Would it be about Haymitch’s time in the arena? Would it take place during the Dark Days?
Well, neither apparently.
Collins instead chose to write a novel about President Coriolanus Snow’s teenage years. Sound unappealing? You’re not alone! It has proven divisive amongst fans.
However, I quite enjoyed The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. It’s a flawed but nonetheless interesting detour through post-war Panem.
A Brief Recap
In case you’re unfamiliar with the series, far into the future, North America is divided into thirteen Districts and ruled by the Capitol.
The Districts rebel against the rule of the Capitol and a civil war ensues, which the Capitol wins.
As punishment, the Districts are forced to surrender two children to the Capitol every year (one boy, one girl) for a televised fight to the death. This is called the Hunger Games because the victor wins a lifetime supply of food for their family.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes picks up 10 years after the civil war, and it’s a very different place to the rich, opulent Capitol of the original The Hunger Games trilogy.
What’s fascinating about The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is that the games themselves are actually very unpopular in the Capitol. They’re primitive, only partially televised, and there’s very little appetite for them to take place at all.
If you’re interested in learning more about Panem, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a real treat. It’s packed with lore and neat callbacks for fans of the series.
The Problem with SnowThe House of Snow has fallen on hard times since the civil war, and Snow has only his name and reputation to rely on.
Not unsurprisingly, he’s thoroughly unlikable. Snow is cowardly, entitled, and angsty.
It’s strange that other characters seem to be drawn to him. If he possesses any sort of charismatic magnetism, the reader isn’t privy it.
And then there’s his relationship with Lucy Gray… Yikes.
‘His girl. His. Here in the Capitol, it was a given that Lucy Gray belonged to him, as if she’d had no life before her name was called out at the reaping.’
It’s a bizarre, sickly-sweet relationship that’s never quite believable. I wasn’t a fan.
Lucy Gray herself is charming though. She’s forthright, playful, and a little mysterious. There’s an aura surrounding her that I found compelling.
I’ve seen a lot of chatter on the internet about how this novel should have been her story. I’d actually be inclined to agree.
How Does The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes Compare to the Original Trilogy?
It’s surprisingly introspective, discussing philosophical ideas of the nature of evil, legitimacy of violence, and Rousseau’s social contract. Being a YA novel, these weighty themes are dealt with in quite a simple way, so it’s not at all hard to follow.
However, it does slow down the pace of the novel. Not that it’s a particularly high-octane thriller in the first place.
Whereas the original trilogy was fast-paced, and the good vs evil narrative straightforward, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes has a tendency to meander. The plot lacks thrust, and its pacing seems off.
I think that some fans of Katniss’s story may well find themselves alienated by this one.
Despite this, I did appreciate the philosophical discourse; it makes for some pretty interesting exchanges.
Nature vs Nurture
Speaking of philosophy, nature vs nurture is a key theme running throughout the novel – especially relating to the problem of evil.
Much like Peeta and Gale are set up as the respective angel and devil on Katniss’s shoulders throughout the original trilogy, Snow has Sejanus Plinth and Dr. Gaul.
Sejanus is too pure for this world. A conscientious objector, Sejanus is forced to grip with his role as a mentor whilst at the same time abhorring violence. He’s a moral force for good, without being preachy.
On the other hand, Dr. Gaul is reminiscent of the Nazi Party’s Josef Mengele. Running a lab in which she experiments on people and animals, creating Mutts.
On the whole, the supporting cast probably isn’t as strong as the characters of Collins’ previous novels – they just don’t compare to Haymitch Abernathy or Effie Trinket!
However, I did enjoy witnessing the opposite influences of Dr. Gaul and Sejanus Plinth take hold of Snow.
Final Verdict ⭐⭐⭐
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a solid entry into the franchise.
You’ll also be pleased to know that – on the whole – it’s far superior to the dreadful Mockingjay.
If you’re invested in the world that Suzanne Collins has created, The Ballad of Songbird and Snakes has a lot to offer. The world- building, especially in the Capitol, is excellent.
However, if you’re looking for a story like Katniss’s, you’ll be disappointed. The overall plot lacks narrative thrust, and Snow is a disappointingly bland character.If you’re a fan, I’d definitely recommended giving it a go – based on the reviews I’ve read so far, you’ll either love it or hate it.
I, for one, found it an enjoyable enough journey through post-war Panem.
Have you read Songbirds and Snakes? How did you feel about it? Let me know in the comments below!
*For more information on the Tales from Absurdia rating scale, please read the review rating system.