The odds were in Suzanne Collins favor when she released the prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, to her hit trilogy The Hunger Games. Despite the skeptical nature of many long-term fans, due to its focus on the psychotic villain, President Snow, the prequel does the series justice.
The novel enters the mind of 18 year old Coriolanus Snow and presents answers to many of the questions which once surrounded not only this character but the Hunger Games itself. It takes place in the City of Panem, during the early years of the Hunger Games. The once prosperous Snow family has fallen on hard times and despite financially struggling, they attempt to present an illusion of power and wealth. Coriolanus, a student at the prestigious Academy, was chosen to mentor a tribute. He sees this as a chance to not only redeem his family name but earn a financial scholarship that would allow him to continue in school, if his tribute can win.
Coriolanus was assigned to mentor tribute Lucy Gray from District 12. Although Lucy Gray doesn’t have many skills that are useful for the games, she becomes a favorite for her magnificent singing voice and overall crowd appeal. Inevitably, Coriolanus falls in love with her as he tries to guide her to a win.
Coriolanus is manipulative and selfish from the start and only grows more so as the book progresses. With the combination of his charming facade and the many moments throughout the book that seem to redeem his character, readers are lulled into a false illusion that Coriolanus is a genuine person. Just as quickly as these moments happen, reminders of his underlying self-serving motives arise, revealing the slow deterioration of his humanity. Collins does not justify his later actions but shows readers how he gets to a point of sociopathy that is seen in the original trilogy.
This novel showcases Coriolanus’s evolution along with the progression of the Games themselves. It displays the beginning stages of the Games as Panem’s government officials navigate the difficulties presented in the early conceptualizations. In the prequel, tributes are placed in cages and are given little food nor any official training leading up to the event itself. Viewing is not mandatory and most Capital citizens are not fans due to the morbid nature of the Hunger Games. Ideas that are seen in the original trilogy are pitched and integrated into the games to make the audience more interested and involved.
Additionally it provided answers to various questions from fans of the original trilogy It brings to light the origins of the haunting song, “The Hanging Tree” and “Deep in the Meadow” otherwise known as “Rue’s lullaby.” It shows us the early stages of the Mockingbird and Jabberjays and sheds some light around Tigris, who is seen in the Trilogy as a store owner who aids Katniss and the Rebellion. Not only is this novel a look into the early stages of Coriolanus Snow’s rise to power, but it’s a book full of death, betrayal, selfishness, and evolution. It was easy to root for Katniss Everdeen as she battled her way through the war despite internal conflict because she retained her humanity. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is the opposite, showing a transformation of Coriolanus’s morals and actions in losing his humanity. This novel is not meant for readers to sympathize with the villain, but a display of how a person can become so twisted that they’d run the Hunger Games with no remorse.