Ballads, Songbirds, and Snakes REVIEWING The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Potential, slight spoilers ahead for the original Hunger Games series. No spoilers for the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes in this review, but if you haven't read any of The Hunger Games and want to without knowing anything more, please read a review for a different book!

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: YA Dystopian 
Publication Date: May 19, 2020


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 Capital, 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 tribue 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. 


My local library had the digital copies of this book ready to go right on release. My sister was ahead of the game and put it on hold, and only waited a few weeks before it became available for her. As soon as she finished reading it, she passed it my way, so I wouldn't have to wait the full length of time. The hold list stretched out for five months of waiting, until the library provided more e-copies, so I was able to get ahead of that, luckily. 

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a prequel novel to the popular and award winning The Hunger Games series. I originally read the series when I was in high school, probably in 2012. I really enjoyed it, and had several friends who enjoyed it around the same time. This book comes almost a decade after the last book in the trilogy, Mockingjay, was released. The last movie adaptation, Mockingjay Part 2 came out five years ago. It has been a little while since we have last seen Panem. Time for a little reunion, but in the past...

About the Book: 

This book takes place 64 years before the first book in the original series. The 10th Hunger Games have arrived, but the Capitol has decided to change things up a little. The games aren't the spectacle that we know them to be, but they may be soon, with the involvement of some students. 24 students are assigned to be the first ever mentors for the tributes selected from each district. One of those students, is Coriolanus Snow, of the House of Snow. Yes,  
THAT Coriolanus Snow...the one that we all know as President Snow. Coriolanus is a teenager in school, dreaming of a better future for himself and his family. The Hunger Games are a reminder of the war, designed to keep all the districts in charge, but nobody seems that interested in them so far. 

The students are invited to not only mentor tributes, but to make suggestions for how to "improve" the games. So far, no one has been allowed to send in helpful items to tributes. Bets are not made and there are no rewards for the districts who are victorious. Muttations are still in development and have not been used within the games prior to the 10th. Several of the markers of the games that Katniss participated in, have not yet come into play. The games are literally just a bunch of kids thrown together, trying to survive, by killing one another. 

Coriolanus remembers the time of the war and remembers the losses it caused him. He knows the struggle for food, of keeping up appearances. He wants to bring glory back to his family name, to not struggle for food as they've been doing. So he decides that he is going to do all he can to help his tribute, the girl from District 12, survive in the games for as long as possible, even if it means bending the rules. Lucy Gray, his tribute, must last longer than some of the other tributes, if he wants to have any hope of securing a scholarship to the Academy and bettering his situation. 

My Thoughts:

So I've read a few reviews myself after completing the book, and so far, it seems to be a bit polarizing. There are people who love it, a lot that don't, and all kinds of folks just in the middle. Me? I enjoyed it a lot. This book is very different from the original Hunger Games. This book is about a different kind of survival, and it is told in a very different way. For starters, it is written from a 3rd person perspective. The book focuses entirely on Coriolanus Snow, which is a cause for concern for many people. I didn't have a problem with it. While Coriolanus Snow is the "protagonist" of the story, he certainly isn't the "hero", and he isn't intended to be. This is not the kind of story where you say, "oh this poor boy, no wonder he turned out so bad, I feel so sorry for him!". No. Coriolanus gets NO sympathy from me. However, I do empathize, to a certain degree. There's the difference and the realization people need to have with this book. Do you end up feeling a bit bad for the guy? At the start, yes, absolutely. Who wouldn't feel bad for a kid who only knows war, is being shaped by a very flawed system, who has to hide how hungry he is or has to stow away extra food at any chance he gets? It's awful. That is as far as the feeling bad goes. The thing that this book does well, is show the CHOICES that Coriolanus made, that lead him to his future. His ACTIVE CHOICES as a human being, as a result of and in spite of, his personal experiences. 

What do I mean by that? Well, let's talk about it, without getting into spoiler territory. Coriolanus questions the Capitol. He questions the Hunger Games and his teachers, and the things that they are ALL experiencing. He has moments of doubt regarding the system and how it functions. However, he is unable to make the jump needed to become a hero, instead falling gradually further into the hands of the Capitol system. He is molded and shaped, and has every opportunity to make the choice to NOT end up becoming the President Snow we have come to despise. The path he goes down, ends up being a distinct choice, that we read him make. There is no question about the kind of person he is by the end of the book. There is no "oh, I feel bad for him. He had no other choice, he was forced into that and had no way out." No. 

Now that we have nailed that out, let's talk a bit more about what I liked about this book. I really liked the insight into Coriolanus's thoughts. Through him and the events unfolding within the book, we get a much more philosophical view of human nature, societal expectation, and political motive. I really enjoyed seeing what approaches were being used and the thought process. I liked the social dynamics, the counter views and discussions that were had, and the conflicts between characters. I also liked seeing the living conditions and social structure of people within the Capitol itself. In the other books, we knew more about District life and life within the games, but not a whole lot about the Capitol and the people who live there. In this book, we hear about some of the big names in the Capitol, the struggles that people have gone through there, and the way that young people are educated. Instead of just learning what it is like to be a tribute, we get to see what it is like to be watching the game as a mentor, and how other mentors react to the performances and casualties of their tributes. Overall, I found this view to be very informative about how the world of Panem and its' people think. It reveals just how voyeuristic the Hunger Games are and how much worse they will become in the later years. 

Other bonus things we get to learn about:
  • Tigris -- a fashionista lightly mentioned in the original series
  • The origin of The Hanging Tree song 12 that Katniss sings
  • A little about what District 12 was like 64 years before we meet Katniss there
  • How the Mockingjays came about and what Coriolanus thinks of them
  • What the muttations are like and how they're tested
  • Peacekeeper life
  • Coriolanus Snow's connection to roses
All in all, I thought this was a really intriguing book. It is very different from the original series, and it is told from the perspective of a future villain, but I enjoyed it greatly. I liked the new aspects added and the way the world is developed more. It is different, but I thought it was different in a good way. Lots of people disagree with me and found it to be boring, or hard to get into, which I can understand. I really liked that this book stands on its own as a story and brings something new to the table. It is more of a behind the scenes or a history of Panem in some ways, than a "Hunger Games" book. I give The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes a Lone Star rating of ✯✯✯. I definitely recommend it if you're interested, or if you love the world of The Hunger Games, but if you can't get into it, there is nothing at all wrong with that. It is different and has a lot of choices made in it that people won't like, but that is part of the story of the world. We aren't supposed to like the decisions and to a certain extent, I don't think some of the decisions made are meant to be fully understood in a rational way. If you're ready to see Panem from a different point of view, then definitely check out this book. 

No spoilers for this book will be allowed in the comments (I moderate them), but if you want to discuss the book further, potentially with spoilers allowed, message me on my blog page on Facebook! 

Thanks for reading, I'll see you at the next review!