Book Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

If you enjoyed The Hunger Games series, and are looking for a guilty pleasure, look no further. Suzanne Collins has just published the prequel to her best-selling trilogy, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

The book is the origin story of Coriolanus Snow, the evil President of Panem, whom the heroine Katniss Everdeen perpetually battles in the original series. Flash backwards 64 years, and we find Coryo (as he is called by those close to him) in his final year at the Academy, a private school for the scions of the Capitol’s leading families. The city is recovering from the first major conflict with the outlying districts, and the Hunger Games are a project in developmental stages. The Snow family fortunes are fading, so when it falls to the Academy students to promote the games by mentoring the tributes that will be part of this year’s games, Snow finds himself quietly desperate, at war with himself. Suddenly his future (and the futures of his classmates) all seem to rest on the decisions they make and the actions they take as they try to build interest in the Games. Throw in one interesting tribute (Snow’s of course), some evil teachers, and you’ve got all the ingredients for an entertaining read.

However, this prequel is not all about entertainment. What prompts me to recommend the book to both young adult and adult readers is that is somewhat of a departure from the almost screen-play like quality of Collins’ original series. She explores (without getting too heavy-handed) the “nature versus nurture” question of Snow’s evilness. Was he born that way, or did the crazy society in which he finds himself as an impressionable youth make him turn?

It’s still a very plot-driven story, but over the course of the novel, Collins writes Snow into a series of choices that ultimately define who he becomes. Each choice is a test of whether he is capable of doing the “right” thing: to choose love, to choose loyalty and trust, or to choose the greater good over self-advancement. If you’ve read The Hunger Games, you sort of know the answers, but this time around it’s not quite so black and white. Collins builds a slow and steady reveal, a good slow boil.

Review by Roberta Jordan, Outreach and Instruction Librarian.

Click here to request a print copy. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is available through the Cloud Library.

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