Suzanne Collins’ infamous book series, The Hunger Games, revolutionised the very genre of science/dystopian fiction. 10 years after the release of the final book in this trilogy, Collins releases her chilling prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, detailing the fascinating past of the main antagonist of the original series, President Coriolanus Snow. Hannah Walton-Hughes reviews.
I will never read the original books in the same way again
As a huge fan of the original book series, I must admit that I’ve been rather hoping for a sequel to the trilogy, rather than a prequal. Like many readers, I had grown to love the story of Katniss, Peter, Haymitch, Effie etc., and was keen to discover what became of them after the last book ended. However, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes gives such an impressive and surprising backstory to one of the cruelest villains of dystopian fiction, that I will never read the original books in the same way again.
The novel follows a teenage Coriolanus Snow, who is waiting to be assigned as a mentor to one of the tributes chosen for the 10th fateful Hunger Games. Desperate to restore prestige and honour to his falling family name, Snow hopes to be given the crème de la crème; a District One/Two tribute, destined to win. What he does not expect is to be given the notoriously weakest link: Lucy Grey, District 12’s female tribute.
Lucy was my favourite character in this book. She defies all expectations of District 12 producing tributes that are weak, plain, and indistinguishable from each other, with her singing at the ‘reaping’ of the tributes, and her bright, colourful outfits. I won’t give away too much, but her strategy in the Games doesn’t involve brutality or physical strength. Throughout the novel, she shows a level of intelligence and individuality that sets her apart from the other tributes, and, ultimately, wins the heart of the ambitious Snow.
The tributes have to rely more heavily on their own survival skills and ingenious methods
The actual Hunger Games arena could not be further from the ultra-sophisticated, top-notch, technological masterpiece that we see in the original trilogy. Whilst technology is involved, the arena is significantly smaller and more basic; the tributes have to rely more heavily on their own survival skills and ingenious methods. I did find some of the fights and deaths a little too gory, but I am not in possession of a strong stomach, so other people probably wouldn’t bat an eyelid! It is The Hunger Games, so you should know what you’re getting yourself into.
Despite the simpler setting, the dialogue and characterisation throughout this book is wonderful, and really makes us feel as though we are going through Snow and Lucy’s story with them. The depth and emotion conveyed by Collins in a single conversation or description is incredible.
This book is highly satisfying in terms of explaining how Snow became the twisted devil he is in the later novels. It is extremely sad, in a way, because after reading Songbirds, you realise that his path could have been completely different, had he not become so obsessed with appearances and power. Power is his hamartia, and continues to be for the rest of his life. It is his ultimate downfall.
The whole sequence of events of the next three books can be examined through the lens of this prequel
Whilst no sequel/prequal that Collins publishes will ever be a patch on The Hunger Games, Songbirds does a good job of setting up something that we have already experienced. In some ways, the whole sequence of events of the next three books can be examined through the lens of this prequel. Who knows what would have happened if Snow’s life had taken a different turn? That is for you to ponder on when you read this amazing book!
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