Anyone who has ever loved a series feels equal parts anticipation and worry when cracking the cover of the latest installment. Can the adventures of the characters you’ve been dreaming about for the past year live up to the ones you’ve imagined for them yourself? I don’t think it gives too much away to say that Mockingjay meets readers’ expectations, and then some. This is a fearless finale that brings the big question of the Hunger Games Trilogy—the ethics of using force, be it political, physical or psychological—to the forefront as Katniss and her allies attempt to overthrow President Snow and create a new Panem.

Mockingjay opens in the ruins of District 12, where heroine Katniss Everdeen stands on the ashes of most of her neighbors. Torn with guilt over the destruction of her home and worry over the fate of Peeta, who is still in the hands of President Snow, Katniss knows only a burning desire for revenge. Her family and the rest of the District 12 survivors are safe, if a bit bored, in the well-regulated underground world of District 13, where President Coin has a plan to present Katniss as the face of rebellion: the Mockingjay.

It’s a bleak beginning, but then, a revolution isn’t pretty business, and anyone who has followed Katniss’ adventures so far knows that Suzanne Collins doesn’t spare her characters. This is a series where, just like real life, anything can happen. While readers can trust Collins for an honest resolution to the story, they can’t be sure that their favorite characters will be there to see it. That sense of suspense, along with the innovative plot twists that Collins throws in just when you thought you knew where things were going, keeps the pages turning.

Well, that, and the Gale/Peeta conflict. Who does Katniss choose? No spoilers here, but rest assured that Collins makes the outcome seem both inevitable and right, because it is based on Katniss’ own discoveries about herself.

Those discoveries, like the other victories in Mockingjay, come at a high price. Collins, like Katniss, is a realist above all: The effects of war on civilians and conspirators alike are unflinchingly documented, and the grim tone established in the opening pages dominates. But the book is not without its moments of grace, and the powerful conclusion should leave readers with a better taste in their mouths than the much-maligned endings of other popular series. Haunting and meditative, Mockingjay is a wrenching finale to a trilogy that will be read and discussed for years to come.

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