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Book Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins (4/5)

30 Jun

Of course, I couldn’t wait to go back to Panem. I adored the original trilogy and remember staying in bed until 2PM one day to read as much as I could from this series before returning to the real world. This one had me staying up well past when I needed to be asleep. It was a rough swim the next morning but I think it was worth it.

Cover image via Amazon

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Hunger Games #0) by Suzanne Collins

Summary from Amazon:

It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capitol, 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 tribute 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.

With the length of this book, I was really unsure what to expect. At over 500 pages, it’s much longer than the other Hunger Games novels. Early in the Hunger Games, the memories of the war would be much rawer and the capital hadn’t recovered yet. I wasn’t ready for the image of President Snow that we get. He’s poor and floundering, taking every chance he can. I didn’t like him, but I didn’t want to. A few times, I felt bad for him. This did add a dimension to Snow’s character, but I’m not sure what it added to the original stories.

The characters seemed pretty grounded in reality to me. It’s hard to know how people would act in such a dystopian world, but their actions seemed warranted and logical. I’ll talk about this more later, but Snow’s change at the end seemed off to me. Other than that, I loved the Grandma’am and Tigris and Sejanus and Ma. They were a wonderful cast of characters, each unique and loveable in different ways.

Sejanus was my favorite and looking at other reviews, I might be alone here. He had a very complicated past and alliances and I thought he was fascinating. No one feels bad for the rich boy normally, but this is an extreme case. Sejanus is told to deny his identity and is forced into a new world where no one accepts him. He’s desperate to fit in and but is too true to himself to succumb to peer pressure. It makes him crack and it’s almost heartbreaking to watch. He puts Snow in a difficult place in the end and I’m not sure what I would have done if I were Snow, to be honest.

I related most to Lucy Gray and I’m trying to figure out why. I think I see her relationship with Snow as him taking advantage of her and I think most women have felt taken advantage of by a man at some point. Not to the same degree, of course. She was in a dangerous situation and counted on him to ger her out and when he did, she felt grateful to a point where she stopped looking out for herself again. She put her trust in him completely and was taken advantage of. I liked not having a solid idea of what happened to her in the end. It’s almost better that way. I’m usually one for concrete endings, but this one was perfect for me.

Suzanne Collins
Image via IMDb

Part I was my favorite, seeing Coriolanus mentor Lucy Gray and become more involved in the games was interesting. I was rewatching the movies as I read and had fun making parallels between how tributes were treated in the 74th games and the 10th. The things that were new had been developed and improved for the 74th games. I think the change from Capitol students to past winners makes sense for the mentors. Those who have been in the area understand how different it is and can give advice better. The Capitol students aren’t invested in the same way.

Spoiler alert so skip to the next paragraph if you want to avoid it. The ending really bothered me. The book rushed through the end in my opinion and after 500 pages, I didn’t think there was a need to rush. Coriolanus was driven by greed and power for a lot of the book, but he was still compassionate. It wasn’t until the very end where he lost his compassion. He turned Sejanus in to save himself. Even that was to save himself from execution. But it devolved quickly into killing Lucy Gray for a chance of a comfortable life. I thought that was a big step to take. It was page 498 when he started contemplating this. I felt a little cheated that the first 498 pages were building to a moment that went so quickly.

The first line of the description on the back says it all: “Ambition will fuel him.” Snow’s ambition outshines everything else he does. He can’t love because his ambition is too high. He can’t have friends. He can’t be human. This is the reason I felt a little bit bad for him. But I remembered who he became and that he tossed his own cousin aside (Tigris!) for image’s sake later in life. After his fear inside the area, he continued to send children to their deaths there. Ambition killed his humanity.

Writer’s Takeaway: I think this fell into the dangerous trap many prequels stumble upon: the need to explain everything. We didn’t need to know the origin of mentors or gifts or interviews or the Flickerman family. A lot of the book was spent explaining Mutts when it should have been focused on Snow and his origin. Instead of cramming so much character development into the last twenty pages, it could have been spread out. The game’s development wasn’t what was interesting about this book but it became the focus. I’ve heard this criticism of many of the Star Wars spin-offs and it stuck out to me a lot here.

Enjoyable and engaging but not a great ending. Four out of Five Stars.

This book fulfilled the ‘Future’ time period for the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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