When Suzanne Collins, author of the highly acclaimed “The Hunger Games” trilogy, announced that she wrote an accompanying book to the trilogy, my first thought was “yes!” Yet, when Collins released the synopsis of said new book, that excitement wilted as I discovered “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” centers on the vile antagonist from the main series, Coriolanus Snow. However, my hesitation to read it died out when I happened to pick it up in Publix, and I found myself enthralled in the story as the cashier patiently waited for me to hand her the book as I paid.
Set 65 years before Katniss Everdeen’s Hunger Games, “The Ballad of Songbird and Snakes” sees 18-year-old Snow navigating his way back into power after his family lost their wealth in the infamous war that birthed the Panem of the main trilogy. As the young nation began to rebuild, the not-yet fully-developed Hunger Games offered Snow a chance to regain his status as a mentor alongside 23 fellow classmates in the tenth annual Hunger Games. While this opportunity seemed golden to Snow, he faced an uphill battle as the mentor for the tribute deemed the most unwanted: the female from District 12.
However, Lucy Gray Baird, much like the female tribute who came after her, proved to be anything but timid, and as the Games take the form seen in the trilogy, the attraction between Lucy Gray and Snow grows. As the duo, who have a similar common goal of wanting Lucy Gray to win the Games yet different motivations behind said desire, become closer, the treachery in the Capital sinks its claws in deeper, reminding readers of how harsh and brutal this setting is.
While Collins’ enchanting writing style encouraged me to continue reading, the character-driven rather than fast-paced action plot left the 517 page novel feeling slow in places. Outside of district-born turned Capital-raised Sejanus Plinth, a reluctant 18-year-old mentor in the games, the characters’ morals, or lack thereof, didn’t allow me to empathize with Snow, an invoked emotion I find vital to well-done villain origin stories. Selfish, arrogant and power-driven, Snow’s character in “The Ballad of Songbird and Snakes” mirrors the characteristics amplified in the trilogy.
Without the original series, “The Ballad of Songbird and Snakes” would have been a flop. However, the parallels to the famous trilogy and Easter eggs Collins weaves into the story makes it worthwhile for fans of “The Hunger Games.” Often the revelations that paralleled the original series left me thinking “OH that makes sense now,” filling in gaps I never realized were missing to begin with. From the meaning of the iconic “Hanging Tree” song to the structure of the Games themselves, “The Ballad of Songbird and Snakes” serves as much of an origin story for the world Katniss lived in as for Snow himself.
What made “The Ballad of Songbird and Snakes” perhaps the most interesting was its ending. Without revealing any spoilers, the ambiguous ending both offers an explanation to why Snow became the way he was in “The Hunger Games” while also leaving speculation regarding other characters and their connections to characters in the trilogy. Well written, the ending solidified my opinion of the book offering a worthwhile read.
Despite the eloquent writing style and occasional fast-paced chapter, “The Ballad of Songbird and Snakes” would appeal most to fans of “The Hunger Games” who know the plot well. An intriguing look into the minds of one of the most notorious characters in young adult literature, this book offered “The Hunger Games” fans one last glimpse into the equally beloved and terrifying world of Panem.