The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
Author: Suzanne Collins
Series: The Hunger Games, #0
Page Count: 517
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Original Publication Date: 2020
Genre(s): Young adult, Dystopian
“The show’s not over until the mockingjay sings.”
For the 10th annual Hunger Games, the Capitol is shaking things up. They need more viewers, and to do that, new ideas. Twenty-four of the wealthiest seniors attending the Academy will be, for the first time, mentors to the twenty-four tributes. Eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow, though not rich anymore but pretending to be, scores a tribute—unfortunately, it’s the female from District 12. But Coriolanus soon discovers he’s been thrown a bit of luck, as his tribute, Lucy Gray Baird, captures the Capitol’s attention right off the bat at her reaping. With the new aspects to the Games this year, Coriolanus thinks he has a shot at his tribute winning the Games, bringing him much-needed scholarship money. But though the odds are in Lucy Gray’s favor, they most certainly are not in Coriolanus’s…
Okay okay okay okay okay. I’m not going to lie. I, too, found myself bored at the first hundred or so pages of the book. And yes, when I initially found out the prequel would be a Snow origin story, I was as outraged as the rest! But guys, please push on. Please finish the book. You may still dislike it, but at least you’ll get to experience Collins’s improved writing and an interesting history of this world, as well as some little easter eggs regarding the original 3 books. After I really got into the story, though, I actually liked it a lot.
The prequel follows a young President Snow before, during, and after the 10th Hunger Games. Things were very different back then compared to the 74th Games that Katniss plays. No one watches the Games—not in the districts, because no one has television, and not in the Capitol, because it’s violent, uninteresting, and reminds them of the wars. So this year, Capitol students become mentors, and Capitol citizens have the chance to bet on tributes and send them food via the mentors. They host interviews before the Games to get to know the tributes, and the Games are broadcast from start to finish with Lucky Flickerman as the host.
But even with these new developments, the Games are a dismal affair. The tributes are shipped to the Capitol in livestock trains, they’re thrown into the zoo for all to see, and are not even fed or bathed. They’re treated like animals before being thrown into a bombed-out, grassy arena. Some don’t even make it into the arena, and others succumb to natural causes in the end. It’s a very different Hunger Games. But that doesn’t make them any less ruthless.
It’d be easy to dismiss President Snow as a heartless monster, but we all know that’s not the case. This book shows us the inner war Coriolanus faces that year, and all the hardship he faced leading up to it. By no means was his life as sad as those in the districts, but his life wasn’t all glitz and glamour like I originally thought. And he did have humanity, though the Capitol worked hard to erase those parts of him. I really liked seeing who he was as a child, and what turned him into the President Snow we know in the original 3 books. I mean, let’s not sugarcoat it: he was always kind of a dick, but he was 1) born in the Capitol, 2) had rich, Capitol-supporting parents, and 3) is literally taught and raised to be ruthless throughout his life. Not giving him a pass, but I’m sure it’d be hard to break out of that thinking and way of life.
Though the beginning is slow and hard to get into, it does pick up leading up to the Games. I didn’t care about Snow at first, but I’m obsessed with character development, so I was intrigued. The whole book is really just sad and hard to read, but I liked it a lot. The last few chapters I was so nervous I did that thing where you block the next page with your whole hand so you don’t read ahead, and though it was a bit anticlimactic, I can see why Collins ended it the way she did and I loved it.
I wasn’t in love with Lucy Gray Baird, though. I rooted for her and sympathized with her, but she was really such a wild character. Eccentric as hell. And I can’t believe Snow starts catching feelings for her, because she’s so different. And Sejanus, I love that dumb kid with all my heart, but wow did he make some DUMB decisions. And then there’s snow, who of course I sympathized with to an extent, but was mostly just in it for the character arc.
As a prequel, this one shined, in my opinion. I know a lot of people are very on the fence about it, or just outwardly didn’t like it, but I did like it. Collins significantly improved her writing. We got to see the world expanded and learned more about the history. We got to see the origin story of Katniss’s enemy. And we got MORE questions at the end that we’ll never know the answer to! Who doesn’t love that? Anyway, it’s a good book, an amazing world, and a timeless story, don’t @ me.
But also was anyone else tired of reading “Coriolanus” in their head over and over and over for 500 pages? He couldn’t go by Cori???? He had few people who called him, of all things, Coryo, but rarely??????? Ugh.