Buy The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (The Hunger Games, #0)
Special price $18.37 Regular Price: $27.99
Publisher: Scholastic Press / Scholastic Audio
Format: Hardcover / eBook / Audiobook
Narrators: Santino Fontana
Reviewer: Melissa on July 16, 2020
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Ambition will fuel him. Competition will drive him. But power has it’s price. On the morning of the 10th annual Hunger Games, 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his only shot at glory as a mentor in the Games from his luxurious, penthouse apartment in the Capitol. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, and the only chance they have it maintain appearances is if Coriolanus can outcharm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute. The odds aren’t in his favour. He’s been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. With their fates 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, but outside the arena, Coriolanus begins to feel for his doomed tribute…and in Suzanne Collins‘ The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, he must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.
I read this book back in May when it first came out. However, with the move into Pride Month and everything that happened in the US and Canada as a result of the death of George Floyd and the resulting protests, I decided to put publishing my review on pause for awhile as it wasn’t my biggest priority. Whether you’ve read it or not yet, I really would love to hear your thoughts in the comments to this dystopian YA novel review.
In some ways, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is deeply flawed. Suzanne Collins knows how to create and build tension—those of us who loved the earlier books in The Hunger Games series know that without a shadow of doubt because we still remember how we gasped in shock when Primrose Everdeen was picked as the District 12 tribute. However, while she creates tension and puts Coriolanus Snow in danger at various points, the reader knows that he isn’t really in danger because of who he goes on to be. Moreover, if the book was meant to make me feel sympathetic for Coriolanus, and it does at times, by the end of the book, I actually hated him more than I had when I was seeing the world through Katniss Everdeen’s eyes.
When I first heard that there would be a new book in The Hunger Games universe, I was really excited to be back into this world. However, when I heard that Coriolanus Snow would be the narrator of it, I was really ambivalent. I didn’t see how he could be a hero that I could really root for because of the man he becomes. Scholastic’s marketing campaign wanted me to think that the sole reason I hate him came down to the fact that Katniss was telling the story from her own biased perspective of the world. And while it may be true that Katniss could never see the world outside of her own biased viewpoint, it’s clear from the opening sections of the novel that Coriolanus thinks he’s superior to the people from the districts. While he suffered from a lot of the same issues that the people in the districts face, like existing in a precarious place in the world, and has survived traumatic experiences, like recurrent PTSD from the bombing of the Capitol during the war, he is unable or unwilling to empathize with most people. Lucy Gray, the tribute he mentors from District 12, is one of the only exceptions. Even when he begins to see some of them as actual human beings, it doesn’t mean that he won’t very easily find a way to justify all of his actions when they suit himself and his own ambitions.
Some things that annoyed me: that Coriolanus always forgot the third C in the control, chaos, and social contract connection that Volumnia Gaul, the head gamemaker wants him to write about. If he was as bright as all his professors thought him, then he shouldn’t have had a problem remembering it. In the audiobook, the narrator would talk about how great someone’s singing was, but he consistently just read the words of the songs in question, including the Panam’s national anthem, without any musicality, instead of singing them. While it’s possible that music hadn’t been set to all the songs in the original series, this wasn’t always the case here, and I found that aspect of the audiobook fell flat.
However, I found it really interesting to see how different the 10th Hunger Games was from the 74th and 75th versions. The way the tributes were treated, as though they were livestock in either animal agriculture or performers in zoos or the circus, always amounted to less than human. It was also interesting how we get to see the Hunger Games begin to evolve over the course of the novel in great part due to Coriolanus Snow’s education in the areas of political philosophy, control, power, and in particular, how governments can maintain the social contract. Finally, there are a lot of Easter Eggs in the book for fans of the series, many of which made me think that some of his experiences in this timeline are what made him have such great disdain for Katniss Everdeen sixty-four years later. She was a reminder of a time and of people who he didn’t want to remember…at least not in my opinion.
Final Thoughts: As a huge fan of the series, I’m glad I listened to The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, and I’m particularly glad that I already had a handle on the political philosophy that is brought up time and time again in the book as a means of forming the young Coriolanus into the vile tyrant that we all remember. I would read anything that Suzanne Collins wrote in conjunction with this world, even if as with this protagonist, there left much to be desired in the choice of protagonists.
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