Vicious, Vivid and the Ultimate Prequel | Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

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I still hate the cover, and still wish we had a prequel for pretty much any character in The Hunger Games, but DANG--The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was actually REALLY good.  Like, really good.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
by Suzanne Collins

It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the 10th annual Hunger Games. In the Capitol, 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to out charm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute.

The odds are against him. He's been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined - every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favor or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute... and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
Rating: ★★

“You’ve no right to starve people, to punish them for no reason. No right to take away their life and freedom. Those are things everyone is born with, and they’re not yours for the taking. Winning a war doesn’t give you that right. Having more weapons doesn’t give you that right. Being from the Capitol doesn’t give you that right. Nothing does.”

Me, five minutes before reading The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, holding a grudge: I already hate this book and don't know why I'm reading it but there SHOULD have been a prequel about literally any other character besides President Snow.
Me, five seconds after reading The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, holding a box of tissues: Oh my GOD, I--

So. It's no secret that while The Hunger Games is one of my favourite series of all-time (I mean, I did name one of my dogs Primrose), I was very skeptical about The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Very. Out of all the characters to center a prequel around, I couldn't fathom the idea of stomaching Snow as a teenager. Still, I couldn't resist pre-ordering The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes and I'm glad.

This was ions better than I'd expected. Perhaps it was my already lower-than-low expectations. Perhaps it is easily blamed on quarantine. Regardless of circumstances, I devoured The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes and even pulled an all-nighter to finish it. Something that hasn't often happened since, you guessed it, the original trilogy.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was quick to captivate much. While it didn't necessarily reach the same level of devotion as the original trilogy, there was still the same hypnotic and horrifying quality to it that Suzanne Collins previous perfected. The first word that comes to mind, about this book, is surprising. The second is vicious. The third is heart-breaking.

As always, the world building and character development is phenomenal. I liked the additions of a few characters we met long ago, and the contributions that the newer faces brought into the mix. I couldn't help but to feel that, despite it not being the prequel I wanted, at the start, it was well-worth the wait and the prequel we deserved. Collins, as always, knew what she was doing when it came to her own ambition and plot-twists--you never knew what to expect, even when you, in theory, knew what to expect.

There is so much to praise about The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes and I can't quite put a finger on the ultimate pulse of the novel. Is it Snow's treacherous ambition? Is it Lucy Gray's song and likability? Is it Sejanus' heart and soul? The horrifying, continued development of the games? Spine-tingling, cruelty, from Dr. Gaul and Dean Highbottom? I think, ultimately, the pulse is in all of these things and the way that Collins weaves them into the world we already know.

It would be simple to only say that I found myself lost in this novel's song and the morally gray quality it encompassed early on. But, my feelings about this book--and indeed, this series--is anything but simple. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is enthralling because of its characters--the dangers, the romance, the betrayal, the friendships-turned-sour, the ambition, the hatred and more.

Woven neatly into one crisp circle, the narration seemingly comes full circle by the end of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Collins left the ending a little more open, in a way that makes you question the already questionable ethics of our villain. At the end of the day, I am pleased with this origin story--and, as always, chilled to the bone by Snow's ambition and cruelty.

And maybe, most of all, I'm chilled by the fact that he is still human. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was an experience not unlike finding out your least favourite teacher from childhood had a life before they were your teacher. 

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