• The Good: Back in the arena and inside President Snow’s head
  • The Bad: You know who Snow is—don’t expect a true hero here
  • The Literary: Be ready to create your own melodies to many song lyrics throughout

Fresh out of secondary school, eighteen year old Coriolanus Snow and several classmates are chosen to become mentors, a new concept, in the tenth annual Hunger Games. Although the Snow family name still commands high respect, what’s left of Coriolanus’ family, his aging grandmam and his cousin Tigress, now struggle for basic necessities like food and clothing. But if Coriolanus can outcharm and outwit his classmates and mentor the winner of the Hunger Games, he will win a scholarship to University, fame, prizes, and honor to his family name.

It’s been many years since I read the Hunger Games trilogy, but this prequel brought all the old feelings right back. I love the character drama, the world-building, and the social and political commentary, and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes does not disappoint. What I really love is that this young adult series doesn’t shy away from gruesome violence that’s a product of the moral choices of those in power.

Specifically, this book is a kind of origin story. An origin story of President Snow, but also of an unrefined Hunger Games and a young Capitol still struggling to regain its foothold and iron grip on the districts after the war.

Coriolanus saw some horrible things as a child in the war and still remembers the bombings. With his parents dead, he’s no stranger to tragedy and loss. Throughout school, he struggles to reconcile his empty stomach with his grandmam’s mantra, “Snow always lands on top.” A naturally charismatic boy, Coriolanus goes to great lengths to hide the shame of his family’s downfall while sneaking extra ration bars. A few years older than Coriolanus, Tigress works odd jobs and is a master of needle and thread, so at least the families’ clothes keep up appearances.

As a reader you empathize with Coriolanus as he struggles to live up to his father, who he doesn’t even remember all that fondly. (I think Collins has a lot of thoughts about children who are told from an early age that they’re better than everyone else because of their lineage.) He’s been taught to work hard with what he has, fight for his turn, and read people’s true intentions, skills he uses to just stay afloat in a game that’s not fair and in which the rules are always changing. You celebrate as he turns public slights to compliments and potential failures into favors.

Being so close to the Hunger Games changes Coriolanus. His young mind opens to the tragedy of the unfortunate district tributes. Unlike the pomp and glamour of the future Hunger Games, these tributes are brought to the Capitol in livestock train cars, kept in animal cages in the zoo, and never fed. Coriolanus empathizes with the tributes more than most of his classmates, and as he develops a close relationship with his own tribute, he will stop at nothing to give her (and himself) the best odds.

Snow. Lands. On. Top.

Highly recommended for Hunger Games fans! If you haven’t read the original trilogy, go read that first!