Like any Hunger Games fan, I was super excited when I heard we’d be getting another book set in the universe. I was less excited when I found out it centered around the teen years of President Snow. The last of my excitement died about a third of the way through the book. Womp.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
My Edition: Hardcover – 517 pages – 2020 – Scholastic – ISBN: 9781338674453
It’s time for the 10th annual Hunger Games and for the first time, 24 students from the Capitol will be chosen to mentor the tributes from the 12 Districts. The winner of the Hunger Games will bring glory and a scholarship to their mentor and Coriolanus Snow intends for his tribute to come out on top. Especially after his family fell so far during the war – without the scholarship, the Snows might be out on the streets. Then other things happen to Snow that no one really cares about and then we “understand” why he is so evil later in the trilogy.
Ok, so maybe you can sense some sarcasm in my blurb. I’m thinking this review is going to devolve into a random rant. So let me give a brief, spoiler-free review for those of you who haven’t read this yet (though I honestly feel there’s not a whole lot of material to spoil.)
This is a chonky book for a character who doesn’t show any sense of “development” until basically the last chapter and epilogue. Snow is a fairly standard “poor little rich boy” type. My worry when I learned this book would center around him – and I think I’m not the only one who had this worry – was that the reader was supposed to feel sympathetic towards him. Thankfully, I didn’t experience that because Snow was whiny and, more than anything, boring AF. I’m not sure sympathy or understanding for Snow was the point of the book and it just missed me, or if it was just supposed to be a peek into his childhood…for…reasons.
Basically, I don’t know what the point of this book was. Why did we need to see what Snow’s teenage years were like? After finishing the book, I don’t really feel like I gained any insight into his character. He’s an awful man, what more did I need to know?
It was interesting to take a look at the post-war Capitol, because after 10 years the city was still suffering the aftereffects of the uprising and it’s not the high-tech, fashion-forward city we see in the trilogy. In the same vein, the 10th annual Hunger Games are vastly different from the 74th and 75th games Katniss is forced into. The 10th games were incredibly low-tech in comparison, so it was neat in a disturbing way to think about the strides the Capitol made in developing the games, and even the treatment of the tributes.
That being said, I’d much rather have had a sort of lore/textbook that goes over the history of the development of the Capitol and the games. The early history of Panem would be cool too. But realistically, after loving my re-read of the trilogy, I don’t need any more Hunger Games books. I love what Collins accomplished with the trilogy and I think it’s ok to have unanswered questions.
Especially if that question is: what was Coriolanus Snow’s childhood like?
I did find this explanation from Collins:
“ On returning to the world of The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins said, “With this book, I wanted to explore the state of nature, who we are, and what we perceive is required for our survival. The reconstruction period ten years after the war, commonly referred to as the Dark Days—as the country of Panem struggles back to its feet—provides fertile ground for characters to grapple with these questions and thereby define their views of humanity.” “
Reading that, I kind of see where she was trying to explore humanity and what those in the Capitol feel is needed for survival. I’m not sure it needed to center around Snow though. Of course, I can’t sit here and tell you who would be a better character to follow. But overall, I was incredibly unimpressed by this book and despite Collins’s explanation, I still feel like it was unnecessary. However, if she wrote more Hunger Games books, even about Snow, I’d buy them because I’m a slut for the series. My advice to the more casual reader would be to either skip this book or borrow it from the library though.
Ok, now on to spoilers (strap in, it’s long).
So, this book starts off with Snow hoping he gets picked for the mentorship program for the games, because his family is broke-ass after the war. His parents are dead, and he lives with his gram and his cousin, Tigris, in an apartment they can barely afford. Tigris works in the fashion industry and Snow is just a student. Some families came out of the war ahead of others and the Snows are doing their best to hide their poverty from others.
Snow gets picked to mentor, of course, and ends up with the girl tribute from District 12. Apparently, District 12 has been looked down upon forever, because he’s pretty bummed about that. What was interesting to see is that while the students have applied for this new mentorship program, it seems they’ve done so mostly for the academic clout and later for a university scholarship that’s offered. Many of the students don’t agree with the games, or at least aren’t super hyped for them. That’s good, at least.
Enter the District 12 female tribute, Lucy Gray Baird. Her full name gets tedious very quickly. But she’s a singer, and part of a musical group of wanderers called The Covey (which I think was supposed to give readers the impression of gypsies) who got trapped in 12 after the war. She wears a rainbow dress, she’s beautiful and delicate, and of course, Snow is pretty much enamored with her from the start.
The tributes are chained up and brought into the Capitol on train cars or trucks (I forget which) with no windows, bathrooms, or food apparently. They’re kept in old monkey cages in the zoo prior to the games. A few tributes die before the games even begin, so this is where it was interesting for me to see how the treatment of the tributes evolved over time. This is also the year where betting and sponsorships were developed. Basically, Snow does what he can to get food to Lucy Gray, and talks to her about life, and is definitely in love with her even though he really doesn’t know her. The mentors don’t really do anything in the way of mentoring their tributes, other than some trying to feed their tributes while they’re locked in the zoo.
