The announcement that Suzanne Collins was publishing a Hunger Games prequel was the proverbial shot heard ’round the literary world. Everyone wanted to get their hands on it. I think excitement waned a bit, however, when we realized that it was about President Snow as a young man. This is a testament to how hated President Snow was in the original series- at first glance, he’s not the kind of interesting villain you’d want to read about; rather, he’s hated so much that you’d rather not think too much about him at all.
Regardless of how much you might hate Snow, picking up The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is still a welcome return to the disturbing world of Panem and all of its rules and division. While Panem is a horrible place, it’s a well-written, engrossing one. With this prequel, we get to learn more about how the Hunger Games came to be the way they are in the original trilogy. Plus, Coriolanus Snow as a young man may surprise you.
Mild spoilers ahead.
What The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes gets right: Suzanne Collins is awesome at writing about psychological warfare. Throughout The Hunger Games trilogy, we saw how having to constantly act and perform was exhausting to Katniss; in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, we see how Coriolanus Snow is similarly affected. You wouldn’t think that a Capital kid from a rich family would have to fake his way through life in order not to die, but that’s the case for Coriolanus. The adults around him can’t be trusted- in fact, they may even decide to kill him- and this situation makes him a more relatable character than you’d expect. Coriolanus actually has a few things in common with Katniss, at least in this book.
However, unlike Katniss, Coriolanus is a very controlled and calculating character. He often relies on charisma and faked confidence to get him through dangerous encounters. While I enjoyed how raw and honest Katniss was, sometimes her brash words and deeds would make me cringe as I feared what kind of trouble she would get in. She was not a natural actress; but for Coriolanus, acting is not only easy but necessary, which probably explains how he eventually made it to the top in the Capital.
What The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes gets wrong: Most of the side characters don’t get fleshed out or developed very well. I felt like I barely knew anyone other than Coriolanus and Sejanus, his fellow mentor and a rebel sympathizer, throughout the story.
The plot kind of meanders around in Part I as various attacks postpone the Games. Then there’s some romance in Part II and III that just didn’t strike me as believable (slight spoilers in the next few sentences). Don’t get me wrong, I love romance in books, but this one seemed shallow to me. Coriolanus gets caught up in petty jealousy when the girl he likes could die the next day, and I’m just not having that. And why would Lucy Gray Baird be interested in Coriolanus- how does she have time for feelings when she’s facing her death? They couldn’t be more different and their romance is based on the bare minimum. If Lucy Gray knew more about how possessive and controlling Coriolanus actually is (which we as readers get to hear in his thoughts) I don’t think she would like him at all. This romance was doomed from the start because they don’t know each other at all.
Who should read The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes: Fans of The Hunger Games who want to revisit the world of Panem. Readers who enjoy learning about ambitious, cunning protagonists who later become villains (Coriolanus is definitely an unhealthy Enneagram Three, and would be in Slytherin were he at Hogwarts).
Who shouldn’t read The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes: If you didn’t like The Hunger Games, then you probably won’t like this prequel, either. And even as a Hunger Games fan, I didn’t particularly love this book because Coriolanus just doesn’t *get* it, and he got on my nerves a lot toward the end. He just doesn’t allow himself to have empathy for others who are different from him. I liked the ending, where he was finally showing his true colors, better than the rest of the book where he was pretending to be a decent person.
Content note: violence, psychological trauma, substance abuse.
Most book reviews on this blog are written by Olivia Chin and reflect her personal opinions of the books, not the library’s view as a whole.