The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins (540 pages)
Spoiler Warning! While this review does not contain explicit spoilers for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, it does reveal some details from the original trilogy!
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is An Ambitious Boy Looking to Prove Himself on the Main Stage
Coriolanus Snow wants nothing more than to succeed. While his family home might look lavish, his family is essentially broke. Coriolanus can’t even afford a new shirt for his big day: he’s finally being given an opportunity to mentor in The Hunger Games. As the list is revealed, Coriolanus is disappointed when he’s assigned to the girl from District 12, an area of Panem that’s never been considered strong. What Coriolanus doesn’t expect, however, is that District 12’s Lucy Gray is quite the crowd-pleaser. With her colourful costumes and enchanting voice, Lucy Gray isn’t willing to go down without a fight.
The Hunger Games Weren’t Always So Pristine
In the early years of the Games, the Capitol was still ironing out many of the details. When we meet Katniss during the 74th Games, the Gamekeepers operate with startling efficiency. The Reaping ceremonies are quick, transportation is arranged, and most importantly, the media knows the integral role it plays in culling the masses. One of the more interesting aspects of The Hunger Games movie adaptation was being able to see how the media and the wealthy spectators played an influential role in the games, a perspective that wasn’t really available to readers as the novel is told from Katniss’s point of view. Ballad gives readers an opportunity to not only see the Games before they were well-organized but to also see the beginnings of some of the more sinister parts of the show.
An Unlikely Protagonist
One of the most appealing parts of the original trilogy is Katniss herself. Katniss is an expertly crafted hero in that, yes, she does have prodigious skill with a bow, but she’s still incredibly human. Katniss’s fear and conflict are ever-present and Collins also makes sure we understand the impact that post-traumatic stress plays in the sequels. Ballad, however, tells the story of young President Snow, the primary antagonist of the original trilogy. While many fans and critics were initially surprised or upset by this choice, Snow’s story is still worth reading.
The Origins of a Monster
As with most villains, Snow wasn’t always a monster. When we meet him in Ballad, he’s not only vulnerable but also a fierce friend who values his relationships, both platonic and romantic. Readers will see, however, that the powerful people around Snow are easily able to manipulate him and to change his overall outlook to a much more cynical one. Much like the Star Wars prequels, we’re supposed to see Snow as a wide-eyed kid who ultimately makes unforgivable choices in the name of love. And even though Anakin ultimately finds the light, some crimes are irredeemable. Ballad looks to tell a similar story, one that we already have the ending to.
The Odds are Definitely Still in Collins’s Favor
Many of the books and movies we’re consuming these days are recycling intellectual property through prequels, sequels, and spin-offs, but that doesn’t mean these works aren’t worth consuming. Ballad showcases some of the best aspects of the original trilogy including a steady pace, thrilling action sequences, and heart-stopping chapter cliff-hangers that beg you to keep reading.
What Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes might lack, though, is a protagonist as compelling as Katniss. To be fair, Katniss is a hard act to follow. That being said, many readers are already out on Snow, someone we know will go on to perpetuate the Games and therefore the unimaginable suffering of Tributes and their families for decades. But Collins does offer a smart look into how young people can be easily swayed when they lack responsible role models.
The Bottom Line: 4/5 Brookie Stars
you’re anything like me, you spend 2008-2010 with a Hunger Games book in your hand. I specifically remember being at a training in college when Mockingjay came out and spending the entire week trying to discreetly read in my lap. So when I heard that Collins was adding to the cannon, I pre-ordered immediately. As I said, this novel is expertly paced and crafted with care and watching Snow’s journey is definitely compelling. Collins also offers a number of well-done references and Easter eggs that connect to the original trilogy, sometimes in passing and sometimes offering explicit explanations for previously unanswered questions. Ultimately, though, Snow just isn’t as compelling as Katniss. But please don’t let that stop you from reading!
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Rachel Gomes is a 30-something high school English teacher who lives with her high school sweetheart-turned-husband and their son. Rachel is a voracious reader who loves to learn and has her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. She’s happiest listening to podcasts and talking to friends about the latest news in nerd culture.
Favourite book: Don’t make me choose between A Song of Ice and Fire and Harry Potter
Favourite brunch spot: The Farmer’s Table