Book Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

It’s hard to believe that it has be 10 years since Suzanne Collins concluded the Hunger Games trilogy. What’s even harder to believe, is that this series wasn’t even my radar until the release of “Mockingjay.” I distinctly remember seeing a “Coming Soon” poster at Barnes & Noble and thinking “What’s the deal with this blue book with the bird on the cover?” I never investigated the book further until it happened to come up one day at work (I was working at a small Publishing company, at the time). One of our interns was an English major and was talking about how she just binge read “Mockingjay” the day it came out for class. This sparked my interest and we started discussing the series. After that conversation, I was officially intrigued and ran out during my lunch break to pick up a copy of “The Hunger Games!” This series quickly became one of my favorites and the rest, my friends, is history!

I heard, earlier this year, that a new Hunger Games prequel was announced and I was thrilled. Details were few and far between but the events of this book happen roughly 50 years or so before we meet Katniss. Even with no information on the plot, I was still looking forward to re-visitng Panem. As additional details were announced, it was revealed that this book was going to be focusing on President Snow. The book community seemed to responded with mixed feelings but I was still extremely interested in reading this new release as soon as possible!

I purposely avoided reviews, feedback and comments about “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (TBOSAS)” while I was reading so I didn’t accidentally spoil anything for myself (or pick up some sort of bias). Having finished the book last night, I spent most of this morning seeking out all of that content I was avoiding. I was quite surprised by some of the reactions I saw. There were digs at Collins for “extending” a concluded series, Snow as a main character and how these details could’ve been included in the original trilogy / didn’t deserve their own book. I wanted to share of my thoughts and why I think some of this feedback missed its mark. Disclaimer: All of this content is relatively spoiler-free, I discuss some revealed information but without any context and I don’t think it will reduce your enjoyment of the book.

To start off, this book is without a doubt NOT an “extension” of “The Hunger Games” series. We are not continuing the story with Katniss and Peeta. The purpose of this novel was to give readers the background on how the Hunger Games became the Hunger Games. When Katniss and Peeta competed, we saw past winners serving as mentors, elaborate costumes, in-depth tribute interviews, a ranking / betting system, technologically-advanced arenas and gifts being flown in to fan-favorites, but how did that all come to be? “TBOSAS” gives you all of this background information and more! I guess I sort of assumed that the Hunger Games were expertly structured from the very beginning. That was definitely not the case! It took years and years of iterations to turn these Games into the finely tuned event we see in “The Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire.”

While President Snow wasn’t my first choice as a main character, it was interesting learning more about his upbringing and background. In his youth, Snow was not the twisted, manipulative, villainous dictator we’ve all come to despise from the main trilogy. Instead, he was a poor orphan boy, living with his cousin and Grandma’am, trying to maintain a false appearance of grandeur. Snow was extremely driven and dreamed of achieving a better life for not only himself, but his family too. I found his character building to be fascinating. Later in the book, we come to understand why Snow hated District 12 and his complicated relationship with the mockingjay. For me, I think these were some of my favorite revelations in the book. Katniss was often referred to as the Mockingjay but that now takes on a whole new meaning!

Snow’s behavior towards the end of the book does become a little erratic but I think this all ties into the fact that he is extremely driven and will do almost anything to get what he wants. There was a period where he seemed very resigned to his fate but as soon as there was a glimmer of hope, he continued fighting – nothing was going to stop him from the future he so desperately desired!

While this wasn’t a perfect read, probably 4 or 4.5 / 5 stars, it was very enjoyable. If you’re on the fence about picking this up, here are a few things to ponder to help decide: Are you interested in learning the origins and growth of the Hunger Games? Why President Snow hates mockingjays and District 12? How mentors, betting, interviews and gifting were introduced? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’ll at least get some pleasure from reading this book. If you’re expecting an action-packed adventure in the arena, you probably should pass on this one!

Have you read “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes?” Do you agree or disagree? Sound off in the comments – I love a good good discussion!

Until next time,
Mr. Geek


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