[spoilery! here be dragons! also, rambling!] +Jo Miles
, I get it as a social critique. But from a narrative standpoint, it always weirds me out a bit when an artist is exploiting the same thing they purport to be criticizing; there is something that just reads wrong about it.
I can think of a few examples of it (American Beauty, where I think we are supposed to be a little skeeved out by Kevin Spacey's lust for a teenager, but the film itself practically begs the viewers to do the same thing; or the remake of Watchmen, which totally undercuts the whole idea of how ugly vigilante-ism and its attendant violence can be, with its hyper-choreographed, glossy action-movie fight scenes.
Don't get me wrong; I really disliked those movies for what they did, and here, it's less clear and more interesting. But I do feel like the author wants to keep the punch-in-the-gut of the horror that this thing exists (which is a great platform for social critique!), but still really max out the entertainment value of it. And to do it, she resorts to making the two characters win a little too... perfectly, killing people accidentally, indirectly, or in the case of the worst enemy, ultimately mercifully. The character never really has to make hard choices, so the reader never really has to fully face what it is that keeps this all going. You get to root for the "right" person fairly unquestioningly.
That's why I say this feels like a too-careful exercise. She preserves them as sympathetic, unwilling participants, but there is something a little too fine about it... I don't know, a tension between the story and the metaphor are tripping me up a little. If we see ourselves in the uncomfortable-but-also-ravenous viewers of the games, what does that make the author? Can you make art that both panders to and criticizes the audience about the same thing?
All of that said, I am looking forward to the second book, and even more now after +Thomas Aylesworth
's comment! Although, Tom, for some reason, I didn't have that problem of disbelief. Maybe I am overly willing to see this as a riff on both reality tv and made-for-tv warmaking.