Suzanne Collins exceeds expectations with her Hunger Games prequel, A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
Once again, we open on a Reaping Day—the Reaping Day of the 10th Hunger Games. These Hunger Games, however, do not look like the Hunger Games we’ve all become used to. There are no makeovers. There are no mentors. There are no interviews with the fabulous Caesar Flickerman. There are no prizes or glory for the victors. In fact, most Capitol citizens don’t watch the Games at all. However, the Gamemakers want that to change, so in an effort to make the Games more entertaining, they’ve elected a mentor for each tribute from among the Capitol’s youth.
Coriolanus Snow, age 18, is assigned to mentor the tribute from District 12. He comes from a rich, old Capitol family who is clinging to their prestige by fraying threads. All of their assets went up in smoke with District 13, and since then, they’ve been desperately trying to find a way to climb back on top. Coriolanus, a charismatic, bright, ambitious young man, believes that the only way to do this is by performing well as a mentor and winning a college scholarship. When he’s appointed to District 12, it feels like his dreams are being crushed. It’s impossible to win if you’re from 12, especially as a girl. But his tribute is not a typical down-trodden miner girl… she’s something else entirely, something almost other-worldly, with a singing voice that leaves Capitol audiences captivated. She’s someone viewers will root for, and maybe, just maybe, Coriolanus can lead them both to victory.
Now, when I first heard that this book was going to star President Snow, I was very wary. Like all Hunger Games fans, I loathe President Snow. Suzanne Collins did a fantastic job creating a villain for her series, and although I am the reader who often sympathizes with villains with tragic pasts, there are some who I am determined to never feel sorry for, and Snow is one of them. However, I think Collins walks a perfect balance throughout this novel. I never felt bad for Snow, but up until the end of the book, I didn’t outright hate him either. Honestly, during my entire reading experience, I didn’t completely know how to feel about him. He’s not straight out unlikable—in fact, he’s likable. He’s funny and handsome and charming, a rising star. Yet even from the beginning, I could sense echoes of who he will become. He’s ambitious and self-focused, concerned with his own future above all else, which even shows up in his personal motto, repeated throughout the book: Snow lands on top. He’s also both obsessive and possessive, which is displayed in the love story. Despite believing himself to be head-over-heels in love, it’s clear to the reader that it’s something more akin to obsession. He finds the Hunger Games revolting, but he firmly believes that the Capitol is necessary, that without control, chaos would reign, and chaos is unacceptable.
While I know that some readers were bored by the more philosophical tone of this book, I found it fascinating and never dull or preachy. Through different conversations with the head Gamemaker, Coriolanus explores why control is so important. What are people really like in the State of Nature? Are all people naturally good and peaceful deep down, or do we all have the capacity to become vicious killers?
One area where I think the book could have done better is point of view. While the original trilogy is first person, where we are right in Katniss’s head, this book is third person, so we are still in Coriolanus’s head, but we feel a bit removed from him. That might be necessary, as he is a villain, but I did wish I could be closer to him and hear more of his thoughts.
Snow is the most interesting character in this novel, and he dominates it more than anyone else, but I did thoroughly enjoy all of the side characters. They were all fleshed out, with their own struggles and motivations. Some of these characters were much, much worse than Coriolanus, but some of them were actually good people, who I felt like I could root for.
For Hunger Games fans, this is a must read. I had some misgivings going in, but once I started reading, I could not put it down. Happy reading, book nerds, and may the odds be ever in your favor.