When I heard that Suzanne Collins was writing a prequel to the Hunger Games, I was excited. What would we get to see? Haymitch’s times in the arena? A view into another district? The times before the war? There were so many exciting possibilities to choose from. When I found out it would be about a young President Snow, I was disappointed. We don’t really need to know more about him because we know he is the worst, and we don’t really need to hear any more tales of sad white man woe leads to justification for murder. I still decided to read the book because I loved the original trilogy, I love Collins’ writing, and I was curious about what we’d get to see and about the girl from District 12 that was featured in the book trailer.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes takes place shortly after the end of the war between the districts and the Capital, right before the 10th Hunger Games. Even in the Capital, things are not good. People are poor, hungry, and suffering. Coriolanus Snow is a young student about to graduate. His once great family is in dire financial trouble after his father died in the war. They try to keep up pretenses, but Snow, his cousin Tigris, and his grandmother are often hungry, eating nothing but cabbage soup and beans to survive. He still aspires to succeed and hopes to find a way to get to university and help his family become great once again.
The interesting thing we find out is that even the Capital isn’t a fan of the Hunger Games. In order to generate more interest, students from Snow’s school are paired with the tributes. They will plan strategy, train them, introduce them, etc. Snow hopes to get a strong tribute, preferably from 1 or 2, but is disappointed to receive the female tribute from District 12. Lucy surprises him by making a splash at her reaping, and Snow decides he might be able to use her just yet.
Throughout the book, we see the starts of the Hunger Games we know from the original series come into shape. Katniss was treated to luxury when she entered the Capital, but these tributes are starved and kept in an old zoo while surrounded by rats. Snow ends up coming up with the ideas of betting on the tributes and sponsoring the tributes throughout the games.
Telling the origin story of a known villain is always going to be tricky. Make them too sympathetic, and it might not be believable, but there also has to be something that started it all. Nobody is born evil, right? Snow has some moments of decency, but he is ultimately shifty and calculating even when good. He’s motivated by purely selfish gain, all that “Snow rises on top” stuff he spews. In the end, I hate him just as much, though I do wonder if maybe the obsession with roses was also to cover up the smell of all his inevitable cabbage farts.