Suzanne Collins, author of the acclaimed Hunger Games trilogy, recently published a novel that serves as a prequel to the series. It follows a young Coriolanus Snow, far before he becomes the power-hungry, dictator-like president of Panem that we know from the original series. It is set ten years after the first war between the rebels and the Capitol, during the events of the tenth annual Hunger Games, which was considered to be an unfortunate, but necessary bloodbath to keep the Districts in line, instead of a polished sporting event. This novel, while having its faults, offers a fascinating—and terrifying—view into the development of the Hunger Games, as the Gamemakers and mentors try to get the Capitol people invested in the Games by turning death into a spectacle rather than a tragedy.
Many fans were dismayed when it was revealed that the novel would follow Coriolanus, who is considered to be the main villain of the Hunger Games trilogy. I disagree, however. I believe that all monsters were once men, and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes reveals Coriolanus’s tumultuous relationship between his humanity and his brutality as he struggled to survive in the brutal social sphere of the Capitol. Coriolanus is a victim of war, having grown up during the first war against the rebels, and we see how war has affected his worldview and way of thinking. This does not absolve him of guilt, however, but it shows that war affects everyone who experiences it, even a civilian child on the winning side. There are many parallels between Coriolanus’s life in the Capitol and the life of those in the arena, and the highly competitive and destructive lengths one must go to survive. This creates a fascinating juxtaposition between young Coriolanus and Katniss Everdeen, or any of the others who were sent into the Arena. The consequences and effects of war are a major theme in Collin’s works, and this novel allows her to expand further into the deeply broken country of Panem and how the Capitol people view the aftermath of the war, instead of just those in the Districts.
I would certainly recommend this book to any Hunger Games fan, but I do want to acknowledge some of the issues this book has. Parts of Snow’s backstory were revealed in the original trilogy, as well as his less than savory character, so it should be no surprise to anyone that he is the anti-hero in this story. Without going into any spoilers, this novel lacks pacing, especially at the very end. The types of choices Coriolanus makes were not unexpected, as readers should already know his character going into the novel, yet his sudden shift in attitude into the self-absorbed, brutal leader we know did not feel entirely believable at times. Coriolanus is shown to be obsessed with his own self-preservation and power throughout the novel, but the extent he is willing to go to gain these things should have been touched upon earlier in the story, not just at the very end. There are other storyline choices Collins made that leave me confused, but for the sake of not spoiling anything, I will leave them out. Despite these issues, I did enjoy this novel and another chance to experience the world that Collins created in the original Hunger Games trilogy.