Critics’ Corner

Book: Hunger Games Prequel “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is Captivating Yet Wordy

Ellie O’Sullivan, Staff Reporter, Junior

Continuing the famous Hunger Games series, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins was released on May 19, met by generally mixed reviews. The book acts as a prequel to the original trilogy, taking place about 64 years before the events of the first book. The main protagonist is Coriolanus Snow, the future antagonist to Katniss Everdeen. The plot shows his slow descent from a young privileged kid growing up in the Capitol during turbulent times of revolution, to a power hungry college student with sociopathic tendencies. 

In trying to keep the Snow family name prestigious after the loss of the family fortune, Coriolanius begins the novel in constant worry of trying to keep up his family’s appearances, from having his cousin find him a better dress shirt, or always thinking of an excuse as to why his schoolmates can’t visit his luxurious penthouse that is currently in shambles. The book begins on the day of the reaping for the 10th annual Hunger Games. The Games in itself are in a very early stage of development and are nowhere near the well-oiled machine that most readers are familiar with in the original trilogy. Snow has managed to get on the high honor roll and, with the fame of his family name, he has scored a spot as a brand new mentor to the incoming tributes. He is shocked, however, when he is assigned a girl from District 12 as his tribute, as the female tributes, especially from 12, happen to have the least chance at winning. However, his doubts weaken when we meet Lucy Gray, the charismatic and sing-songy tribute (turned eventual love interest) that wins the audience over in a heart-beat after her fiery introduction at the reaping. Snow and Lucy Gray quickly become a good team in preparing for the Games, despite the subpar conditions the tributes are kept in. The rest of the book follows Snow as he tries to help his tribute in the arena and the consequences he faces from some of his more questionable actions. 

For the most part I found this book rather enjoyable. One of the few issues I had, though, was with the pacing. It boasts about 200 more pages than any other in the series. This book could have lost probably about 30 or so pages from a lot of pointless scenes that don’t go anywhere. There are small bursts of excitement only to be followed by a few much longer scenes that dragged the story down. The writing in itself is as to be expected; Suzanne Collins is excellent at writing in such a way that makes it hard to bore the reader, even during the aforementioned slow parts. My main problem with the writing is that Collins adopted a much deeper narrative, showing the difference in views of how people view basic human instinct and humanity itself. This is fine, but the metaphor came off so heavy-handed it took me out of the world and into the headspace that one would have during 9th grade english class. It also felt like a missed opportunity on world building. Since the series is science fiction and set in a dystopian future, the reader expects to eventually know how this alternate future came to be. Not knowing made sense in the original books where Katniss was merely an uneducated kid who only cared about her and her family’s survival. Collins easily could have slipped some lore here and there to make sense of this world; Snow is an educated man, after all. Another smaller issue was that there were a lot of songs and lyrics included in the book which disrupts the flow of reading, especially when they’re brand new songs with unfamiliar tunes, save for Oh My Darling, Clementine. 

Despite all of the flaws presented, I still think that this book was very good and an overall fun read. For big fans of the series, it’s definitely something to be picked up. Despite not adding much world building, the book does add a lot more bits and pieces of how some things came to be and you can occasionally see a familiar name here and there. Without spoiling much, the writing in the last 60 pages of this book was genuinely some of the best in the series. It excellently demonstrates how Snow suddenly has to evaluate who he trusts and who he wants to be, and how he finally sinks into the evil man that we would later come to hate. All in all, I enjoyed this book and I think it made for an excellent read. This isn’t the end, though, Lionsgate has already announced its plan for a future movie based on The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, so keep an eye out for a huge biggest addition to one of the highest grossing Young Adult franchises of all time.