By Brooke Thompson
When I first found out Suzanne Collins was releasing a prequel to the Hunger Games trilogy, my inner middle school self squealed in excitement.
When I read the blurb for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, my excitement grew. A whole book about the tyrannical, sociopathic President Snow…as a teenager? Perhaps, this would answer my many questions about him. So, you may be wondering:
Did the book deliver?
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Before the Hunger Games: The Character of Coriolanus Snow
When I first opened the book, I naively thought this book would be much like Wicked – a story about a misunderstood hero who had the purest of intentions suddenly being villainized by their peers.
However, quite the opposite happened. The character of Coriolanus Snow went from likable to unlikable in a matter of 517 pages. I grew to hate Snow as a character yet at the same time sympathize with him.
To explain why would be going into spoiler territory. To avoid that, I will say this: Snow goes from a respectable honor student to a ruthless killer.
However, to give some credit to Snow, the main concept of the book explores the primal nature of humanity – how, given the circumstances, would we resort to violence to ensure our survival?
A concept that seemed to puzzle Coriolanus throughout the novel yet played a role in his growth as a character.
We see this in the beginning where he plays mind games with everyone – his friends, classmates, and superiors.
These mind games involved Snow always feigning emotions, in order to get information or to get out of trouble. There was always a sentence that went along the lines of “He adopted this [insert facial expression] to show [insert emotion].”
He always did this to disguise his true intentions – whether it be as simple as lying to a teacher about an assignment to feigning surprise over a murder.
This is what made him such a compelling character. No matter how much I wanted to hate him and quit the book, I had to see what he did next.
The Story of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
While the Hunger Games trilogy explores the aspect of a tribute being inside an arena where you have to fight for survival, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes shows a fight for survival in the way of mind games in a world of politics.
The mind games were not nearly as exciting as the action-driven plot of The Hunger Games. This is what made the pacing slow. The novel seemed to pick back up once the actual Hunger Games started, yet when they were over, the novel slowed down again.
There are points where I was like, “I get it! Everyone is divided on whether or not the Hunger Games is bad!” or “Snow is contemplating that. Great. Let’s move on!”
However, I believe that if the story had been any faster, we would have missed out on the politics which would not have made many of Coriolanus’s actions feel earned.
But maybe that was the point of the book. While the Hunger Games trilogy was full of physical action, this one was more mental action. As humans, we tend to get stuck on a concept or idea until we understand it. This fact is the core of Snow’s character development.
While a lot of young adult, fantasy, and dystopian novels abuse the concept of a Deus ex machina (or plot conveniences) to get their protagonists out of sticky situations, Collins did a fantastic job of avoiding that.
She allows Snow to fail a lot throughout the whole book, yet we as the reader feel even more satisfied when he picks himself back up and keeps persevering – even at the cost of someone’s reputation, sanity, or life.
With every obstacle Snow cleared, it seemed to change him into the Snow we associate from the Hunger Games trilogy.
Also, the story was quite dark. On top of children fighting other children as punishment for a civil war between the Capitol and the districts, this book has animal abuse, child abuse, violence, racism, and veiled references to prostitution.
Besides Snow, what also makes the book dark is the sadistic scientist Dr. Gaul. For example, in one scene, she allows a bunch of snakes to attack a girl simply because she lied about her homework assignment.
So…Is The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Worth the Read?
I think The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes made an excellent prequel to the Hunger Games trilogy, even if it was a little slow. However, I would still recommend reading the Hunger Games trilogy first before reading the prequel.
The world building really isn’t there. While Collins does explain what a couple of things are in her book, she assumes her audience knows the terminology for some things and does not give an in-depth description of them as she did in the Hunger Games trilogy.
If a new reader were to read these out of order, they might be confused and possibly overwhelmed by the dystopian society. I would know because I haven’t read the series in almost a decade and I had to think about what meant what.
Aside from the world building issue, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes makes an excellent addition to The Hunger Games universe. It provides readers the origins of The Hanging Tree song, some insight on Snow’s character, and how certain rules and elements were added to Hunger Games.
In short, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is definitely worth a read.
Have you also read the new Hunger Games novel? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments below!