Book Review: THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES by Suzanne Collins

Title in white on navy with a green bird and snake coiled around the o in songbirds
Genre: dystopia
Age Range: YA
Star Rating: 2 stars
Series: yes - prequel


Book cover for THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES: title in white on navy below a white circle with a green bird and snake entwined around it.

It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capital, eighteen-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 outcharm, outwit, and outmanoeuvre 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.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


When a prequel for THE HUNGER GAMES was announced, I was rather surprised when Snow – the evil president of the original trilogy – was to be the main character. Humanising villains with (usually tragic) backstories is really in vogue at the moment, as shown by some of the Disney films and books like MALICE.

I love a good fall arc, when done well and examining the complexity of the human psyche, and how easy it is to fall down the slippery slope. However, this one just felt really meh. Snow is made into a boy with a glorious family history that’s all gone, thanks to his family’s businesses being destroyed in the war as they were in district 13. He’s trying to keep up appearances and win money to keep his family afloat.

The problem was he lacked the cold, cunning charisma that made him such a good villain, and he never grows into it. We never really see him become the villain, which is the whole point of a fall arc. There’s sort of a vague “he’s joining the gamesmakers” at the end, but he just isn’t there yet.

The other disappointing aspect is that it’s a fall arc all about love. He falls for a girl from district 12, his mentee in the games, and even ends up almost running away with her. Except he doesn’t because she disappears on him for an unexplained reason. It’s almost like the author went “ah, word count getting large, I’ll just end it.” It’s not satisfying, doesn’t adequately explain why he acts as he does. Plus it’s such a weak and cliched storyline to have a male villain go bad because of a girl.

The first two thirds are set in the capital, the final in district 12, and that section feels like it’s trying to cram in as many places seen in the original trilogy, give a backstory to the few songs in the first (and create a load more). Not to mention references to Katniss, even though her parents aren’t even alive yet.

What was interesting was seeing the games evolve. They’re nothing like they are in the books, and are struggling to make the point they do in the original trilogy. The book shows the start of how it evolved into a technological reality show of brutality. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to make up for the weak plot.

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