I gave in to my curiosity despite knowing this probably would not be a satisfying read, and it went about as well as I expected it to. A misfire for me. (I was going to round up to three stars, but one thing annoyed me a great deal even beyond what I expected, so rounding down to two.)
I really wasn’t going to read this*, but then I read in several reviews that part of it was about how the Hunger Games itself evolved and I just love that kind of worldbuilding in stories and I gave in. I tried to keep as open a mind as possible going in, even though I didn’t like the idea of the book being about Snow, and while I didn’t end up thinking it was terrible, it definitely wasn’t what I would have wanted out of a Hunger Games prequel, Hunger Games lore aside.
*Lies, I was always going to read it because I know myself and I get too curious, but I didn’t WANT to want to read this.
Mostly, I think two things did this book in for me. First, the fact that it was about President Snow as a young adult is, inherently, a very flawed premise. Some of this is personal. I didn’t want to spend over five hundred pages in Snow’s head. There are much better uses for my time. But on a more general, practical level, Snow just has too much baggage. That he was the main character was a distraction in the story rather than something that drove it. To me, at least, the book luckily didn’t fall into the trap of making him a good person from page one. I thought it was pretty clear he was some sort of sociopath, from the get go, though he clearly sees himself as a good person. This was made especially clear in his dealings with his tribute, Lucy Grey Baird, whom he uses, and even when thinking he’s in love with her, sees her more as something he possesses than anything else. He also displays no remorse for anything he does.
Ultimately, I would have liked this book much more if someone else had been the main character, and Snow would have been a secondary character. It would have allowed for more narrative surprise in the arc of the main character, rather than here, where we knew exactly how Snow was going to turn out.
The thing that got me towards the end, and ultimately ended up with me lowering my rating of the book has to do with Lucy Grey’s songs. First of all, Collins treads a verrry fine line throughout the book with all of her songs. When authors use songs in books, a large part of me is always cringing or ready to cringe, because it is incredibly easy for those songs to: a) Try to do the work of the narrative instead of the plot, characters, setting, etc.; and 2) Be soooo cheesy*. It’s also very hard to write about music well in a novel. I’ve only read a handful in my life that I think really did it well. (Say what you want about Patrick Rothfuss, he’s got that at least in the bag. That one scene in The Name of the Wind where Kvothe plays is *chef’s kiss*.) Collins herself pulled it off with “The Hanging Tree” in the original Hunger Games books. And the lovely song from films cemented my love for that song. So near the end of this book, she crosses not only the song line, but the prequel no-no line as well.
*If you’ve ever read a songfic, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about here.
SPOILERS We find out that Lucy Grey Baird not only wrote “The Hanging Tree,” but that it was inspired by events in this novel. UGHH WHYYY. You ruined this book with that, and you are close to ruining the original impact of the song when you pull shit like this as an author. That song was BETTER without us knowing the origins, particularly since the origins here cheapen the meaning. I hated it so much END SPOILERS.
Honestly, I can’t really recommend this book, but reviews are all over the place, so if you haven’t decided whether or not to read it, you still might like it. I’m not sorry I read it, because I like having my curiosity satisfied, and I like being able to partake in cultural conversations without having to pull things out my butt. The Hunger Games parts, though, did satisfy the part of me I was hoping would be satisfied. I just wish the rest of the book had been different around it.