Title: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Sci-fi, YA, Dystopian
Year Published: 2020
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins is a dystopian sci-fi about a young Coriolanus Snow before he became President Snow. The story takes place many years earlier, before The Hunger Games trilogy, when Coriolanus was seventeen and climbing his way up in the Capitol in Panem.
We follow Coriolanus through the 10th Hunger Games in which he is a mentor to a tribute named Lucy Gray Baird from District 12. It’s tough in the arena and Coriolanus does whatever he can to help Lucy Gray win. Outside of the Games, Coriolanus begins to fall for Lucy Gray and starts showing his attraction for her. She notices and reciprocates.
After the Games, it was revealed to a higher up that Coriolanus assisted Lucy Gray in unethical ways so that she would win. He was forced to become a Peacekeeper but was allowed to choose which district to work in. He chose District 12 to be closer to Lucy Gray.
In District 12, Coriolanus learns that Lucy Gray, along with a few others, including Lucy Gray’s ex-boyfriend, were planning an escape. One of the other members in the plan was Sejanus Plinth. Sejanus was originally from District 2 but moved to the Capitol as a young kid and became good friends with Coriolanus. Sejanus was also a Peacekeeper in District 12. After having seen how poorly the District people were being treated, he vowed to help the small group escape. A crime occurs during the planning in which Coriolanus took part in, thus causing the escape to terminate.
Lucy Gray still wants to run away so Coriolanus agrees to go with her. He was also afraid the crime would catch up to him and didn’t want to be hanged. On the day he was to sneak out to run away with Lucy Gray, he gets a promotion and is required to head to District 2 the next morning. He has to choose between his future and the girl he loves. He chose love, but while they were out of District 12 in an area where the Peacekeepers were not monitoring, he finds the weapon he used during the murder and attempts to discard it. He also learns that Lucy Gray had betrayed him and goes after her to kill her, but he couldn’t find her. He returns to District 12 and leaves for training the next day.
During the flight to District 2, they made a stop at the Capitol. It turns out that the Head Gamemaker, Dr. Gaul, wanted to train Coriolanus at the university because Dr. Gaul found Coriolanus brilliant with his Games ideas.
In The Hunger Games trilogy, Coriolanus is the antagonist and someone we detest because of his cold-heartedness and brutal ruling. In The Ballad, he is the protagonist and someone we are supposed to like and feel sorry for. He does come across as a decent person in Ballad. His love for Lucy Gray was real. He went out of his way to help her win, even doing things he shouldn’t be doing. It felt as though he wanted her alive because she meant so much to him. Even if he never saw her again, at least she’d be able to live her life in the District. However, because he was found out, he got the opportunity to be with her and to really know her. She was all that she said she was: a singer and song writer; a free spirit. She was also very clever. In the Games, her cleverness helped her survive and it also, at one point, helped save his life.
The story goes much deeper than a dystopian story about a young adult falling in love and learning about who he is. I read the QA, which included the idea behind the story, and was completely surprised. I did get the sense of a struggle between an authoritarian world and a romanticism or “freedom” ideal. It wasn’t about which character I liked better or who I should like more than the other. It was more about understanding people’s behavior based not only on their upbringing but also the environment they’re exposed to. It was a very powerful book with so many hidden messages and meanings.
I wasn’t expecting to say this, but I’m totally shocked by how great this book was.
2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes”
Interesting! I’ve seen a couple of the films, but haven’t read the books. Was there any hint of sympathetic backstory for Snow in the original trilogy? My first reaction after reading your review is that it might be hard for Hunger Games fans to find any empathy for Snow.
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Hi Lissa, thanks for your comment. I don’t believe there was any sympathy for Snow in the trilogy. In the final movie, I believe there was a hint. Without giving it away, I’d say it was when Katniss hesitated. As for the book (The Ballad…), I don’t believe the goal was for the reader to sympathize with Snow. Collins did a superb job at showing us the difference between what people want (full freedom) and what people need (freedom w/rules). Snow was a character favoring what people need. He was neither hateful or likeable. However, he was depicted as someone we (humans) can relate to, not necessarily by being similar to him, but by what we might sometimes think about. I have a feeling The Ballad will either be a trilogy or a series and we’ll learn the true goal of Snow. This book didn’t give too much away.