I was so excited when I saw that The Hunger Games franchise was coming out with a prequel. I read the books in high school and I’ve seen all the movies, so I was super hype for this new book. When I bought it, for some reason I thought this was going to go back to before the Hunger Games started at all and explain how they developed the idea. That’s not what it turned out to be, but it still answered all my questions and kept my attention – if you loved the original books, you might want to grab this one.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes details the life of young Coriolanus Snow during the months surrounding the 10th annual Hunger Games. His family has a reputation for being rich, but he’s broke now since his parents died during the war that sparked the Hunger Games. He’s a senior at the Academy, the fancy high school for rich kids in the Capitol, and he’s been called to be part of the first group of mentors in the Games. He’s assigned to a small girl from District 12, so his chances of winning are slim to none. Throughout the book Coriolanus learns about human nature, love, and his true feelings about the Capitol and the Hunger Games.
Length: 517 pages
Additional Sections: A Q&A with Suzanne Collins and Questions for Discussion – Not must-reads, but I liked the discussion questions
Year Published: 2020
The Good Stuff
This book is separated into three parts, and I think it’s easiest to review them separately. I won’t share the names of the parts because it could give away the plot of the story, and I’m doing my best to keep this spoiler-free.
Part 1 really gives the set up for Coriolanus’s life and why he needs to win the Hunger Games. He lives with his grandma and his cousin, and they’re super broke. They eat like poor people, he has no nice clothes outside of his school uniform, and the only bit of dignity they have to cling onto is their reputation. No one knows they’re poor, so they do their best to keep up appearances. Now if you’re like me, as soon as you saw the name Snow you wondered if this is President Snow from the original books. It’s not so far in the past that it would be impossible, and President Snow was really old in the original books, so is this him? I don’t remember them ever saying President Snow’s first name, so it’s unclear.
What I liked about Part 1 was Collins’s ability to set the scene. She weaved the information about the old games in perfectly with the plot, so she didn’t have to pause the story to give the explanation. This woman can write, y’all. I learned a lot about how primitive the Games were at the beginning, and how resistant people were to watching. Because it’s only the 10th annual games, everyone can remember the time before all of this started. The war is still relatively fresh in everyone’s minds, and people aren’t interested in watching young kids kill each other on screen. The Head Gamemaker and the Dean use the students who they select as mentors to try to come up with ways to make the games more exciting so that people will watch. Coriolanus uses that as an opportunity to impress them and get a better chance of winning a scholarship to college, and he’s put in some difficult situations to prove his interest in saving the Games.
One of the biggest themes in this book is the idea of the Capitol vs. the districts, and how Capitol people look down on district people. Coriolanus ends up being associated with a District Two kid who moved to the districts, and he hates it. Being linked to the districts is so excruciating for him, and being from the Capitol is one of the only things that makes him feel better about himself, even if his family is broke. It reminded me a lot of white privilege in the U.S.; many poor white people in the U.S. feel superior simply for being white, even if their quality of life is no better than the people of color who are in the same place in life.
Part 2 was the best part of the book for me. This section is where the Games take place and we get to see all the details and differences between these Games and the ones we’re familiar with from the original series. I was shocked at how far the Games in this book are from the original books. They had the Games in the same arena every year, they didn’t clean up at all after the Games were over, and they made no effort to keep tributes healthy or strong enough to even have a fair fight in the arena.
Coriolanus is assigned to be the mentor of this weird but enchanting girl from District 12, and if he can help her win the Games then he can get a full ride to go to college. His determination to win and the situations he ends up in throughout the Games expands on the topic of human nature, and whether humans are basically good. Personally, I think the book showed that humans are selfish individuals, even when they’ve convinced themselves that they’re doing something for someone else. It becomes clear that Coriolanus is motivated by his own need to win the Games and repair his family’s reputation, and his desire to do that is understandable. I’m not saying I would do everything but he did, but the motivation behind it makes sense. Wealth is survival for him, so I could see why he was so hungry for it.
I thought Coriolanus’s relationship with Dr. Gaul, the Head Gamemaker, was interesting. Dr. Gaul was kind of a nut – she does lots of odd experiments and creates many “muttations.” She might be the only person in Panem who really loves the Hunger Games and is invested in making them “more fun.” Even though she makes Coriolanus uncomfortable in the book, she takes an interest in him and tries to push him to be more like her. She pushes him to test his loyalty to the Capitol and puts him in some insane situations just to prime him to fully understand and improve the Games in the future, and I enjoyed her part in the book.
Part 3 is the longest part of the book, and it might be the most confusing part up until the very end. I can’t really give away anything that happens in this section without ruining the book, but this section details what happens to Coriolanus after the Games have ended. I liked that this part tied everything together, and that it made many things in the original trilogy make sense. The epilogue was also very good, and I think it finally revealed everything about how Coriolanus views the Capitol and what he’s willing to do to prove his stance.
What I Would Change
I think Part 3 was longer than it needed to be. If there aren’t going to any other Hunger Games books after this, then I understand why Collins made it a little longer and gave us all the little details about where Coriolanus goes. However, as a person who reviews books and tries to read one a week, this was too long. This isn’t even the longest book I’ve read this year, but I certainly felt the length. It wasn’t so captivating all throughout the book that I didn’t notice how long it was.
There are also a lot of songs in this book. Some are familiar selections from other books in the series, and several are unique to this one. All of them take up a lot of space in the book. I didn’t dislike the songs; I think that at times they served as a great tool for moving the plot forward. But there were so many of them, and since you can’t figure out the melody of the song from reading it, it just feels awkward for there to be so many. I could’ve used less songs in the book.
Overall, I think this book is a good read. If you’re a fan of the original Hunger Games trilogy, you definitely want to check this out. It’ll answer a lot of your questions and Collins tied things back to the original books seamlessly. I thought it was good, and I can’t wait to see the movie. It’s a great addition to the Hunger Games series and does not disappoint.
Overall Rating: 8/10