Review: Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes
Updated: Sep 12, 2021
The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, by Suzanne Collins (2020)
Listen, I'm just a sucker for a good prequel. I enjoyed this book, which takes place more than 60 years before the first Hunger Games novel, around the occurrence of the 10th annual Hunger Games in the Capitol (the first novel took place during the 74th annual games).
Ballad focuses on the back story of Coriolanus Snow - a very different kind of protagonist than Katniss Everdeen. You don't root for Snow, especially knowing what he becomes, but I found it totally fascinating to see how he became that person. He isn't born a sociopath, and yet you can see his "dark side" from the beginning. In Ballad we meet him as an 18 year old who has a humane side, is capable of friendship, and tries his best to take care of his family. At times, he chooses the "right" and courageous path, instead of the easy one. But not often. He rebels in small ways, only to learn that being complicit and following the Capitol's orders gets him further in life. There is no redemption arc, but there are explanations.
For the first two thirds of this book I would have rated it a 4/5, but the final third knocked it down to a 3... a bit rushed, and a bit too neatly tied up in a bow. I found Snow's character entirely believable - his flip-flopping between ideas and thoughts, good and bad - until the end when he "chooses" a side a little too quickly to match with the character he's been made out to be in the rest of the book. The other issue for me is that the book begins and ends when Snow is 18 years old, with no real explanation of how he manages to become President later on in life. I guess I expected this book to cover more than just one year. Maybe the gap in time leaves things open for another book? (If that is the case it's a shame, because I don't really want another one. It should have all been done in this book.)
I think the things I liked the most about this book were in spite of the character of Snow, rather than because of him. The new characters introduced in Ballad are compelling, including some with familiar last names (we clearly meet their offspring in the other books). And I really liked learning more about the world of the Capitol so soon after the war ended, and also how the Hunger Games were created in the first place. Every nod to the original three books gave me a little jolt of pleasure.
Do I think Collins could have chosen a better subject than Coriolanus Snow to focus a prequel on? Yep.
Do we need another one? Nope.
Do I still recommend this book to any Hunger Games fans? Yeah, I do!
UP NEXT: Luster, by Raven Leilani