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

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

***This review includes spoilers***

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a prequel to The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Set 64 years before the events in the main series, The Ballad follows the life of Coriolanus Snow years before his eventual rise to power as the tyrannical president of Panem. 

After the impoverished districts of Panem were defeated by the ruling Capitol city during a failed rebellion known as the Dark Days, the Hunger Games was established as punishment and required the surviving twelve districts to send two young “tributes” to participate in a fight to the death that would take place every year.

As a top student in the Capitol, eighteen-year old Coriolanus Snow is selected to participate as a mentor to one of the tributes in the 10th Hunger Games for a chance at a prize that could support his studies at the University. With his family left penniless and in decline after the Dark Days, Coriolanus is disappointed when he is assigned to a seemingly weaker District 12 girl named Lucy Gray Baird. However, he eventually builds a close relationship with her and becomes determined to carry the two of them to victory and bring glory to his family’s name. 

Although the choice of protagonist for this prequel was unexpected, Collins provides a fascinating view of the Hunger Games and life after the Dark Days through Coriolanus’s background as a Capitol citizen. His warped perception of the districts, for instance, is expressed earlier on through more subtle remarks and dismissals of the citizens, cultural norms, and poor conditions outside of the Capitol. His more moderate opposition to the Hunger Games also provides an interesting contrast to his avid support and contributions at the end of the story, yet manages to make the change in his character more convincing. 

Aside from what is shown through Coriolanus’s character, the 10th Hunger Games, while not as action-packed, is an event as silently grim as the conditions of the war-torn world around it. Reluctant Capitol audiences, a damaged arena, and the slow deaths from illness and poison introduce readers to an early version of the Hunger Games that lacked the amount of sensationalized storylines and excitement in later renditions, and hints at the smaller changes that led to its reality show-esque reputation provide a new understanding of the desensitized Capitol citizens confronted in the main series. 

Even with its merits, however, certain elements of the book fall flat. The conclusion of the last act, especially when placed alongside the slow, reflective, and occasional meandering of the rest of the novel, made the transition to Coriolanus’s final descent to villainy feel rushed, and events like the death of Sejanus Plinth were executed too quickly to process, leaving much to be desired from some of the most captivating parts of the story. 

Overall rating: 9/10

As a prequel novel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a huge departure from the setting and story found in the main series and provides readers with an interesting perspective on the history of Panem and the Hunger Games as well as the life of Coriolanus Snow himself. However, the slower progression of events paired with a disorientingly fast-paced ending leave much to be desired from some of the story’s most interesting features.