The Hunger Games series is arguably a massive turning point in the now expansive history of twenty-first-century young adult literature. It marked a clear departure from the comedic, romantic suburban plots to a stark, dreary dystopia that was not afraid of its readers being forced to ponder the larger realities of life, in a thematic warning for the future. The original trilogy from author Suzanne Collins, consisting of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay, was a massive blockbuster success for publisher Scholastic, so it is not surprising in the slightest that the fictional world of Panem has been roped in again for another entry in the saga.
In Collins’ larger commentary of the human condition and war, the cold, manipulative President Snow was the clear and consistent villain throughout the trilogy. His deceitful dictatorship powered the mechanisms that powered and sustained the fictional Hunger Games events for its some seventy-five years of operation. However, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, recently released in bookstores and storefronts around the world, takes a massive step back in time as a prequel to the tenth Hunger Games event and Coriolanus Snow’s pivotal opportunity to mentor in the Games. The novel is festered with the exploration of concepts of Enlightenment thinking concerning rebellion and war, the social contract, and tabula rasa, or the blank slate, all while maintaining the signature honesty, action, and tension that define the franchise as a whole.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes begins in Snow’s adolescence, as he struggles with the crippling economic state of his formerly prosperous family, doing his best to maintain an aura of confidence and charisma to his peers and professors at the Academy, while also making calculated moves to ensure his continuation into the University. For Snow, the Hunger Games and mentorship of a tribute begin as nothing more than an opportunity to gain a University scholarship, and thus, sustain himself and his family for a few more precious years. He has an ongoing struggle with Dean Highbottom of the Academy, who maligns the determined teenager from the very beginning, but Snow remains doggedly focused and at times, even lofty in his pride to move past Dean and continue on his track unfettered. When tributes are finally announced, Snow’s initial worries about the comparatively frail composition of his tribute, Lucy Gray Baird of District 12, are abandoned when she slips a snake into the dress of Mayfair, another District 12 girl, and gives a full-fledged performance on the stage. From this point onwards, Collins weaves a delicate but deliberate narrative of how the once-innocent inclinations of young attraction and romance can be corrupted and even rendered eventually fatal due to societal conditioning.
Sejanus Plinth, a fellow Academy student who was District-born, becomes this example, and from the very beginning of the Games and Reaping, as the Academy students work to mentor their tributes and devise methods of increasing viewership in the Capitol, Sejanus remains steady in his position that the District rebellions never warranted the inhumane treatment and dehumanizing conditions of the games. Throughout the novel, he serves as a crucial character foil to Coriolanus, as they grow closer during the Games, with Snow even risking his life to save his at one point by entering the Arena to retrieve him, and further as Peacekeepers.
The series of events marks a turning point in Coriolanus and a decisive victory in his ongoing internal struggle between the loyalty and devotion to the Capitol and the only life he’s known, or the adventurous and foreign path of straying from the Capitol.
Suzanne Collins had a clear vision for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes that extends beyond the opportunity to quench a fandom’s thirst for more content: to explore the circumstances and choices that provokes the inhumane dictatorship of the President Coriolanus Snow through the lenses of the tenth Hunger Games. Though the five-hundred and seventeen pages break into a hurried pace near the end, Collins paid painstaking attention to how each incident molded the otherwise seemingly unilateral character of Coriolanus Snow. The pairing of Enlightenment philosophy, social commentary, and tragedy makes for a heavy read, but it ultimately heightens the rest of the series, perhaps the
most important compliment I could give it.
THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES is an HBB Reviews Editor's Choice Winner!
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.