My son and I were so excited when we heard that Suzanne Collins had written a prequel to the Hunger Games series. We preordered The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes and began reading it as soon as it was released. Having loved The Hunger Games and Catching Fire (we enjoyed Mockingjay a little less) and watching all of the movies…we couldn’t wait to read the story of President Coriolanus Snow and the history of Panem.
I have to admit…the book has fits and starts. It starts off pretty slow. And it’s LONG…439 pages…with very long chapters. As a read-aloud between my son and I, we often had trouble getting through a chapter a day (our usual habit) and had to put a chapter on hold to be completed the next day.
In The Ballad, we learn about Snow’s history as a young man and get flashbacks of his childhood. I think the point of this part of the book was to prove to us that Snow wasn’t initially as psychopath but there’s not much about him that’s likable. Every chapter ends with a ‘big surprise’ that catches your breath but the story between the chapters’ ends seems to drag.
It picks up a bit when we actually get into the Hunger Games. We meet Lucy Gray and the other tributes and watch as they fight it out with the help of their mentors (4th year students, of which Snow is one.) There’s a ton of chicanery going on from the Capital and their gamemakers and we’re meant to see how Snow gets pulled into it and disabused of his innocence.
The sideline story of Sejanus Plinth (Snow’s rival and ‘friend?’) is interesting and I found myself occasionally wishing that Plinth’s story had been the one we were meant to follow. His moral compass seems to be pointing true North and he’s someone that I could see myself rooting for.
I must say: my son and I loved Lucy Gray Baird and Maude Ivory. Baird is the tribute assigned to Snow who ultimately wins his affections. She’s feisty and tough and her pluck makes her incredibly endearing. The fact that she’s a musician and we could read and imagine her songs was also gravy. While we didn’t know many of the songs she sang, we certainly had a good time making up our own tunes as we read. Again, I would happily have read the Lucy Gray book instead of Snow’s story but it wasn’t to be.
Strangely, the book’s pace takes off to the races for the last 20%. When you’ve already broken 350 pages, I’m not sure what the rush is to wrap up…but it definitely felt like Collins was in a hurry. There’s more action in the last 50 pages than in the first 150…some satisfying, some not so much. Without spoiling too much, Lucy Gray’s denouement was not what we thought it would be and we were pretty disappointed. The way the rest of the story wrapped up with a neat bow was somewhat confusing and dismaying. I still couldn’t wrap my head around how the Snow at the end of The Ballad turned out to be such a heinous individual in time for The Hunger Games. The seeds were sown but I’m not sure what made them blossom.
On the whole, I’m glad we read The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. I would have always wondered what we were missing if we hadn’t. If you too are a Hunger Games series lover, you can’t miss reading this back story and putting together some of the pieces of Panem. Just bear in mind that it might not be the exact same thrill you are used to from Collins!