Suzanne Collins’ The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a prequel to The Hunger Games that follows Coriolanus Snow during the tenth annual Hunger Games. When I was in high school, I loved the trilogy series, not as much as Twilight, but it was a close second. So, coming into the novel, I knew there would be no redemption for Snow. How could there be when he’s a tyrant 64 years later? No, this was the prelude to it. And I spent virtually the whole book hunting for comparisons between the prequel and the original trilogy. It was an interesting book, albeit it took me over a month to finish.
But I’ll get into my thoughts a little more later.
But first, the book details!
Ambition will fuel him. Competition will drive him. But power has its price.
It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capitol, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute.
The odds are against him. He’s been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined – every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favor or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute . . . and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.
- Published: May 19, 2020
- Page Count: 541 pages
- Genre: YA Dystopian Fiction
Thoughts on The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is told from Coriolanus Snow’s POV, the future president of Panem. We know of his history loosely through The Hunger Games. But through this book we get to experience it, along with how he truly became the tyrant that we know him as. He’s a flawed character and this book does not shy away from that. Not to mention, we also see how the Hunger Games were shaped into how they are when the original trilogy occurs. While Snow did not create the games, he played a major role in how they went from something that happened but no one watched to the performance they became by the time Katniss took part in the games.
Snow came up with the idea of people donating gifts to the tributes because he wanted to make sure his tribute had food so he didn’t come in last. He thought his tribute, a female from District 12, was too weak. But he also made sure that others participating in the creation of the game couldn’t use their finances because his family didn’t have any at the time. Along with making the games mandatory for the districts to see, rather than something they might choose to skip. And that residents of the capital may wager on the tributes, with each receiving a score based on their chances of survival. Something that drastically changed how people viewed Katniss in her own game. And Snow was one of the first mentors before the academy students were replaced by former victors with a capitol escort like Effie Trinket. This wasn’t a job for him at the time; it was a class assignment, specifically a report he wrote that changed the course of the games.
The tributes also were in the same arena every year when the games first started with whatever they wore the day of the reaping. Rather than a new arena with a specific uniform that all tributes had to wear. Nor did they have audio of the arena, versus they did when Katniss and Peeta were tributes. Also, they didn’t have cameras set up everywhere, so the action was only filmed in the center of the arena versus in every location as we saw during the 74th Annual Hunger Games. Seeing how far the games originally started versus what they became really shows how far the Capitol went from these were brutal reminders of the districts loss in the war to yearly entertainment for the Capitol citizens. Even having a full-time announcer was new, though it was interesting to see the Flickerman family has been in the role since the beginning. The bodies weren’t immediately removed either in the earlier games nor any of the broken drones. Some tributes made use of the drones to make lights for at night, while other tributes piled the bodies of the dead tributes. This is also the first game where the mutts created in the Capitol’s labs were used in the games along with announcing to the tributes how many were left since there weren’t canons or nightly reminders for that during the tenth game.
There are so many parallels between Lucy Gray and Katniss Everdeen. Both were the female tributes from District 12, neither of which were the girl originally picked. Lucy Gray was picked by the major, he didn’t look at the slip of paper because of her rivalry with his daughter. While Katniss volunteered to saved her sister. But both drew the attention of the capitol in their own way and were remembered by the songs they sang. Most of the songs that Katniss sings were made by Lucy Gray (or the Covey), though she’s unaware of that since music had been outlawed following Snow’s return to the Capitol. Not to mention Katniss is associated with the mockingbird, a bird that Snow hates and started an organized hunt for with the Peacekeepers in District 12.
It was interesting to see Snow descend into a tyrant. How he went to great lengths to ensure that ‘Snow lands on top,’ from betraying someone who considered him a brother to poisoning/killing anyone who stood in his way. He never regarded humanity in a different light than Dr. Gaul did. Despite his lack of trust in Dr. Gaul, his views are based on what he discovered from his interactions with her. He saw Sejanus’ actions as wrong when all he wanted to do was make life better for the districts, and he never agreed with Lucy that there was goodness in everyone. Snow always did what was best for him and regarded everybody who stood in his path as an enemy. And the entire third act reflects that, and his epilogue merely shows how far he was willing to go in that regard. That he would never let love affect him again, and that he would go to any length to maintain control. And even offered other ideas from Katniss’ time, such as the Victor Village, required viewings of the games in the districts, and food provided to the districts if their tribute won that year.
In a way, it was unfortunate because Snow had been really likable at the start of the book. But at the end, the boy who had been swept away by Lucy Gray was gone. All that was left was President Snow. A tyrant who only cared about the Capitol and himself.
Overall, I liked A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. I’m interested how the film will translate the book. I have great expectations for the prequel because the original series was handled beautifully. Even though the ending was tragic, there was no other option. Snow had to decline as a character rather than improve. There is no atonement, and we had to witness his humanity die in order for the stone-cold tyrant to rise. While I wish some of the individuals had had better fates, they were stepping stones on Snow’s way to becoming the President we know from the Hunger Games.
So, I’d give this book 3.75 out of 5 stars.
At times, the pacing dragged, and the finale with Lucy seemed rushed. I’m not going to explain what happened there, but I would have expected it to take longer. Part of the reason this book took me so long to finish was because the chapters were so long. So, I could only read a chapter or two at a time before my brain demanded a rest. Though I don’t think the chapter lengths were the only thing that left me feeling tired. Some of Snow’s inner monologue was unfocused or dull, offering little to what we already knew about the Panem universe. And there’s far too much emphasis on cabbage soup and his family’s poverty. That wasn’t needed to show Snow’s fall into tyranny. Especially since he wasn’t struggling for wealth in the end, and it was basically handed to him.
But did I still like it? Yes. I enjoyed discovering the connections between the prequel and the original, as well as the philosophical discussion of nature vs nurture with humanity’s primal instincts.
Do I believe it would have been more fascinating if we had Lucy’s point of view? Yes, for sections of it. We would have witnessed how others perceived him at the moment, rather than just hearing his emotionless thoughts.
If you read The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, what did you think of it?
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