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July Review: Collins' long-awaited prequel!

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Author: Suzanne Collins

Publisher: Scholastic Press

RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

President Snow. Tyrant of Panem. Villain. Enemy to Katniss.

But do we really know him?

Travel back to the early days of the Hunger Games, before the flash and pomp we have become so familiar with in Katniss’ story. The games are raw. Viewership is down. The Capital struggles to maintain the tenth annual Hunger Games as a means to control the districts. Enter a new idea—mentors. Not the past victors who would ultimately fill this role, but rather the youngest and brightest the Capital has to offer. Enter Coriolanus Snow.

When I heard that Suzanne Collins was going to release a prequel to her bestselling Hunger Games Trilogy, I was both excited and skeptical. As a dystopian author, I was encouraged to find the genre, which has experienced some burnout, may be back on the rise. Also, the chance to engage new material from the world of Panem that has become the gold standard for the genre was also a chance I could not pass up. Still, what else could be told? Would she simply follow another tribute through the Games? I was worried this would be wash, rinse, repeat.

Collins instead takes us into the life and mind of the villain. Coriolanus Snow, the eventual president of Panem and antagonist to Katniss, comes from a family who has little more than their name to carry any status in the Capital. The money is gone. Taxes are on the rise. Snow must win the chance to attend the University if he is going to gain the notoriety for which he longs.

The only problem is his tribute. Lucy Gray, a young girl from the lowly District 12, is assigned to Snow. While watching his fellow classmates drool over their far superior tributes from other Districts, Snow must figure out how to leverage Lucy Gray’s one weapon—charm.

Can he mentor this long shot to victory and win his prized entrance to the University?

There’s only one problem.

Snow is not yet the hardened, cold politician yet. He still has a heart. He still manages to care—about Lucy Gray.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a worthy inclusion to The Hunger Games lineup. While certainly not my favorite of the series (it’ll take a lot to beat Catching Fire), I appreciated this look into the earlier days of Panem. Collins did a great job translating the games to a time when things were less polished. By tearing down the saturated history of the Games that Katniss experienced, Collins deftly transports the reader back in time. It becomes easy to see how the Capital didn’t always have it together with the Games. Things are rough. The Games are small in stature. The Districts are not invested.

While it has become a common theme in prequels and reboots to give the villain a fresh look, Collins handles the villain-side-of-the-story masterfully. Snow is not simply retconned into a sympathetic character. He has not been rewritten. He is still the same Snow we have come to know from the original trilogy, yet I found myself shocked that I was actually rooting for him and his tribute. I felt like I was seeing the birth of the one I knew would one day go toe-to-toe with Katniss Everdeen.

Honestly, I wish the story had been a bit longer. Parts one and two to the book are well-written and pulled me into the story. Action and character development were compelling. Part three was a needed departure, but I felt as though Collin’s was a little unsure how to wrap it up and leave us with the version of Snow who eventually becomes Katniss’ nemesis. The ending was abrupt, in my opinion. I wanted more, and not in the good way.

But—that did not take away the entertainment value of the book.

Any fan of the original trilogy will, of course, be beating down the door of the local bookstore to get their copy. I recommend this to any fan of dystopian novels. Even more so, I love that this book is not littered with spoilers for The Hunger Games. I’d be interested in knowing if anyone starts with this book before reading Katniss’ story.

For the most part, the book is a clean read. Violence is certainly present as it was with the original books. After all, it’s a story about children being forced to fight to the death. Yet, the violence never felt like it tipped in the realm of gore. Things happen and the story moves on. Romance is present but clean. No language. No sex. Faith is not present in the story either. The subject matter is dark, but that’s dystopian for you.

My daughter is losing her mind for me to finish this review so she can gobble up Collin’s latest. She was a huge fan of the original. No doubt, she’ll have this read within a matter of days.

Available on Amazon or your local bookstore (support local businesses!).

No disclaimer. I did not receive anything from the author, nor was I requested to write this review.


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