Fans of “The Hunger Games,” rejoice! Suzanne Collins is back with her fourth novel of The New York Times’ bestselling series. However, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” takes place 64 years before the events of the original trilogy and follows 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow. Yes, you read that right. President Snow is the protagonist of this story instead of the antagonist we know him to be.
The Capitol isn’t the glamorous world filled with outrageous outfits and parties we know, either. Instead, it’s a stark reminder of the events that took place during the war against the rebels and for Snow, of what he lost. The novel begins with Snow preparing for the reaping, an annual televised event in which a male and female tribute are picked from the 12 districts to fight to the death in an arena. Children living in the Capitol are exempt from being selected, due to the gamemakers wanting to remind the districts of what happens if you cross them.
It’s revealed that Snow and his classmates at the Academy – the Capitol’s version of high school – are to serve as mentors in an effort to make the games more appealing so citizens will watch them. The mentors are assigned a tribute from the districts and are in charge of making them stand out so citizens of the Capitol will send them gifts, like food, while they’re in the arena. Snow’s typical arrogance shines through as he awaits being assigned his tribute. He thinks it’s a mistake when his name is called to mentor a girl from the poorest district, District 12. However, he later considers himself lucky once Lucy Gray Baird is chosen and makes a scene, thus drawing the Capitol’s eyes toward her. This newfound connection between Snow and District 12 serves as a reminder of his eventual hatred toward the district and Katniss Everdeen during the 74th Hunger Games.
As the novel progresses, the audience sees Snow grapple with his morals as a result of a confrontation with Dr. Gaul, the head gamemaker, as well as assess his feelings for Lucy Gray. It’s clear that the novel wasn’t made to humanize Snow, but rather to explain how his past influenced his future as the tyrannical dictator of Panem.
While the novel seemed to drag at times, it had plenty of unexpected plot twists that held my attention. There are also numerous recalls to the original trilogy littered throughout the novel. So if you also went through a “The Hunger Games” phase or are currently going through one, I highly recommend you give this a read.