They all know it happens, but somehow, it never really effects them, so they don’t think about it. Every year, one class of third year junior high students is taken to a deserted area where they must kill each other off until only one survives. This year, it is Shuya’s class that is chosen. Forty-two students are taken to a deserted island, given weapons, and told that the only way off said island is to kill the kids that they have known for years, most of whom are their friends. In the Battle Royal, there can be only one survivor.
It’s no secret that I loved The Hunger Games. The premise was just so damn interesting that it sucked me in. What might be less well-known is that upon rereading, I liked it a bit less. I felt that the worldbuilding wasn’t as good as it should have been, noticed some glaring holes in the plot, and really disliked that there was less explanation given than was actually needed to fully understand how the Districts could have gotten to the point where they were if not doing it willingly, they were at least not opposing volunteering their children for slaughter once a year. I also disliked that all the Tributes aside from Katniss and her friends were cookie-cutter molds for Bad Guys or Hapless Victims. Battle Royal did those things right. For one, it did away with the need to explain away the lack of opposition by giving the kids and their parents literally no time to do so. No one is aware that it is Shuya’s class that has been chosen to fight to the death until they have been taken away, on the premise of a school trip. Any who strongly oppose are summarily taken care of by a bullet. How’s that for oppression? Something that this book did better than THG: the government is actually the stifling presence that the author wants you to see it as. Though it isn’t brought up often, the reader can actually feel the oppression, the knowledge that to protest the regime is to forfeit your life. THG often talked of the Capitol as a giant oppressor, but it never actually felt like one. Too much skirting of the rules went on everywhere for me to believe that the all-powerful Capitol really was as all-powerful as I was supposed to think.
Also, as I said before, the way that the students reacted felt very true to life. Some chose to kill themselves rather than play. Some decided that they were in it to win it from the very beginning, and were chilling and heartless in their ability to kill. But most did exactly what you’d think a group of teenagers would do in that situation: ran away and found a place to hide. They went to ground, and tried to make sense of their new situations. They found people they thought they could trust and tried to band together. For most of them, their first thought was about safety, defense, not killing. It also rang true that paranoia eventually set in for most of them, because would you be able to trust the person next to you when you know that the rules state that in order for them to live, you have to die? I don’t know if I could. This book does what dystopian novels are supposed to: makes it easy for its characters to distrust another because the situation they are placed in turns them all into people out only for themselves. Chilling stuff, and absolutely enthralling. This book grabs you within the first twenty pages and doesn’t really let up until the finale. It’s by turns horrifying and touching, and in the end does manage to leave you with some hope, which is more than it has to.