The book begins with Coriolanus Snow, 18 year old son of a somewhat fallen house, in secondary academy 11 or so years after the big war. They are soon coming up to the tenth annual Hunger Games, which are not yet the Hunger Games we all know, but barely more than a joyless, punitive bloodbath. For the first time, members of the academy will be selected to act as mentors to the tributes (yes like Haymitch would become) to both promote and care for tributes. Tributes are not yet treated like gladiators (well-fed, well-trained, and celebrated) but are fodder. Snow is given District 12, and he focuses in on the girl tribute, Lucy Gray, who sings, is feisty, and of course, he halls in love with. Fighting for his family status, and her love, and she fighting for survival, he helps to usher in many of the changes we would recognize in the 74th and 75th Hunger Games many years later.
So what comes to mind for me is that this book reminds me a lot of The Testaments, a book that can only justify the Aunt Lydia sections. There’s a real distaste culturally right now for stories that “humanize” villains, and I am entirely against a reductive argument about that. If you don’t want to read that kind of book, I support your reading whatever you want. But I think that humanizing mostly just means, remembering that villains are human. I think it’s important to recognize how not different the villains in our favorite stories are from us, to recognize what makes them human, if evil, if cruel, and go from there. I think too many of us grew up in the shadows of Sauron, when maybe, Scar showed us more about how chips might fall. That said: I am still not convinced this book or any additional Hunger Games books were needed. But if we had to have one, this is about as good as I could have expected. Though I cannot understand why this book is so long–528 pages.