At some point, the mentors and tributes go on a field trip to the arena, which I think has been the same location since the start of the games. There’s really no technology or special features, it’s just an old arena with stadium seating and some tunnels, and then a big open area. A bomb goes off and several of the tributes are killed and I think one or two mentors die from injuries as well. Lucy Gray chooses to save Snow from dying under a burning log rather than running away, so he loves her even more now.
Leading up to the games it’s basically just Snow thinking about how Lucy Gray isn’t like other girls, and also his interactions with the head game maker, whose name I forget. She’s some crazy old bat who basically thinks the key to keeping the Districts under control is to wage a war that the Capitol will always win – the games. She might have invented muttations, but if she didn’t, she’s developing them further. So, that’s like, some origin-type lore.
I found almost all of this to be boring. Like I said earlier, I did find it interesting to see how low-tech things used to be in the games, and it was a neat tidbit to learn that Tigris is Snow’s cousin. But I didn’t care about Snow’s “plight”, nor his feelings for Lucy Gray, nor Lucy Gray herself.
Anyway, the games happen, and I hate to say it, but they’re boring. Ok, maybe boring isn’t the right word, because that implies that I, like some sick Capitol fucks, find children murdering each other to be exciting. But I think because the book follows Snow, I wasn’t invested in any of the tributes. As someone who has read the trilogy, I know what it’s like to follow tributes into the games, and how invested I get, and how hopeless it feels to root for characters that you know can’t survive (like Rue -sob-). This book is written so that readers really only know about Lucy Gray, because of Snow’s investment in her. But his investment didn’t translate to mine. Long story short, most of the tributes are half-dead by the time the game starts and Lucy Gray wins.
After her win, it’s discovered that Snow technically cheated to help her out so now he’s a Peacekeeper. I honestly didn’t see that coming. But it’s not really impactful because he still leads a pretty sweet life in comparison to many in 12 (and definitely in comparison to those in Katniss’s time). And he gets to be in District 12 with Lucy Gray. Again, none of this matters to me because I never cared for Snow as a character. Even if I’d never read the original trilogy, I don’t think I would really feel for him, because he’s boring, whiny, and self-centered. For most of the book, he’s in this weird mindset where he doesn’t love the games (though I suspect that’s mostly because of his newfound love for Lucy Gray), but he also isn’t strongly opposed to them.
Basically, once he’s a Peacekeeper, he can date Lucy Gray in his free time and suddenly he’s ready to run away from the Districts with her and her gang and try for a life in the woods or whatever. But a bunch of shit goes south and that never happens. Instead, Snow betrays his “friend” Sejanus (a character who originally came from District 2 and then became Capitol, but has always been strongly opposed to the games) and essentially causes his death. Snow is shocked by this, but I think it’s pretty obvious to the reader that this would be the result. Snow later rationalizes his decision, because, you know, he’s, like, evil and self-serving or whatever.
Then Snow decides again to run away with just Lucy Gray. And this is where his character suddenly “develops.” We see a little of it in his dealings with Sejanus, but it feels like he does a complete 180 after taking off with Lucy Gray. They basically take a long hike and Snow mentions killing three people. One is someone from the games, the other is someone from District 12 when their initial plan to escape turned sour, and the third is Sejanus. Only Lucy Gray doesn’t know about Sejanus, so when she asks who the third is, Snow says his old self. Smooth. They reach the little cabin and lake where Katniss later learns to swim with her dad, and Lucy Gray is going to go pick some katniss (the plant) for them to snack on, only she never comes back. This wasn’t super clear to me, but I’m guessing Lucy Gray realized Snow was full of shit about his third kill. It feels like he instantly goes crazy with panic, also guessing that she figured out he’s full of shit, and he starts wavering between wanting to kill her and talk to her. We never hear from Lucy Gray again.
Then he goes back to District 12, gets promoted, moves back to the Capitol, and basically becomes a son to Sejanus’s parents because they don’t know Snow got Sejanus killed either. And then he’s like, well-to-do and studies to be a game maker, and we all know he ends up as President.
If that sounds like a lot of shit happening in the last chapter and epilogue, that’s because a lot of shit happened in the last chapter and epilogue. Snow suddenly having all these strong, evil convictions right at the very end just didn’t make sense to me!
So here’s what I took away from this book: 10 years after the war, life in the Capitol was pretty simple, compared to what we know from Katniss’s time and fashion hasn’t yet become outrageous; the games used to be very low-budget, with minimal dangers, weapons, and no care given to tributes beforehand; mutts are just starting to become a thing; Tigris is Snow’s cousin; Snow has a history with District 12 including the plant katniss, singing girls and the hanging tree song, and mockingjays; and Snow became a power-hungry, self-preserving asshole overnight.
Was any of this really needed? If you ask me (which, if you’ve read this far, pretend you asked me and I’ve just been ranting in your face for an hour while waving my hands about and rolling my eyes), no. Do I regret buying and reading this book? No, because I’m an HG slut. But especially on the heels of my trilogy re-read, this really didn’t meet the standard of quality I’ve come to expect from Collins.
Suzanne Collins: Website