Book Review: A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (spoilers free!)

Sunday, July 05

By Shermaine Lim

It's been almost a decade since the Hunger Games trilogy was published, and following the resounding success of this franchise, Suzanne Collins has returned with a prequel. With its hyped-up release, fans have been anticipating this new addition to the series. Thus the question stands: does it live up to its hype? 

Well, for those of you who were expecting a book filled with action and adventure, you may be underwhelmed. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is not an action-based story, contrary to the expectations of many. Whilst I was a little disheartened at first to notice the disparity between the writing styles of Collin’s previous work, I found myself becoming deeply re-immersed into the dystopia universe, entrenched in the unraveling tale that depicted the intricacies of young Coriolanus Snow’s (the main antagonist of the Hunger Games trilogy) character. This story, packed with character development, delved into the understanding of Snow’s inner turmoil as we see his journey unfold from an ambitious, thoughtful young man to the ruthless and vengeful person we know him to be. 

What intrigued me was the way Collin’s fleshed out the world from the perspective of a Capitol citizen, and we see the depiction of the dark days from their point of view. To Snow, the districts who rebelled were reasons behind his family’s poverty and the death of his father. We see the affluent Capitol citizens as we know them to be in a different light, as we witness their ancestors having to turn to cannibalism to survive. This drives in an important message: War devastates all. The Capitol did not start out as the wealth-adorned cosmopolitan we know it to be, and we see how this takes a toll on its people. Interestingly, we also get to witness the early days of the Hunger Games, as well as its development from a dull and uninteresting mandated event to the exciting, gory entertainment spectacle that we know it to be. Collins really shines through when it comes to exploring the morality and reasoning behind the games, doing so through clever plot points rather than inserting chunks of exposition. We see the Capitol student’s impression of their games, as well as the ideals and the origin story of such barbaric games. We see the games as they were, undeveloped and drab. It drives home the narrative of the idea of refinement, as we can see how the games are improved on every year with new rules and installations. 

More importantly, Snow’s character arch in this story really depicts the morality of the human condition, as we witness him go through hardship, fall in love, and end up as the ruthless man we know him to be. It makes him vulnerable, as readers sympathise with him as we see him grapple with the decisions that ultimately shape his personality. Honestly, the pace of the book wasn’t always consistent, with chunks of fast-paced story transitioning into chunks of unnecessary paragraphs detailing unimportant events, before its sudden transitions into a completely different setting. However, Collin’s writing prowess ultimately shows itself not in the way she weaves plot points together, but in the way she explores and builds on the current universe she had created, giving readers a cohesive and almost poetic tale that corresponds to its sequels. After this read, my perception of the Hunger Games and its characters will be vastly changed, following the subversive and nuanced story that is the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Does it live up to its hype? I’ll say yes; but in an unexpected way, as it delivers on allowing readers to delve deeper into the universe and characters, whilst diverging from its initial writing style.

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