THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES (HUNGER GAMES #0)
by Suzanne Collins
Published May 20, 2020
Kindle edition | Purchased from Amazon
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.
Who wasn’t surprised when a Hunger Games prequel was announced? I know I never expected it but it was something that many fans craved and now finally have.
The Ballad of Songbirds an Snakes is set at the time of the 10th Hunger Games and is the backstory for President Snow. I’ve seen a lot of reviews that don’t like this premise. Why would we want to know more about someone who is universally despised? Given his reputation with fans, I would have thought that a backstory on earlier winners or Haymitch was a more obvious fit. But for whatever reason SC chose to focus on Snow.
The book is set during a formative period in his life, a time which influenced his growth into adulthood and gave him his first experiences with the Hunger Games. My impression of Snow from the original books was one of genuine dislike. He was a self absorbed, cold-hearted, tyrant who had no empathy or care for anyone else. There was nothing in him I admired. Before reading Songbirds and Snakes, I was curious to see if my opinion would change, and now that I know what I know, I have to say my impression is still much the same.
We see glimpses of the suffering in the Capitol, the rich were less rich but still had enough for a comfortable life. My care factor for their ‘challenges’ was … nil. The price they paid after the war was far less than the poor folk in the Districts. They were the ones out of sight who made the goods, bred the help, and grew the food for the rich to enjoy. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it.
As much as Snow was the ‘star’ of the book, there were two other characters that stood out for me. Firstly, Lucy Gray Baird, the vulnerable young tribute from District 12 who was sent into the fire. Yes, I did like her, I was on her side, and I hoped she would make it, but the relationship with Snow was not what I had expected. I had thought that some some link to Katniss or Peter would be revealed.
Secondly, Dr. Volumnia Gaul, the Head Gamekeeper and most evil-minded villain in the book. It was hard not to despise her, while wanting to know why she viewed humans as inherently violent. She had a twisted score to settle with the districts, and the games were the annual reminder that kept the war going. As Master of the games, she was the driving force behind the mutts, she was the one pulling the strings, she was the one with the power. Snow was her puppet, her protege to mold, her plaything to watch. And what he eventually becomes in the original series has plenty to do with her.
With plenty of references to the original books, there was a familiarity that opened up memories to draw on and compare in the story. I was actually surprised that some of the core components in the ‘modern’ games had actually come from the depths of Snow’s mind.
This book wasn’t so much about the games, it was all about Snow (something a narcissist like him would love). Aside from confirming his self-love and selfishness, learning of the terrible way tributes were treated in the early days made the games we know now seem so much ‘fairer’. Back in the 10th games, the tributes were treated like animals. Barely fed, barely bathed, barely cared for. Compare that to the primping, food, luxurious quarters, training, and glamor of the 74th/75th and the difference is obvious.
The location of the 10th games was surprising too, an abandoned, half destroyed arena that was the opposite to the high-tech dome we’re familiar with. It clearly showed that a lot had changed over the years, but the underlying purpose is still clear … kids killing kids to teach the adults to never forget.
One thing I’ll mention, which was the same as I felt near the end of Mockingjay. As we worked toward the final scenes of the plot-line (from the cabin onward) I felt that SC had given up or written herself into a corner, and suddenly decided she had to end the book. To me, it felt like she skipped over important things to get to the end, it felt rushed and off balance with the pace of the rest of the book. (eg. Crucial pivots in the plot, skipped over like Prim’s death in Mockingjay)
Bottom line is that I did enjoy the book. It was a different point of view that tried to explain the backstory of a villain. Did it change my opinion of Snow? No. I know this book divides HG fans. Which side you’re on is up to you.
If you’re up for a New York City thriller full of twists and suspense, then SUBWAY | PALLIATOPIA should be your next read. Hunger Games and Maze Runner fans love it.
They will take your life.
They will take your dreams.
They will take your future.
Palliatopia is the place you don’t want to be, and the place you can never leave.