Book Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Genre: Young Adult, Dystopia

Publishing Info: May 2020 by Scholastic

Pages: 517

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

AMBITION WILL FUEL HIM.
COMPETITION WILL DRIVE HIM.
BUT POWER HAS ITS PRICE.

It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capital, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute.

The odds are against him. He’s been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined — every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favor or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute… and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.

It’s been days since I finished reading this book and I’m only just now sitting down to write this review because I just couldn’t decide how to rate and review it. The Hunger Games is one of my all-time favourite series so I was incredibly excited when it was announced there would be a prequel. I was a little bit less excited when they announced it would be about a young President Snow as his origin story didn’t particularly appeal to me. But even so I pre-ordered The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes and read it as soon as my copy arrived. The weird title does make more sense once you’ve read the book.

While The Hunger Games is set during the 74th games, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is set during the 10th games. So the events take place a long time before the trilogy. My favourite part of this book was the world and seeing what Panem was like 10 years after the war. The Capitol is a very different place. Coriolanus Snow was a child during the war and saw poverty, starvation and death. In the year of the 10th Hunger Games, the Capitol is still recovering from the war.

The Hunger Games themselves are very different from the games we know from the trilogy. At this point, hardly anyone watches them, in the Capitol or the districts, because who would want to watch kids murder each other, right? There are no stylists. This is the first year they’ve had mentors. The first year they do interviews. The arena is just an old sports stadium in the Capitol. I found discovering more about the years after the war and the beginnings of the Hunger Games absolutely fascinating.

I didn’t know what to expect from this book. It’s very different from the original trilogy, which is a good thing as it doesn’t just feel like a recycled The Hunger Games. The book is split into three parts. The first part was definitely my favourite. There were some shocking moments in the build up to the games and I was hooked. Then in part two, we see the games themselves. I liked this part, but not as much as the first part. It could have been more exciting and suspenseful. It was interesting seeing the games from the perspective of a mentor, rather than someone in the games like we see in The Hunger Games, but that did mean I felt a little removed from the action. The games would have been more exciting if this part of the novel had quicker pacing. Part Three goes off in a direction I was not expecting, which was good from the perspective that it wasn’t predictable, but I did find this part a bit slow until right at the end. The third part could have been cut down a bit to improve the pacing and increase the tension. I wasn’t as gripped while reading The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes as I was when I read the original books.

The protagonist, Coriolanus Snow, isn’t likeable, but I didn’t hate him either. He seems quite elitist and constantly concerned about upholding the Snow family name. He’s obsessed with appearances and how other people view him, regularly putting on an act, being the Snow heir people want to see. His standing in society seems to be the most important thing to him. He seems sympathetic for his tribute’s plight, but then contributes to developing the Hunger Games along with his fellow mentors under the eye of the strange Dr Gaul. I don’t think he’s one of those villains who goes from being good to being bad. I think he’s kind of bad from the start, and has a chance to change the course of his life, but in the end treads the villain path instead because he values standing and power. However, I never really connected to his character, even though we were seeing the story through his eyes. I love villain origin stories where you feel invested in their character, even though you know how they’re going to turn out. But I didn’t feel that with this book.

Lucy Gray is quite a different character to Katniss. I was a little concerned that as she’s a girl tribute from District 12 it would just be like having another Katniss, but that wasn’t the case. Lucy Gray doesn’t have a skill that would help her fight like Katniss’s skill with a bow and arrow, but she has spirit. Her singing and charms make her popular with the public. She uses her wits in the games, rather than brute strength.

The romance element was a little strange. Coriolanus and Lucy Gray hardly know each other and I didn’t feel that much spark between them. Either there needed to be more chemistry between them, or maybe it would have been better if they had just become really good friends. Or maybe the point is that Coriolanus Snow just doesn’t have the capacity to love. Does he really love Lucy Gray, or is it just an infatuation?

The other characters aren’t memorable enough. I’d have liked to have seen more of Tigris. We didn’t really get to know her all that well in this book. I’m curious what happens to her between this book and the Hunger Games trilogy. I enjoyed seeing the origins of some of the songs featured in the Hunger Games trilogy and other references. We get to see where Snow’s roses come from – his grandmother grows them on the garden roof of their penthouse.

Unfortunately, I think this book was just too long. The pacing was off and that meant there wasn’t enough suspense through most of it. I was hooked at the beginning, but after Part One, the pacing is just too slow and lacking in tension. The element of this book I enjoyed most was definitely seeing what Panem was like in the early days after the war and the development of the Hunger Games.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is going to be adapted for a movie and I’m wondering if this is one of those rare cases where the film could end up being better than the book. If they do it well, the film could cut out the slow parts, cut out Snow’s dull internal monologues, and focus on the stronger, more exciting parts of the book. It could work well as a movie. I really hope it does!

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