Title: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (The Hunger Games #0)
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: May 19th, 2020
Standalone/Series: Series (Prequel)
Genre: Young Adult – Dystopia
My rating in stars: 3 stars
My rating in words: Mixed feelings
WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
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 Capitol, 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.
MY THOUGHTS (contains SPOILERS):
A little backstory: when I found out that there was going to be another Hunger Games book, I was anxiously excited. The Hunger Games series is one of my favorite series and the world of Panem is so intriguing that it’s undeniable there are still so many stories that can be told. When I found out the story was a President Snow prequel however, my interest faded. Because I generally just have no interest in villain origins stories. Especially a villain such as Snow who is undoubtedly a good villain in the original series, but didn’t intrigue me enough to know his backstory. And yet, when the release date was there, I was filled with an inexplicable need to read the book ASAP. I NEEDED to know what it was about, before I would be spoiled.
And so I got the book and I finished it within a day. So I can definitely say the book was gripping and addictive. But my feelings after finishing… they are very mixed. So I’m doing this review slightly different than I usually do. I’ll just talk about the different aspects of the novel that made me feel something, whether good or bad. But I can’t do this without spoilers. So please be aware that the next few paragraphs will be spoilery.
The worldbuilding. Honestly, I think this is the part of the novel that I enjoyed the most. It was really interesting to see what the Hunger Games looked like in the beginning and compare them to what we all know they would become in Katniss’ era. We witnessed why these started, how they started and the reasons why they morphed from a pretty low-key but very brutal punishment where the tributes were pretty much just dumped into an arena with weapons, to an interactive, ‘entertaining’ horrorfest with mutts and stylists and sponsors and all that. And that was intriguing to me. We also see how the Capitol dealt with the outcome of the war and see things from a different perspective. We see the Capitol people more as regular people who are not all bad then we do when we first met them through Katniss’ eyes. And we get some connections to the later trilogy, like the origin of the Hanging Tree song and an intro to Snow’s hatred of mockingjays. Which brings me to…
Snow’s origin story. This is what I’m most conflicted about. Because this is not your typical villain origin story. This is not a story that’ll make you feel sympathetic for the villain, who was only turned villainous through a major loss or trauma or some other ‘understandable’ reason. This is not a Snow redemption story. No, Snow is an unlikeable character from the start. But he thinks he’s a pretty swell guy himself, and thinks he’s entitled to so much more than what he’s got. Sure, we see him struggling because he’s poor and hiding it, going against teachers who hate him and ‘befriending’ other characters like Sejanus and Lucy and yes, sometimes he feels bad when terrible things happen to others. But that’s the thing, just when you start to think ‘maybe he’s not so bad’, his internal monologue proves you wrong. He’s selfish, manipulative, judgmental and entitled. His relationships with others are all about what they can do for him, or how he can use them for his own good. He only wants power and basically he just want to be in control and not feel powerless ever again. That’s it. And though I appreciate that this is not your typical villain origin story and it was a great character study of Snow, I also just simply hated reading from his perspective.
The writing style. It seems like Suzanne Collins made the very deliberate choice to switch from Katniss’ first person POV to a third person writing style for Snow’s POV. And this was a very fitting choice for telling the story and showing the personality of Snow. Because while the reader was able to relate to Katniss, feel for Katniss and root for Katniss, this is not the case at all for Snow. In fact, it felt as if the story was told from a distance. Almost like a documentary. And it made it difficult to feel anything. It felt like even as a reader of Snow’s POV, I was disconnected from the story. Like Snow was disconnected from the story. Like he’s just observing other people, but never really FEELING anything for them. Which is brilliant writing, but also not what I personally like in a story.
Lucy Gray. I quickly fell in love with our new District 12 tribute. She was such a refreshing character and though I loved Katniss, it was nice to see this girl being such a breath of fresh air and yet bad-ass in her own way. She’s a singer and artist foremost and as someone with no combat or hunting experience, it was a different experience seeing her enter the Hunger Games and dealing with all of it. However, I also still have the most questions about her. I didn’t buy into the romance aspect of it all, and though that probably mostly had to do with my own dislike of Snow and the writing style, I was wondering all the time whether she was playing him for survival or actually liked him. And of course, I never thought Snow actually liked her either, because his love felt more like possessiveness of a girl who could help him reach his own goals.
The secondary characters. Honestly, I almost wish this story was told from someone else’s perspective. I was so intrigued by both Lucy Gray and Sejanus and wanted to hear the story told from their POV. Though of course, then it wouldn’t have been the Snow origin story it now was. But both these characters I could understand, I could relate to, while Snow I could not. I also was so shocked Tigris was in this, and I wanted more from her. Even Snow’s classmates like Clemensia and Lysistrata were more appealing to read about and I’m sorry we didn’t get more of them. But then that’s because I gravitate towards the empathetic characters, I guess.
The ending. I’m still wondering whether that ending was pure genius or pure frustration. I have questions that I still need answering. It wasn’t the satisfying ending or even shocking ending I wanted, but the fact that I’m still thinking about it days later means something too. I can’t wait to debate this ending with other people who read it. What do you think it means?
Overall, I’m rating it 3 stars. I adored the worldbuilding, the deeper understanding of the world it brought and the links to the original trilogy. Though I hated the character of Snow and reading his perspective made me feel very uncomfortable and repulsed even, I appreciate the twist on a villain origin story we got. On one hand I don’t think this is a necessary story to read if you loved The Hunger Games, but I’m still happy I read it because it’s a gripping story. I want to discuss it with other readers, and I’ll be awaiting movie news. And I’ll be rereading and rewatching the original trilogy, that’s for sure!
“The show’s not over until the mockingjay sings,” she said.
“The mockingjay?” He laughed. “Really, I think you’re just making these things up.”
“Not that one. A mockingjay’s a bona fide bird,” she assured him.
“And it sings in your show?” he asked.
“Not my show, sweetheart. Yours. The Capitol’s anyway.”
“His girl. His. Here in the Capitol, it was a given that Lucy Gray belonged to him, as if she’d had no life before her name was called out at the reaping. Even that sanctimonious Sejanus believed she was something he could trade for. If that wasn’t ownership, what was? With her song, Lucy Gray had repudiated all that by featuring a life that had nothing to do with him, and a great deal to do with someone else. Someone she referred to as “lover,” no less. And while he had no claim on her heart — he barely knew the girl! — he didn’t like the idea of anyone else having it either. Although the song had been a clear success, he felt somehow betrayed by it. Even humiliated.”
“So he added a paragraph about his deep relief on winning the war, and the grim satisfaction of seeing the Capitol’s enemies, who’d treated him so cruelly, who’d cost his family so much, brought to their knees. Hobbled. Impotent. Unable to hurt him anymore. He’d loved the unfamiliar sense of safety that their defeat had brought. The security that could only come with power. The ability to control things. Yes, that was what he’d loved best of all.”
“We control it,” he said quietly. “If the war’s impossible to end, then we have to control it indefinitely. Just as we do now. With the Peacekeepers occupying the districts, with strict laws, and with reminders of who’s in charge, like the Hunger Games. In any scenario, it’s preferable to have the upper hand, to be the victor rather than the defeated.”
“He knew this would be easier if he wasn’t such an exceptional person. The best and the brightest humanity had to offer.”