Books: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (The Hunger Games #0.5)

The last time I checked into the literary world of these dystopian thrillers, I was a smart-mouthed teenager with the idea that I somehow vaguely understood the struggles and hardships of these characters. Flash forward 10 odd years later and the way I actually read this story now has changed dramatically.

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The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (The Hunger Games #0) by Suzanne Collins
Publication Date: May 19th 2020
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Format: Kindle
Buy the book: Exclusive Books|Takealot|Amazon.co.uk

It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capital, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmanoeuvre his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute. The odds are against him. He’s been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely 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. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute… and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes. Goodreads

I’m not sure what entirely influenced my view on Suzanne Collin’s return trip to the eerily familiar world of Panem – perhaps its the current crisis our world is facing or maybe it’s just that age-old philosophy that, as you become older you somehow become wiser (?)… but in any case, this book couldn’t have had any better timing. For one thing, it’s a ma-HOO-sive chunk of literary work (and I read the Kindle version), so any avid YA readers had a good part of the early days in lockdown sorted, busying themselves with this bad boy.

Back in the world of Panem (a totally broken, lost and vulnerable version to the one we knew in the days of Katniss), Coriolanus Snow is a shadow of a young lad, trying to keep what’s left of his family’s reputation intact while hiding the true nature of their poverty.  As he and his fellow classmates become the first official mentors of the Hunger Games, Snow finds himself championing the cause of the District 12 underdog Lucy Gray, who awakens feelings within Snow that he has tried desperately to bury. In this cat and mouse game of keeping up appearances, Snow battles his inner demons and learns that suppression is the only way of redemption.

I really enjoyed learning about the great President Snow’s background and I think his story provides insight into aspects of life we generally fail to even consider at the best of times. I suppose it also begs the question: are people born evil or are they made to become evil through life’s experience? Truly, that was my main take away from A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – that Snow once possessed the ability to feel emotion and to care, but that through his family’s experience, witnessing their struggle at a young age and not being able to do anything about it, allowing a deep sense of selfishness and dis-attachment to form within Snow’s mind.

Aside from the very heavy subject matter surrounding our main character; I liked the other characters that appeared but I don’t think Snow allowed Suzanne to actually explore them in great enough detail. True, the book is about Snow but the hints and clues dropped willy-nilly regarding Lucy Grey (if you know you know; I won’t spoil), just didn’t suffice for me.

Overall, this was a great read from a psychological point of view and allowed true fans of the series to analyse one of the biggest villains in YA literature. Was it entirely necessary? No, probably not. Are we currently living under circumstances where we’re legitimately judging things on their necessity? Also no. So I’m going to take this one with a pinch of salt and just be grateful one of my all-time favourite teen authors gave us another book. You’re next Stephenie Meyer…

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