The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (A Hunger Games Novel)
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, a prequel to Susanna Collins's acclaimed Hunger Games trilogy, confirms Collins as a master of dystopian YA, able to spin engaging tales around deeply flawed characters and societies.
This tale follows Coriolanus Snow, the villain of the Hunger Games trilogy. Coriolanus begins a likable young man, the last heir of a formerly grand aristocratic family whose fortune has vanished, leaving them struggling even for enough food to eat. He is in many ways a classic YA hero: down on his luck, devoted to his family, a basically good person pushed into difficult choices. Collins drops hints of underlying selfishness, however, suggesting that his goodness may continue only as long as it serves his interests.
In this novel, the Hunger Games are a far cry from the glitzy spectacle of the original trilogy, not yet hiding their inherent brutality behind showmanship. Coriolanus is chosen as a mentor in the games, and his ideas and innovations, along with those of his professor, Dr. Gaul, foreshadow what the Games will become. As a mentor, Coriolanus is paired with a District 12 tribute named Lucy Gray Baird, a singer with a gypsy-like traveling troupe of performers. As Coriolanus attempts to coach Lucy Gray to victory in the Games, the two fall in love.
But this story is no triumph of young romance. Collins writes with the expectation that readers have read the original trilogy, and thus already know who Coriolanus Snow is and what he will become. The suspense is not so much in what the ending of the story will be, but in how it will play out, pervading the sweet romance with a sense of dread for the inevitable catastrophe.
For Coriolanus, there is always a tension between goodness and control, between freedom and preserving a way of life. These questions apply both to his individual choices and to the choices of his society. Lucy Gray believes the people in the Districts should have the freedom to make their own choices, but Dr. Gaul believes that people are inherently violent, and only through power and control can there be peace.
Collins knows what kind of story she is telling, and tells it well, showing us how a charming young boy in love becomes the villain of the original trilogy. Dr. Gaul asks Coriolanus as she gives him a writing assignment, "Chaos. No control, no law, no government at all. Like being in the arena. Where do we go from there? What sort of social contract is required for survival?" At the end of the novel, Coriolanus is given that choice. And the reader already knows what he will choose.