I was blown away by The Hunger Games. Really. It is not often that a book just gets to me. As my late friend, Joy, said, “The entire concept of this book is so unlike anything I would want to read…..so why did I start reading it and find that I could not put it down?” That’s how I felt. It was an unbelievable book.
If you haven’t seen my reviews of the other books, you might want to check them out first:
So, how did The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes rate? First, let me tell you a little bit about the book without giving too much of the story away. It’s the 10th year of the Hunger Games at the Capitol of Panem. Previously, not many people watched The Hunger Games, which are held in a bombed out arena in the Capitol. This year will be different.
Mentors from the Academy will be chosen. One of them is a certain Coriolanus Snow; that’s right, the future President Snow is an 18-year old Academy student, and he ends up with the worst possible district tribute, District 12 (of course), and the girl (of course).
The tribute is Lucy Gray Baird. On the day of the reaping, she drops a snake down the mayor’s daughter’s shirt. When she gets on stage, she sings a song, hence the title Songbird and Snakes. She’s not really from District 12, she’s “Covey,” not belonging to any particular district, but that’s where she and the rest of the Covey wound up after the war.
Of course, this is years before the slick production of the Hunger Games that we are used to. The tributes are hauled to the Capitol in an uncleaned cattle car and literally dumped in the monkey house at the zoo. Food and water is not a priority for the tributes, since all but one will be dead soon, anyway. Their mentors gets precious little time with the tributes before the Games begin.
The Dean of the Academy, the creator of the games, and the Gamemaker, ask the students for suggestions on how to attract more viewers to the Games. Snow’s suggestions are taken as the best, so now betting will take place on the tributes, and mentors will be able to have food and water delivered to their tributes in the arena. That’s right, our buddy Snow came up with those ideas.
That’s about all I can tell you without some serious spoilers.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes did not have to be 500 pages long. I struggled to stay engaged throughout. There are so many times when nothing is happening! There’s very little tension in the book because you know how Snow ultimately turns out, so none of his grappling with choices should shock you. Sure, he’s an idealistic kid who struggles with some of the nature vs. nurture arguments, but we all know he slips to the dark side eventually.
The real action is in the last third of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, which was predictable, as Snow spends some time in District 12, where he goes absolutely bonkers when he hears the mockingjay. Really, there’s no good reason why, but Suzanne Collins keeps hammering the point home that Snow hates mockingjays in an attempt to tie that to his future ever-loving hatred of Katniss Everdeen. And he’s introduced to the katniss root. Boom.
I thought the last 50 pages or so was where all the action was after plodding along for so long, and then the ending was rushed. The ending also left the door open to more sequels with Coriolanus Snow as he rises in power.
So if this isn’t a villain origin story, what is it? The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a bloated, vain attempt to cash in on the wild success of previous works (a new movie was in the works before the book was even finished). I could be in the minority here, though, as I thought the Harry Potter books got quite bloated and in need of an editor in the later volumes, too.
In the end, if you enjoyed The Hunger Games trilogy, you may come out of this wishing Suzanne Collins had left well enough alone. Conversely, I’ve heard others rave about this book. But one thing’s for sure: it’s not a slam-dunk favorite like the original book.
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