Book Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
The highly anticipated prequel to the Hunger Games is finally here. Olivia Beveridge let’s us know if it is worth the read.
The announcement of the prequel to the hit Hunger Games trilogy was met with high anticipation and excitement from myself and countless other Hunger Games fans. Set 64 years before Katniss Everdeen is thrown into the arena The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes follows 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow as he becomes a mentor to the district 12 tribute, Lucy Gray, during the tenth annual Hunger Games. This book goes into the world building more than the original trilogy, focusing more on politics and the creation of the games, rather than the games themselves.
Over 500,000 copies were sold in the first week as many rushed to get their hands on the new release, including me. I sat down with the book that night and was met not with the gripping writing that I remembered from Suzanne Collins but something instead rather underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong the writing is fine, the plot is fine and the characters are mostly fine, but I expected more than fine from one of the most successful and influential young adult writers of the times.
I thought I would sit down and breeze through this book in a weekend, instead it was a long slog as I found myself procrastinating every time I had the opportunity to read. I had initially been intrigued by the idea that the book would be told from the perspective of a young President Snow, eager for a good old villain origin story, but instead was met with something that felt tedious and borderline amateurish. Now the title is a long one, so from here on I’ll refer to it as TBoSBaS. Now, where do I even begin.
I’ll start with one of the things that bothered me most about the writing, which is the songs that are interspersed throughout the story. The first song was fine, it created a nice parallel to Katniss’s singing in the original books, however, where those songs added emotion and background to scenes in TBoSBaS it become tired very quickly. Lucy Gray’s singing is part of what draws the Capitol audience to her, and what begins to connect Coriolanus to her, now you know the fact that he’s in charge of making sure she isn’t brutally murdered by another kid.
The book would have been much better had it been a multi-perspective story that moved between Lucy and Coriolanus, so that the reader could have a look at what the districts and the Capitol had experienced during and after the war. But instead, we are stuck with the young President Snow, I don’t think Collins wrote him to be a likable character, but I found myself downright despising him as the book went on. Rather than sympathize with the young tributes who had come from absolute poverty and were now headed to their deaths, he instead spends much of the first half of the book complaining about keeping up appearances. Any sympathy a reader might have for his hardships are over shadowed by the fact that we know he ends up as a tyrant who enforces the Hunger Games and helps them become the grotesque entertainment we are familiar with. Most of the characters in fact are rather unlikable, and those I started to enjoy did not get enough story-time, or in one particular case, the ending they deserved.
Any mentions of things that we can recognize from the trilogy seem to be tokens that either don’t add to the plot, or don’t make sense, such as the hole in the fence that Katniss uses – odd to think that it remained unfixed for over 60 years. Without spoiling anything Tigris makes a reappearance in this book and her connection to the Snow family seems like something that should have been mentioned in the original books, instead it feels as though Collins added her in as fan service without having to use a character that we already knew too much about.
The last 30 pages or so are what kept me pushing through this story, but there’s another 480 pages to get through. So, if you’re not dedicated to reading this book then those last 30 pages do not make it worthwhile. I desperately wanted to write a positive review for this book, though while it isn’t ‘bad’, it just has an overall dullness, and Collins chose the wrong character for a prequel.
If you’re a die-hard Hunger Games fan you might find this an alright read otherwise I would say this is one that can stay on the shelf.
Feature image: Alice Kjoller, YAK Media Designer