September 07, 2020

Book Review | The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Suzanne Collins

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UK Publisher | Scholastic Books

UK Release Date | May 19th, 2020

Format | Hardback

Page Count | 517

RRP | £18.99

It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capitol, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-almighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, 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 favour 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.

The Hunger Games were not always the revered spectacle the Capitol annually celebrates; but rather we see them as the stark, cruel reminder of the cost of war, and the way in which people in power use it to exert control over freedom of will. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes follow Corialanous Snow, later to become President of Panem, as he embarks on a mentorship to District 12's 10th Hunger Games tribute, Lucy Gray Baird.

Let's start with: I'm not as bitterly disappointed as I was anticipating; three stars is still a good rating.

I touched on this in my Heartless review, but books of 'villain origin' just don't interest me. I don't find them interesting as someone who loves well-written antagonists, as they often leave me feeling like they are redundant stories or whatever the inverse of creativity is. Especially with scenarios like this one, in which the crying out for a prequel has always been there. But, as they say: "be careful for what you wish for".

I thoroughly enjoyed how Collins engaged in worldbuilding, especially over the allusive start to the Games that gets glossed over in the original trilogy as it is expanded upon in this book. Suzanne Collins’ has a gift for creating a vision of a government that is struggling to enforce a totalitarian regime and regain strength after an act of people’s rebellion. This dichotomy between control and chaos makes for an engaging read, drawing the reader in to pay attention to the political landscape and form a discourse to current affairs.

Here are my problems with Ballad: I didn't think this book benefitted from being from Coriolanus's perspective AND I thought this book was too long.

Coriolanus Snow grated on me for being everything I despise, which I knew we were going to get, but his background story didn't make for a compelling or necessary read. I feel like I would've gained more insight into this era of politics in Panem without Snow, by giving me a protagonist to connect with. Furthering on from this, Lucy Gray Baird felt nothing more than a manic pixie dreamgirl and would have benefitted from having her perspective, giving her agency in the story other than the writing songs and being a love interest.

Overall, this is a novel of contemporary making, forming a commentary on capitalism and the current political landscape. For this, I still think The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a worthy read, however, I think it could have benefitted from a different angle.

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