In THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES, the tenth Hunger Games are about to begin, more than a half-century before Katniss Everdeen would make her debut as a fierce tribute and become the thorn in the side of Panem’s President Snow.
At the age of 18, the presidency is far from Coriolanus Snow’s thoughts. A senior in the Capitol’s prestigious Academy, all the young Snow wants is to graduate and attend a university. Trouble is, the war left him orphaned and poor, living with his grandmother and cousin in his parents’ aging penthouse. The depth of his poverty is a secret, of course, and he is quite adept at making acquaintances believe the Snow name still means something.
The Gamemaker is adding a new twist to the then unpretentious Games: twenty-four of the Capitol’s brightest Academy students will be paired with a District tribute. The student mentor of the winning tribute will be awarded a scholarship to attend a university. Coriolanus has every intention of winning that prize.
When the Gamemaker assigns him to mentor Lucy Gray of District 12, however, he thinks his dream is stone-cold dead. That is, until his tribute sings like a songbird and everybody listens. Including his heart.
Like the Districts and the Capitol, songbirds and snakes are very aware of each other, always moving and counter moving to keep a safe distance. And if they should happen to collide in a whirlwind of emotion, only trust could make the unexpected bond work.
Will Coriolanus Snow push aside his predatory ways to help save his songbird? Or will his Capitol inspired venom be too difficult to suppress?
I’m going to confess that I knew rating this book was going to be challenging from the get-go. First, the Hunger Games is one of my favorite YA trilogies. Second, and most importantly, Katniss Everdeen ranks as my ALL-TIME favorite heroine…like EVER. (Thank you, Susanne Collins!)
That’s a high bar for this book to be compared with. At four stars, I’m admitting the prequel didn’t reach the bar, mainly for two reasons:
First, I prefer reading books where I’m rooting for the protagonist. Although I found Coriolanus’s backstory very interesting, I wasn’t rooting for him. Maybe if I didn’t already know that he had decided to embrace his slithering snake-ness, I might have held on to hope.
Frankly, I felt emotionally detached from all the characters except one: Sejanus, a supporting character who risked everything for his beliefs.
Second, while many books suffer from sagging middles, this book did not! Readers are in the throws of the Hunger Games, wondering if Lucy Gray is going to survive. However, that left a sloooow-paced third act. It picked up a tad at the end but still left me in need of an energy drink.
I did enjoy the many insertions of symbolism. For example, Coriolanus detested the mockingjay, a bird symbolic of “District survival” despite the best efforts of the Capitol. On the other hand, he admired the jabberjay, a bioengineered “weapon” symbolizing the Capitol’s ingenuity to exert control over District rebels. Both birds sang, though for very different reasons. Coriolanus struggled, though not very earnestly, in classifying which kind of songbird Lucy Gray and Sejanus were.
I appreciated learning the backstory of the Hunger Games from a different perspective; however, it’s difficult to fully connect with a story without having characters who deeply bind you to it. Of course, Susanne Collins is a fabulous storyteller and writer! And I give her kudos for challenging herself to add to an already brilliant trilogy! I’m very glad I read THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES.
If only I didn’t wish this book had been about Katniss’s early childhood instead of Snow’s teenage years!