Book Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a prequel to the bestselling The Hunger Games trilogy that has sold more than 100 million copies. If you have read Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy, then you know who Coriolanus Snow is. He is the tyrannical president of Panem where Hunger Games are organized every year in which 24 kids from the districts are selected to fight in an arena. They have to kill each other in order to survive and this bloodbath is telecasted live so that the districts never dare to rebel against the Capitol.

In her new book, Suzanne Collins tells the story of Coriolanus Snow and his tryst with the Hunger Games. But it’s not just the story of Coriolanus Snow. It’s also the story of the Hunger Games. It tells us how and why they come to be in the first place.

When I picked this book, I wondered why Collins chose the sadist Coriolanus Snow as the protagonist!  Was it an attempt to showcase the humane side of Coryo and to make the readers sympathize with him? Was Coryo a victim of circumstances which led him to becoming the cruel tyrant he was? But no, Collins doesn’t do anything of the sort. Coryo was a villain all along…sly, ambitious, and charismatic who could do anything to gain power.

Coriolanus Snow is just eighteen-years-old in this prequel to the Hunger Games trilogy. He is one of the Snows – a once mighty family in the Capitol but now is on the edge of desolation having lost all their fortunes in District 13. Coryo is desperate to preserve the image of his family and find a way back to the top. When the 10th Hunger Games comes around, few meritorious students are offered the chance to work as mentors to the tributes, with a scholarship to the elite university for the winner. Coriolanus’s graduation is now tied to the Hunger Games.

When Coriolanus ends up with Lucy Gray, the Girl tribute from District, he is disappointed, surely a Snow deserves better. But he must help Lucy Gray to win. In helping her to victory, he sees a chance at social redemption and a coveted scholarship to the university. He is determined to make Lucy Gray win for his own personal motive and also because he finds himself drawn to her. Will his relationship with Lucy Gray Baird change him forever? But there’s a darkness within Snow- a darkness that love cannot conquer, a darkness that Snow is willing to embrace to fulfill his ambitions.

Collins has effectively described the ill-effects of war. The districts are defeated and ravaged but the Capitol is no better either. There is hunger and starvation everywhere. A war spares none. There is no winner in a war…only losers.

When I talk about the characters, I didn’t like Coriolanus. Nobody did. We know from the Hunger Games series that he’s elitist, controlling and often, cruel. And the author has deftly carved out his character that you will end up hating him even more. Lucy Gray is an enigmatic character but she is not as feisty and courageous as Katniss Everdeen was. The character I liked the most in this book is that of Sejanus. As a troubled and confused youth who lives in the Capitol but sympathizes with the Districts, Sejanus wins our hearts.

Now coming to the relationship between Lucy Gray and Snow…Coryo claims to love her but it wasn’t love. He wanted to own her, to use her for his own self interests. The love story was doomed from the beginning.

This book is in no way a fast-paced thrill ride like the original trilogy. The scenes during the Games are sharply plotted and action packed. After the Hunger Games ended, the story falters a bit but then again picks up towards the end. The third part of the book, which takes the action to District 12, is the most revelatory in terms of Coryo’s real character.

The plot of the novel rests on deception and pretence with a bleak view of humanity.  There is friendship and betrayal. There are reflections on authority and oppression. And then there are the extra layers of lore about mockingjays and Capitol’s history which add an intriguing touch.

The book fails to reach the adrenaline-pumping urgency of the Hunger Games trilogy. It’s more of a cold-blooded philosophical justification of the Hunger Games from Coriolanus’s point of view. And for this reason, I will give it 3.75 stars out of 5. All in all, it’s a book worth reading, especially if you’re a big fan of the trilogy.

Title: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Originally published: 19 May 2020

Author: Suzanne Collins

Page count: 517

Series: The Hunger Games

Genres: Science Fiction, Thriller, Adventure fiction, War story

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