It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the 10th annual Hunger Games. In the Capitol, 18-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 out charm, 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.
As you can probably tell, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was a much anticipated prequel novel of mine as I loved The Hunger Games novels. Obviously having listened to it in less than a full day, you’d think I’d be over the moon about it. It has to be such a joy entering Panem once again after such a long period away.
Well… I was really underwhelmed and I’m sort of gutted by it.
What I was expecting to be a deep-dive character study into Snow and how he became the most hated man in YA fiction for several years came to fruition, for the most part. Though the book picks up at the ripe age of 18, and no flashbacks of his earlier years are really mentioned, it is easy to to figure out that Snow has always been this vile, self-centered individual who only does things to benefit himself and no-one else. There are glimpses of humanity in those eyes, but they are blurry and overshadowed by blatant narcissism.
Snow is mentoring tribute Lucy Gray of District 12 in the 10th annual Hunger Games, and her character stands out almost immediately. Snarky and oft-times bull-headed, she jumps off the page early on and becomes a bright spot on the gritty, blood-stained games. Unfortunately, she is overshadowed by Snow’s infatuation and search for control/possession of her that her character tends to take a backseat.
Those looking for another “Hunger Games” are going to be, IMO, a little disappointed. This isn’t that type of novel. It is a character study that happens to have a competition going on in its midst. The game isn’t as “put together” as the original trilogies were; it is almost like the game is being beta tested to see how it can be improved. Tributes can easily hide from one another (and the cameras), the battleground is still stained with blood from past competitions, gifts from “fans” aren’t as readily available, but let me tell you, the gruesomeness of children killing one another hasn’t gone away. Collins also throws in the good ole references to keep fans of the original trilogy happy.
I also have to say that Santino Fontana did a fantastic job with what he was given. I’ve seen so many scathing reviews at his performance, but the guy is a phenomenal talent. Funny enough, I listened to his narration of the “You” novels by Caroline Kepnes earlier this year and this novel felt like a YA version of that series at points. Curious if he was chosen because of that… did I stumble upon something?
Seriously peeps, I am only offering my opinion. Collins can write, no doubt about it, but this one just wasn’t for me. I’m not going to go off the deep end and say it was a cash grab, but I will say that I can imagine there will be several readers feeling the same way I do: maybe this is why Rowling never wrote a prequel about Voldemort.