A ballad of suspense and surprising villians

Author Suzanne Collins recently published the book "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes" as a prequel to "The Hunger Games" on May 19 2020, nearly ten years after her last book titled “Mockingjay” released in 2010. The book follows the unfortunate beginnings of Coriolanus Snow and his slow rise to influence and popularity.

Collins takes us on a field trip to the past to explore the origins of President Snow, villain of "The Hunger Games." The once wealthy Snow family finds itself on the brink of bankruptcy and financial catastrophe after all of its investments in District 13 were bombed in the infamous rebellion mentioned in "The Hunger Games."

The Snow family is survived by only three people. Coriolanus Snow, Tigris (his cousin), and the Grandma’am. Determined to restore the family’s honor and position of power, Coriolanus Snow assumes the position of mentor for District 12’s female tribute, Lucy Gray. As the 10th Hunger Games unfolds, Coriolanus must choose between fame and friendship, power and love, and he must pay for the consequences. Filled with action, friendships, betrayal, and plot twists, this book is certainly a crowd-pleaser.

This book can be read and understood by anyone, regardless of past exposure to "The Hunger Games." Filled with many internal conflicts, character development and nail-biting suspense, this would be a great selection to any book club. For returning fans, this book offers new insight into the origins of both the Hunger Games and Coriolanus Snow. Personally, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to a friend.

*Warning: The Following Contains Spoilers*

Collins once again brings the story alive with deeply complex and unique main characters like Coriolanus Snow, Lucy Gray and Sejanus Plinth.

Coriolanus struggles in his rise to power. He is willing to do whatever it takes to raise his family from poverty, even if that means cheating and murdering. And if he should be caught, a punishment worse than death certainly awaits him with the notoriously cruel Dr. Gaul. Throughout the book he wrestles with his conscience and his determination to leave the life of poverty that has haunted him at every waking hour.

District 12’s famous female tribute Lucy Gray struggles to stay alive in the deadly arena filled with other children who ruthlessly throw knives and tridents as easily as they devour food. Her bright dress and clear voice wins the capital residents immediately, and they shower her with gifts, but earning sponsors is not enough to win the Hunger Games. With her very limited knowledge of survival and weaponry, her only weapon is her cunning ability to use poison to kill the tributes. But there is only so much poison can do against flying arrows and daggers. And to make matters worse, using an outside resource like poison is illegal and punishable by a slow and torturous death. Lucy must disguise her clever killing methods from both the crowd and the capital.

District 2 native Sejanus Plinth now lives in the capitol and with his wealthy family. He is such an interesting character because he seems to have what everyone in the capital seems to lack: a conscience. Throughout the book he has to watch his old friends fight to the death and remain calm and collected. His disgust with the Capital and its cruel laws regarding the 12 districts are enough to motivate him to publicly protest the Capital. For now his father’s power and influence is enough to save him from serious punishment, but when Sejanus takes matters in his own hands and directly interferes with the Hunger Games, his father might not be enough to save him.

The book also contained many beautiful songs sung by the characters, similar to the first three books. In fact, songs “Come to the Tree” are invented by the characters from this book. This very same song is sung by Katniss Everdeen nearly sixty five years later. Other new songs include “Nothing You Can Take From Me," “The Ballad of Lucy Gray Baird" “The Old Therebefore," and many others. Rich with music, these songs add depth to certain characters and reveal hidden feelings.

*Warning: The Following Contains Even More Major Spoilers*

While some fans might not enjoy the tragic end of the book, I rather enjoyed the ending. While Coriolanus Snow was ultimately destined to be a bad guy, that did not stop some from hoping that somehow things would work out between Coriolanus and Lucy. No one could have predicted that Coriolanus would attempt to kill Lucy, except maybe Lucy herself.

If I had to list problems I had with the book, or things I would change, it would be a very short list. I would have liked to know what happened to Tigris, Coriolanus Snow’s cousin. Tigris starts off in a good relationship with Coriolanus, and by the end of the book, they still seem to have a healthy relationship. However, it is revealed in "The Hunger Games" that Coriolanus fires her as a stylist because she was not pretty enough. While I could be wrong, I am led to believe that there were other alternate reasons.

Another question I have after reading this book is “who is related to Katniss Everdeen?” Obviously either Lucy Gray or one of her adoptive family/band members is related to Katniss Everdeen. Many of the songs that have been passed down in her family originate from Lucy’s band.

The last question I have after reading "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes" is “what kind of world lies beyond the Capital and the 12 Districts?” In the book, it is revealed that Lucy Gray comes from a traveling show/circus that originated outside the twelve districts. However, when the walls went up to divide the districts, her and her family were trapped inside of District 12. Lucy’s parents and parental figures died when she and her crew were little, so they do not remember what is beyond the walls.

My favorite passage of the book comes at the end of the book, after Coriolanus Snow officially becomes a villain.

“It’d been trickery getting it [rat poison] into the morphing bottle...but eventually he’d squeezed what he judged to be a sufficient dose though the opening [of the bottle]...There was nothing to make Dean Highbottom suspicious of it...Nothing when he unscrewed the dropper and dripped the morphing onto his tongue. Although he couldn’t help hoping that, as the dean drew his last breath, he’d realize...Snow lands on top.”

Overall I highly recommend this book. Filled with poetic music, internal battles of right and wrong and exciting story lines, "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes" is an excellent book for a wide variety of readers. Suzanne Collins has once again delivered a masterpiece worthy of a movie adaptation.


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