I had mixed feelings when news broke that The Hunger Games prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, would be about President Snow from the original trilogy. On one hand, exploring a villain’s story sounded fascinating, but I was also hoping the book would focus on Haymitch and the Hunger Games he won.
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.
The pacing in this book was all over the map – the first chunk focused on the politics in the Capitol and the set up for the Hunger Games, the next piece was about the Hunger Games themselves (which were relatively short) and then the last part was about Snow’s short career as a peacekeeper. Honestly, this book should have been much, much shorter than it was. With the exception of the days leading up to the Games, the Games themselves, and the last couple of pages, the rest just wasn’t exciting. Was it interesting? Yes. But it wasn’t the action-packed survival story I had hoped for and that I associate with this series.
I liked getting some background around the Games themselves – The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is about the 10th Hunger Games – the rebellion is still fresh in the minds of the citizens of Panem, and the Hunger Games were a rough and tumble battle royal without the bells and whistles from the 74th and 75th games. In this book we get to see the Games begin to be gamified – with the addition of gambling and food sponsorship as suggested by Snow. Reading about these games and who came up with the original mutts was fascinating and much, much darker than the 74th and 75th games – this one felt more like a gladiator match stretched over several days instead of a high-tech killing tournament.
My biggest problem with this book was Snow’s character development. For the first three quarters of the book, he was a pretty good person – he was raised in an affluent family and was majorly snobbish, but he grew to genuinely care for his tribute, Lucy Gray Baird. He was trying to do what was right for her and help her to win in any way he could. He made some morally grey decisions, but he made them with good intents. We really didn’t see his descent into villainy until the last 50-ish pages. It was like a switch flipped – he went from being decent to being an evil, irredeemable bastard. There was no motivation or real explanation, he just changed overnight. I am hugely disappointed with the way his personality all panned out – it just didn’t make any sense.
Overall, this is a fun read for fans of the original books. You get to see an early version of the Games, read about Snow in his youth, and meet one of the most clever and interesting tributes to be in the Games. However, Snow’s descent to evil felt arbitrary and rushed, which really nullified the purpose of this book. If you didn’t enjoy Mockingjay, I would give this one a pass. If you’re fascinated by the politics of Panem, definitely read The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. If you haven’t read The Hunger Games, I would recommend reading the original trilogy before this prequel. 3/5