If you read The Hunger Games in one sitting, settle in for the long haul once more—because The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is nearly impossible to put down. It was as if I had entered the world of Panem for the first time, but in a totally new way. Simply put, it's one of the best books I've read all year.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes takes place a decade after the war between the Districts and the Capitol, and even the "winning" side is still trying to recover. The annual Hunger Games are happening but no one is tuning in. The Head Gamemaker brings in students from the Academy to act as a mentor to each of the tributes, in hopes that this will liven things up for the tenth anniversary. One of these students is 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow—President Snow, when we met him in The Hunger Games.
The mentorship is Snow's chance; with a winning tribute he can reclaim some of his family's lost power and prestige. But the family's reduced circumstances are evident when he's assigned the girl tribute from District 12, an underdog to be sure. The dynamics between the mentors and tributes are an interesting study in human nature and expectation; even entitled, arrogant Snow finds himself questioning the purpose of the Games and the treatment of the tributes.
Lucy Gray Baird is the tribute assigned to Snow. She is her own flavor of Katniss—very different in style and personality, but no less compelling. You want her to succeed. And I felt the same about Snow. In this book, clever Suzanne Collins takes a character we've disliked or even despised through all three books, and shows us a side of him we'd never imagined existed. A brilliant surprise for the reader who realizes that, much like Coriolanus Snow himself, we have made assumptions because we never saw the whole picture. Snow struggles with his own nature, his ambition battling with unexpected compassion, his rule-following at odds with his desire to both do the right thing and to win at all costs.
There's so much I want to tell you about: the terrifying and shrewd Head Gamemaker; Sejanus, the boy who, much to Snow's consternation, becomes his friend; Lucy Gray and her songs.... But I really want you to experience it all for yourself, because The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is incredibly exciting, thought-provoking, and relevant. Collins asks vital questions through her characters. What does it really mean to win a war? How many generations should pay for acts that preceded their birth? How do we decide what's "right" in the face of conflicting outcomes?
As you might have expected, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes will also be coming to the big screen, and author Suzanne Collins spoke to David Levithan, VP, Publisher and Editorial Director at Scholastic, and one of her editors, about Coriolanus Snow, who was played by Donald Sutherland in the earlier film adaptations. This snippet of their conversation comes to you as an exclusive for Amazon Book Review readers:
David Levithan: I’ll confess it was hard for me to get Donald Sutherland out of my head (because he’s a masterful Snow). How is he different from how you pictured Snow in the books?
Suzanne Collins: I agree, he is a masterful Snow! He’s such a talented actor; I could watch him in anything, really. Physically, Donald’s bigger than Snow in the novels, but his interpretation of the character is dead-on. In one interview, he talked about how he didn’t think of Snow as a villain but as a tyrant. He said, “And he doesn’t think he’s a bad person. He thinks it’s the only way that society can survive. And whether you think he’s right or wrong, he doesn’t think he’s bad. He likes himself.” That’s exactly right. With his Hobbesian worldview, Coriolanus Snow believes he’s all that’s keeping Panem from chaos and destruction. With that grasp of the character and that snow-white mane and that remarkable voice, it’s hard to imagine anyone being better as the trilogy’s president.
I'll leave you with that. Now please hurry up and read it because I am absolutely dying to talk about this book.
The prequel to Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy is here. And it's brilliant.