Review of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

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.
 

Despite getting this book on release day I’ve only just got round to reading it, since release I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews which did lead to a lot of trepidation on my part going in but I tried to keep an open mind. Like many, I was hoping for a Mags back story, so a whole book about Snow felt disappointing from the start, however, young Snow was an easy character to read and I found myself picking up the book at every spare moment. Snow’s background is unexpected, but do you know what, every time I started to feel sympathy I had to remind myself that this is Snow.

The Hunger Games is far from the glittering spectacle that we see in Katniss’s time. Malnourished and ill tributes, basic weapons that they are barely strong enough to hold and a bleak arena, the “lesson” isn’t being taught to the districts as most of them don’t have the TV’s to watch. The story is set just 10 years after the war and the physical scars run deep, Panem is still rebuilding and the games an afterthought of sorts. However, we get to see the building blocks of future games which was a fascinating process. There is a certain irony laced throughout the story, that Snow finds himself with the District 12 girl the greatest. From the mention of the Katniss plants to the origin of several of the songs that future Katniss will sing, the way these feed into his psyche give a welcome explanation to his treatment of future Katniss in the original trilogy.  I liked the nod to powerful families and names we recognise and I do wonder what randomiser Suzanne Collins uses to come up with some of these names!

What made this book for me was understanding Snows analytical mind, throughout he was always one thought ahead, considering how his outward persona disguises his inner turmoil, he has a serious chip about the lot he has found himself with. He still has a moral compass although the way he is able to compartmentalise it to further himself in an often ruthless way was disturbing, his inbuilt elitism simmering beneath the surface. Even the idea of love felt mechanical, a distraction at best and something to learn from. The change is subtle but when taken over 500 pages gives a natural progression. One things for certain, he has an outstanding story arc. I do have to mention Lucy Gray as she is the next most important player, however I struggled to particularly warm to her. Personally I feel that she was as calculated as Snow in many ways and always putting on a show of sorts.`

Whilst we are with the games and the lead up to them the book has pace, the macabre fascination with who gets taken out and in what way is as real as ever especially given the evolution within those few days. However part 3 was where the story started to lose its way for me. Snow needed to be humbled and get those experiences but the pace just plummeted and honestly it felt like wading through tar at times, although I still had a need to keep going. I just didn’t care about that aspect of the story, mainly due to my thoughts about Lucy Gray. I felt like final set piece was written with an element of nepotism for the inevitable film child this book will produce. It plays out in way that would be striking on screen, it just lacked clarity on the page. I had to re-read several times and I’m still not really sure, whilst there is an element of the existential for one of the characters I would have preferred actual closure.

I did find it an enjoyable read though and actually a quick read for the number of pages. Snow was the right kind of morally grey protagonist and actually more engaging than I thought he would be – although he’s still Snow. I’m hoping that this might be the start of a new trilogy, I would still love to see a Mags games and it would be the perfect segue into Snow’s time as Gamemaker.

4*

 

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