WARNING: this review contains spoliers.
I was excited to read this book because the blurb sounded quite similar to The Hunger Games. However, I was very disappointed; Panic never comes anything close to having the pace, tension and compulsion of The Hunger Games. To be fair very few books do, even The Hunger Games‘s sequels don’t come close to it. Yes, Panic is about a group of teenagers playing a game with potential fatal results, but the crucial difference is no one is making them do it, they can stop at any time and if any of them had any sense they would stop.
It took me ages to finish this book, not because it’s a difficult read but because it was so unengaging. The characters are flat and one dimensional and the setting is lifeless. It takes about 250 pages before anything remotely interesting happens in the plot. The idea of the game panic is stupid and doesn’t really make sense as a concept. It’s impossible to empathise with the characters because they have no depth beyond their motivation to participate in the game. The book is humourless but also lacks the extreme sense of desperateness which makes proper dystopias so compelling.
I completely guessed the big plot twist of Bishop being a judge early on in the book. The other characters never even ask him why he’s not playing panic so it’s obvious that he must be involved in some way and the other characters seem very stupid.
The book has an oddly hopeful ending, considering its dour premise and the unfortunate circumstances of many of the characters. Why should these people have happy, hopeful endings? One of them sets fire to a house and could have killed several people; another puts a bomb in a car in order to kill someone in revenge and only doesn’t go through with it because he is kidnapped and tied up not because he realises it’s the wrong thing to do. There are no consequences to their actions. I didn’t like any of them enough to be relieved that they had a happy ending.
This was a most disappointing read, goodness knows how it managed to get the ‘this book is brilliant’ quote from The Guardian on the front cover. It is not brilliant, it isn’t even average; it is sub-par, dreary YA fiction and I don’t think I’ll bother with any of Oliver’s other work.