“‘People aren’t so bad, really,’ she said. ‘It’s what the world does to them. Like us, in the arena. We did things in there we’d never have considered if they’d just left us alone.’”
- Suzanne Collins, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
In a dystopian America, there were 13 original districts, one eventually destroyed by chemical warfare. One superior Capitol who won the war that led to the creation of a lottery: the Hunger Games. Two tributes, one girl and one boy, from the twelve remaining districts would be reaped each year to participate in a fight to the death that only ended when a single victor remained. Created to be a harsh, cruel reminder to the weak districts that the Capitol had all power and to prevent another rebellion. This tradition continued for seventy four years until the female tribute from District 12 was chosen, creating a spark of rebellion and the beginning of a war for independence.
In the best-selling The Hunger Games trilogy, the story of such a rebellion is told through the eyes of Katniss Everdeen, a girl from District 12 who volunteers in her younger sister’s place to participate in the 74th annual Hunger Games. This one choice eventually sets off a chain reaction of events that is explored in the remaining novels of the series and threatens the tyrannical regime the Capitol has enforced for over half a century. With inspiration from Greek Mythology and Roman influence, Suzanne Collins has constructed a futuristic world where killing is entertainment, power is a driving force for everything, and wealth is an unattainable superiority for most. Despite the ending of Katniss’s story, Hunger Games fans were left with many loose ends and questions, many of which can now be answered in Collins’s recent prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. This novel takes place towards the beginning of the Capitol’s rise to power and is told from the perspective of a familiar (and mostly disliked) character, Coriolanus Snow. Overall, I think this novel was a unique expansion on the world of Panem that gave more insight on the past of the Hunger Games as well as Coriolanus Snow’s path to tyranny by elaborating on C.J. Roberts’s quote “monsters aren't born, they're made.”
In comparison to Collins' other entries in the dystopian-YA saga, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes comes in at a rather modest position amidst my ranking of the original trilogy. When ranked from the 2008 original novel to this 2020 prequel, the results may be middling to others, but they are personally satisfying.
#4: Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins) - 2010
Against the rest of the saga, this finale to the main trilogy left a sour taste in my mouth of disappointment. It was rushed and uneven throughout and pales in comparison to the other three installments (yes, including The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes).
#3: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Suzanne Collins) - 2020
Unlike 2010's Mockingjay, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes did not disappoint as a meaningful addition to the saga that will entice readers to delve into the original trilogy again to connect aspects of both stories. It is a worthy treat that Hunger Games fans will surely be able to enjoy and savor.
#2: Catching Fire (Suzanne Collins) - 2009
A fantastic sequel to the 2008 original, Catching Fire solidified the then fledgling brand as blockbuster gold for publisher Scholastic. It spawned arguably the best of the film adaptations with 2013's The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and the novel featured an engrossing plot that played off the themes and gimmicks of the previous installment.
#1: The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) - 2008
The Hunger Games still delights as a fast-paced, snappy joyride that kicked off one of the most prominent franchises in the YA-literature and film landscapes. Its preceding installments were certainly enjoyable, even great at times, but none of them quite recaptured the fiery spirit of this 2008 modern classic.
Ambition will fuel him.
Competition will drive him.
But power has its price.
It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capitol, 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 BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES is Available Now.