Home FeatureBook Reviews Come Back to Panem in “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes”

Come Back to Panem in “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes”

by Claudia Martillo

Come back to your favorite 2012 dystopian fiction obsession with “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” by Suzanne Collins. The book is a prequel to “The Hunger Games” trilogy from the perspective of Coriolanus Snow.

Snow is the main villain and president of Panem in “The Hunger Games” books, but in the prequel, we are able to learn about Snow in his youth and the origins of the Panem war. The book focuses on Snow as a mentor in the 10th Hunger Games for District 12 female tribute Lucy Gray Baird.

Coriolanus Snow lives in the Capitol with his cousin Tigris and Grandma’am, attending school at the Academy. Coriolanus lost both parents in the war and the family fell into financial hardship. Struggling to maintain his place in Capitol society, Coriolanus strived to become a mentor for the tributes in the first year of the mentorship program.

The 10th games are arguably the most brutal of all known games. These games are far less technologically advanced than the ones in the original series; the Capitol arena is a small old amphitheater that was used before the war. With little to no protection and few weapons, tributes must persevere against all odds. The living conditions of the tributes are inhuman; mentors must try as much as they can to make their tributes presentable to the audience and sponsors. Unlike the games and citizens in the trilogy, Coriolanus and other mentors must work to make the audience care and watch the games.

The book answers many questions that you may have been left with during the trilogy. It explores the history of Panem, the ideas behind the games, mockingjays, the original leaders, the sponsorship program and more.

Coriolanus is a devout Capitol citizen but begins to question his beliefs when he falls in love with Lucy Gray Baird, an eccentric singer and his mentee from District 12. The pair work incredibly together during the games, but Coriolanus’ actions alter his vision of his ideal future.

There is no “Hunger Games” book without a villain and this one does not fail to live up to that standard. Dr. Volumnia Gual is the head gamemaker and mastermind behind many Capitol horrors like mutts, jabber jays and more. Dr. Gual’s work heavily influences the future terrors that Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark face in their games.

One of the biggest themes is Snow’s allegiance to the Capitol. He struggles with the ideas of humanity and what people are truly capable of. Though I knew the outcome of his internal qualms, I still found myself hoping that he would change.

Collins does an amazing job of offering up these small moments where you believe that Coriolanus will make the morally right decisions and change for the better. I was rooting for him to grow and understand his ethical dilemmas.

One of the most shocking and unexpected bits was the romance between Lucy Gray and Coriolanus. When watching and reading the original trilogy, the idea of Coriolanus having and feeling genuine human emotion is unfathomable, which made reading the sweet and young romance shared between the two all the more tragic.

As much as you may think you’re strong in your belief that he is a terrible person, learning about his backstory and the short-lived romantic relationship humanizes him. You can argue that someone like him doesn’t deserve to be humanized and question why Collins would decide to write from Coriolanus’ perspective. I believe that it is an intentional issue that she places on her readers.

Many have called for her to write books about the games of Finnick Odair, Annie Cresta, Haymitch Abernathy, Johanna Mason and more. However, writing these books makes us as readers no better than Capitol citizens. It would only further prove that humanity has the desire to witness tragedy and violence, which is the exact opposite of Collin’s reason for creation.

I believe that she wants us to be able to understand the games from multiple perspectives. The curiosity must remain at that or else we are succumbing to the very ideas that Katniss and the rebels worked hard to destroy.

“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” has been one of my favorite reads of the year so far. Despite a fairly long page count, this book never leaves you bored. You’re constantly wondering what is going to happen next and what the effects of Coriolanus’ decisions will be. It is compelling, tragic and thought-provoking.

Without a doubt, my favorite characters are Sejanus Plinth and Lucy Gray Baird. Sejanus is Coriolanus’ friend that is unlike his Capitol peers in his selflessness, strength and good heart. Lucy Gray Baird, similarly, sees the best in everyone around her and has a compassionate and kind nature. Both characters are too gentle for their own good.

The book is being adapted for the screen with the movie set to release on Nov. 17, 2023. Coriolanus Snow and Lucy Gray Baird will be played by Tom Blyth and Rachel Zegler. I am patiently anticipating watching and seeing these characters brought to life.

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