Read It! "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes" by Suzanne Collins 
Read It! "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes" by Suzanne Collins
by Sara

It’s been a long while since I visited Panem, but I recently took a trip back when reading “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” by Suzanne Collins.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

When I first heard Collins was releasing a prequel to her bestselling series "The Hunger Games", I wasn't sure what to think. I absolutely loved "The Hunger Games". When I first read it, I remember devouring it (pun intended), reading non-stop until I finished the trilogy. While I was excited for more from Collins, I had mixed feelings about the story. I wanted to know more about the revolution and the start of the games in Panem – how did they get to the dystopian world where Katniss, Peeta and Gale had to fight to survive. But I didn't think I'd enjoy reading about a young Coriolanus Snow - who would later become the villainous President Snow in Katniss' world. After the first few chapters, I was proven wrong. 

"The Ballad of Snakes and Songbirds" was just as enthralling as the original trilogy; I could not put it down. I've read many books before the Hunger Games and after, but there is something about this series that makes it hard to not consume all in one sitting. From a dystopian future to a unique cast of characters, from the (sometimes terrifying) biological inventions that come from the Capitol and the underlying commentary of human nature – it all make this series so good!  

Coriolanus, the heir to the once-prominent Snow family, is a student at the Academy. His family has fallen on hard times like many did after the war, but he finds a potential way to land on top when he is selected as a mentor in the 10th Annual Hunger Games. This mentorship is harder than he anticipated once he realizes the tributes are like him – a young person, not animals – and he sparks a connection with his tribute, Lucy Gray of District 12 – making him question everything he has known.

Collins did a great job incorporating pieces of Snow and Panem’s history that fans already knew from the original series into this prequel, tying them together seamlessly. Aside from getting an early look at Snow’s slow corruption and eventual rise to power, fans will appreciate the subtle explanation of Snow’s ever-present rose on his lapel, his relation to an future rebel and his deep-rooted connection to the Games, both from its inception to making them into what Katniss would face 64 years later. Other not-so-subtle connections are the mockingjays in District 12 and the origin of “The Hanging Tree” song. This story finds a way to weave itself into the series and set the grand stage for what was to come decades later in the Panem timeline.

One of the best parts of this book are the characters. Having read “The Hunger Games”, I thought I would have a hard time rooting for Coriolanus Snow. But for most of this book, he isn’t quite yet the Snow that you know (though there are definitely glimmers of his maniacal mind throughout). I actually found myself rooting for him, wanting him to the get “happily ever after” he thought he wanted – at least until his slow and steady corruption becomes evident. His tribute, Lucy Gray of District 12, is a likable character from the start, especially once the reader gets to know her – in many ways like Katniss, but softer. I found myself rooting for her, wishing she got a different ending.

His classmates gave more insight into the youth of the Capitol and the disparity of life in the Capitol versus the Districts, which made it easier to see how Katniss’ world came to be. One in particular, Sejanus, a boy from the Districts whose family rose to prominence during the war, is very interesting to watch. He struggles with his new identity as Capitol while not wanting to let go of his true identity as District, leading him to make hard decisions that affect more than just himself. Sejanus shows that maybe there aren’t as many differences between people as there appear, but instead people put up the barriers to divide. 

Head Gamemaker Dr. Volumnia Gaul gives even possibly the greatest insight into how Panem becomes the world we see in the original trilogy as she alters creatures of all kinds – even humans – in her lab. Her pushing of Coriolanus – both in his studies and even life after the Academy – gives insight into the views of the Capitol and how their desire for power is derived from chaos versus control. Her constant presence in Coriolanus’ life and mind seem to be a driving factor that takes him from Coriolanus, a young man trying to find a place in the world, to Snow, the man that would become a tyrannical president through less than respectable means. 

Overall, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is an engaging read and a truly great addition to “The Hunger Games” series. From beginning to end, there were twists and surprises that kept me guessing and immersed in the world of Panem as Snow worked his way through challenges to discover his ultimate fate and future. Without giving too much away, the ending left me absolutely shocked…but, as Tigris and Coriolanus both say – “Snow lands on top”.

Posted by svanholb@auroragov.org On 11 September, 2020 at 2:27 PM  

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