Way back in June of last year, I was casually browsing the web when I discovered something that made my inner fangirl scream with joy. Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger Games series, was going to release a prequel novel in May 2020!!! Understandably, as a huge Hunger Games fan, I was stoked. But, since I had to wait almost a year before I could read it, my enthusiasm waned over the course of the next few months. Sure, I was excited, but it seemed like I’d never get to read it. Flash forward to yesterday, the promised day, when I finally held the book in my hands. I spent the entire day devouring it, barely stopping for meals or walks. After such a long wait? The book was totally worth it! So, like I promised back in my very first post(about the Hunger Games series), I am going to share my review of it with you today.
Now, as a refresher, the main Hunger Games series revolves around Katniss Everdeen, a girl living in Panem, which was once a country known as America. Panem is made up of 12 districts, all of which serve the Capitol. As punishment for a failed uprising, each district must offer up one male and one female tribute between the ages of 12 and 18 to fight to the death in the Hunger Games. Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place in the Games after her name is selected, and must fight to survive the Games so she can return home. However, her act of defiance in the arena is the spark that ignites a revolution against the Capitol, and she becomes its leader.
However, this prequel focuses not on a young Katniss, but instead takes us back in time to the “Dark Days”, the years following the first, failed, revolution. And the main character in this book is none other than future President Coriolanus Snow, the villain in the Hunger Games series. At 18 years old, he, a member of the once-powerful Snow family, is selected to be a mentor to the female tribute from District 12 in the 10th Hunger Games. The only real contenders in the Games have tended to come from Districts 1, 2, 4, and 11, so he is not happy to get what he views as the worst assignment of all. But his tribute is not what one would call typical, and he is soon caught between his loyalty to the Capitol, and to his newfound friend.
Now, I’m not sure if this was just me, but I saw very little promotion for this book before its release. So I had no idea until I read the book flap that Coriolanus Snow was the main character. I think that element of surprise made the book that much better, though, because I hadn’t had time to theorize the plot endlessly. Every turn of the page brought new and unexpected plots, and engrossed me for pretty much the entire day.
One of the things I liked about this book was getting to view the Hunger Games universe from a Capitol citizen’s point of view. Unlike Katniss, who was born in the districts, Snow was born and raised in the Capitol. Although I didn’t agree with his views, it was interesting to see how his perception of a mockingjay, or the district residents, varied so differently from Katniss’s. As well, his time spent in District 12 in the book was full of reminiscence for me. There was the Hob, the Seam, the lake, even the Hanging Tree! It was cool to see these familiar locations from his eyes, at an earlier time. And discovering the origin of “The Hanging Tree” song at these places will always make me view that song differently now. Knowing his background also makes me more attuned to why he disliked Katniss so much, and helps me to understand some of his decisions and reactions in the series.
Finally, this book felt both connected to the Hunger Games series, and yet its own completely separate thing. If I’d never heard of the Hunger Games, or it didn’t exist, I would still pick this book up and enjoy it. The writing is rich, the plot is full of twists and turns, and almost seems to transport you right into the book. Even though I know who Coriolanus Snow becomes, I’d definitely read another book about him, even if it was just about the events of the Hunger Games series from his perspective. Like I said earlier, The Ballad Of Songbirds And Snakes was well worth the wait!
Even though the world is kind of crazy right now, I hope that the film adaptation of this book ends up being produced when it’s safe to. I’ve already started imagining who I’d want to play each character! But, until then, I’ll just watch the four Hunger Games movies that already exist, and re-read the books over and over again.