Well this is an odd one to talk about.
As many of you will know, this is the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is the Hunger Games prequel, focusing on (future evil President) Coriolanus Snow’s role in the tenth Hunger Games. As you can imagine, telling the story from the future baddie’s point of view caused a bit of a stir: would we lose his character in a bid for sympathy? Would this attempt to redeem an irredeemable character? I had my own reservations when I heard about it and was consequently less enthused to pick it up. And the verdict? Pretty mixed if I’m honest.
Despite all the pre-publication controversy, there was no need to fear him being turned into a hero. I read him as a straight-up anti-hero. He’s just as unsympathetic as a protagonist as he was an antagonist… which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Mildly sociopathic and manipulative, he’s the same old Snow we know and hate. As much as it was a bold choice to tell the story from Snow’s perspective, I’m not sure it paid off. No matter what hardship he was facing, I found it impossible to relate or root for him (in fact, I just kept thinking he kinda deserved it).
Still there were parts I really did like- especially how it showed the games being developed. When I heard it was about the tenth hunger games, I had my reservations, because I thought that it would just be a rehash of the games Suzanne Collins had already written about. Not so. At this stage of Panem, with the Capital and Districts very much in the shadow of the civil war, the games (and the concepts behind them) are a work in progress. It’s not just interesting to see Snow play his part, it’s fascinating to see the theories that go into it (not sure it makes a whole lot of sense to have your underclass in a constant state of conflict rather than making them think they’re at peace, but I’ll let that slide, cos I don’t think evil masterminds always come up with the best policies for running a country). I did like that the timeline meant it raised moral questions for the organisers- like the fact that this was the children of rebels rather than rebels themselves. I also liked how it hinted, rather than showed, future developments. The subtler nods to the original made it feel more like its own story. The one part I wasn’t super keen on was how only 2/3 of the book were about the games- it just felt a little jarring when that stopped.
That said, even with the issues I had with the structure, the writing was strong. And I also liked the side characters. Though I wasn’t much taken my Coriolanus or the not-very-fleshed-out Tigress, Lucy Gray had an edge to her and I loved the Grandma’am.
All these elements left me satisfied enough with this Hunger Games prequel, so I’ll feed it:
Rating: 3½/5 bananas
Have you read Ballads of Songbirds and Snakes? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!