Book Nook: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Image Credit: Samaneh Sadeghi Marasht

Anna Blackburn shares her thoughts on the new addition to The Hunger Games series, and where to read it.

What to read… 

It has been over a decade since the release of the popular YA dystopian trilogy, The Hunger Games, hit the shelves, and in that time it has become an internationally best selling series of books and films, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson. Suzanne Collins’ epic tale of Katniss Everdeen and the fight for her life and her freedom in the Hunger Games arena left readers wanting more, and last year she finally delivered. 

In May of 2020, Collins released her new novel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, a prequel to the series which follows the story’s antagonist, President Snow, and how the games developed in the early years following the war. Before he was President, Coriolanus Snow was a student at the Academy in the Capitol and the Hunger Games were a savagely unorganized annual event created to keep the citizens of Panem in their place. But as the years passed, the Capitol leaders found themselves unable to get people to watch, and that is where the story begins. 

Preparing for the 10th Annual Hunger Games, Coriolanus and his fellow students are each assigned a tribute from each of the districts to help and promote before the games begin. Coriolanus is stuck with District 12’s Lucy Gray Baird, and he seems to feel his luck has run out before the games even begin. The pair deal with personal tragedies and work together in an attempt to win the Hunger Games, but their widely opposing beliefs may be just what they need.

The Hunger Games trilogy is a well-written, action-packed series, but this new addition has made it clear how much Collins has developed as a writer. The first notable difference is that The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is written in the third person as opposed to the trilogy, which follows Katniss’ journey from the first person point of view. This shift in narrative perspectives allows for more room in layers of explanation and detail regarding characters other than the protagonist. This is a logical shift in perspective, giving the reader more context and a deeper understanding of life in Panem shortly after the war, which is exactly what prequels are meant to do. 

Collins also cleverly ties in references to the trilogy, giving origin to things like President Snow’s infamous white rose and telling the story of the development of the Games. I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoyed The Hunger Games trilogy, whether the books or films, because it gives a more profound appreciation for the world created by Collins and may even change the way you view President Snow the next time you get around to reading the books.

…And where to read it

19 May 2020

There was a knock at the door and I rushed down the stairs to get my package. I had been waiting five months for the pre-ordered prequel of my favourite series, The Hunger Games. I spared no time retrieving the book from the postman and rushed out to the deck to read it. The cushions on the outdoor sofa were years past their prime, worn to the point where you could feel the rungs and the structure of the couch through the pillow, but I didn’t even notice anymore. 

It’s been a decade since I’ve read the entire series, but it has stuck in my mind ever since. I could feel the warm sun on my face, sensing its excitement toward seeing that I’ve started my summer reading a bit early, and found it illuminating the thick white pages as I sunk into the tale. “Coriolanus released the fistful of cabbage into the pot of boiling water and swore that one day it would never pass his lips again”.

23 May 2020

I would’ve finished the novel sooner had I been a faster reader, but it took me less than five days to finish the 517-page story. When I finally put the book down, I took a moment to look up at the sky and let myself take in everything I had just read.

As a writer, I found myself equally intimidated as I was in awe of the story of a man who no one liked. Yet somehow I came to care for the young Snow, empathising with him every time got nervous or afraid, and similarly being proud when he and Lucy experienced a win. They were two opposite sides of a coin who managed to detangle the web they were forced into, and came out feeling like gods. 

When I write, I want my characters to have struggled and earned their place, just as Coriolanus and Lucy did. They may not have made the most ethically sound of decisions all the time, but I fell in love with both of them and routed for them until the very end.