Book Review | The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Posted October 4, 2023 by TheNonbinaryLibrarian in book reviews / 0 Comments

Book Review | The Ballad of Songbirds and SnakesThe Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
Series: The Hunger Games #0
Published by Scholastic on May 19, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction / Dystopia, Young Adult Fiction / Fantasy / General, Young Adult Fiction / Science Fiction
Pages: 517
Format: eBook
Source: Library


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 favour 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.

It definitely took me a few years to read this. Partly because of the popularity of the book and everyone was checking it out. The other reason is that I was hesitant to read this book due to how little I enjoyed the original trilogy.

The first book of the trilogy was absolutely fascinating. The idea of this competition with children killing each other in a reality-type game show was such a different concept. Yet, while the first one was so promising, the series’ second and third books left much to be desired. The second was especially disappointing to me as so much was Katniss going back and forth between Peeta and Gale, which kept everyone else talking about this love acute angle instead of the actual point of the book of the government as the real enemy. The third book rushed so much of the ending that I didn’t really care who died, as everything happened so quickly. There wasn’t enough time to invest in any of the characters not introduced in the first book. I have many thoughts about the ending of the series. On one hand, the way everything goes between Katniss, Snow, and Coin worked out so well, I definitely agree that Coin was the same as Snow in wanting power herself. For all of that to happen, Primrose had to die. It’s also such a great example of irony that the one person Katniss did all of this, the spark that started everything, was the one person who didn’t survive the series is poignant. However, I’m not sure I like the fact that she ends up with Peeta. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want her to end up with Gale, either. I wanted a more found family story with Katniss, Peeta, Haymitch, and Effie at the end than a romance. Even if she does end up with Peeta, I do not like them having kids.

I didn’t mean to go that in-depth with the original trilogy, but here we are. With the prequel, I was quite excited to read it. I love a good villain origin story, as I find villain stories more fascinating as character studies than heroes. In The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, we see the rise of Coriolanus Snow. It’s fascinating that Collins named this character, who is the name of the tragedy by Shakespeare, which is based on the life of the Roman leader Caius Marcius Coriolanus. Both Coriolanus’s have great rises and then epic falls.

While reading Songbirds and Snakes, I was constantly frustrated and annoyed with Snow. For the most part, I can understand thinking the way he does because of the war, how horrible it was, and living through the family’s destitution. However, that doesn’t create compassion or empathy for his fellow humans. Instead, he doubles down on what the government does. There were also so many points where, even though he is destitute, he still doesn’t understand the privilege he has by being a Snow. Yes, they don’t have money and are in danger of losing their apartment, but the Snow name still has clout in the Capitol that other last names don’t. It was extremely horrible to read how he felt about the outer Districts, particularly District 12, where he continually thought of them as not human. I enjoy villain origin stories or stories with morally grey characters because there’s usually a good reason why they believe what they believe or why they went down this path. But with Snow, he’s stuck in his ways from the beginning and never learns anything except to double down on what the government is doing.

The strength of this book definitely lies with Lucy Gray. Not only is she from the same District, but there are fan theories that Maude Ivory, Lucy Gray’s cousin, is Katniss’ grandmother, which is definitely a great theory I can get behind. Due to Snow’s interference, Lucy Gray wins the 10th Hunger Games. But she also displays a uniqueness with her ballads from the Covey people (based on an Indigenous tribe, I’m guessing) and just her delight in life that brightens everything around her. She’s fun and lovable! At first, the relationship that forms between her and Snow looks like it will change or soften Snow’s ideas about how government is run and what he thinks of the Districts. Yet, none of that happens. Even when he is “in love” with Lucy Gray, he still thinks the government should be watching the people like they are and that other Districts are barbarians.

It was enjoyable to see the nods to the original trilogy. I either missed or forgot that Tigris is Snow’s cousin. Again, the District 12 part was interesting to see how it became what it was during Katniss’ time. Plus, seeing the origins of “The Hanging Tree” song was creepy and perfect.

For the most part, it wasn’t bad per se. I was expecting more and better reasons for why Snow acts the way he acts in the original trilogy. I would have also liked to see an epilogue in this book of something from his point-of-view when Katniss is selected or maybe the scene in the second book when he goes back to District 12 to warn Katniss that she needs to make him believe her and Peeta’s love story or even right before Katniss and the rebels win the war. It would’ve been interesting to see what he thought of this girl who came from the same District as the girl he claims to have loved.

I’ve always had the opinion that The Hunger Games movie adaptations are a great example of how to make an adaptation that stays with the themes of the book while still making it their own. I’m still planning on seeing the upcoming movie and am interested to see what they do or if they expand on what Collins has written.

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