This is the last person, maybe, who should have died in that final struggle, but I think it makes sense for the author to work it this way. War sucks, and Collins has spoken this message through her characters from the very beginning, even having Peeta speak this sentiment (and be branded a traitor by the rebellion) the first time Katniss sees him speaking for the Capital. To pretend that favorite sisters, even those beloved by all, do not die in wars would be a disservice to the overall believability of the story.

That dreary ending means that the trilogy doesn’t feel good, and readers want to feel good after reading all those pages. I get that. But I respect the author more for the ending she gives us, and she gets all the respect for writing a trilogy this compelling. It was nearly impossible to put down between page 1 of The Hunger Games and the final page of Mockingjay.