For my first CBR Bingo read, I choose the ‘UnCannon’ card (a book not written by an old white man) and eagerly started Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games prequel: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
The book follows the final teenage years of the future President Snow’s life. Remember him? The evil villain who taunted and terrorised young Katniss Everdeen in the original Hunger Games trilogy? This book attempts to answer the question that nobody asked: what was Coriolanus Snow like as a young man?
Well, for starters, he was poor. He had PTSD from surviving Panem’s war with the rebel forces as a child. He was ‘clever’, and manipulative, and ambitious. He was an orphan. He didn’t like cabbage soup or lima beans (having survived of these staples his whole life). He was vain and proud and obsessed with his family’s social status. By day, he was a swaggering and polished member of the upper crust, who projected a life of authority and wealth. By night, he returned to his empty and dilapidated penthouse apartment with his ailing grandmother and doting cousin, where he sniffed his dead mother’s rose-scented powder in order to fall asleep each night.
The novel opens with the reaping ceremony for the annual Hunger Games, but it’s not the games as we the reader of The Hunger Games trilogy knows it. It’s shoddy, and underfunded, and largely ignored. There are no fancy entrances or technologically-enabled fighting arenas. Just 12 scared and starving kids, a dilapidated stadium, and an uninterested and vaguely disapproving public. But this year, the Game Maker has decided to mix things up a little and appoint a mentor for each of the tributes. These mentors are drawn from the senior class of The Academy, and include Snow himself. Snow is at first horrified to be appointed as mentor for the girl from District 12, as he sees it as a reflection of his slipping status in Panem’s social hierarchy. If he were seen as wealthier or more impressive, he would have been chosen to mentor one of the ‘better’ district’s tributes. However, Snow’s luck changes when the female tribute from District 12 turns out to be a beautiful and talented covey (read: gypsy) girl, who wins over the hearts and minds of Panem’s citizens with her beautiful singing voice.
The novel can be loosely divided into three parts: preparing for The Hunger Games, the Hunger Games themselves, and life beyond the games.
Despite this novel taking a loooooong time to try and give us insight into the future President Snow, I’m still not really sure who Coriolanus Snow was. At times throughout this novel, he was a love-struck boy with empathy and fondness for his fellow humans. He struggled to hold back simmering resentment for authority figures and quietly raged against the structure of society. Hell, he even broke rules and cheated. Yet, he also was a Panem-loving zealot who sacrificed his friends in the interest of maintaining order and callously murdered innocent people to protect his own self-interest.
Having finished this book 20 minutes ago, I’m not sure Collins has met an 17 year old boy before – particularly one with the hots for a siren-like gypsy girl. His characterisation was inconsistent at best and downright sloppy at times. I had really hoped that Lucy Gray, the District 12 tribute, was going to pull a Katniss and have a few layers but alas… a lot of wasted potential there too.
2 monogrammed handkerchiefs out of 5.