The villain origin story I never knew I needed: a review of ‘The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’

“In penance for their uprising, each district shall offer up a male and a female between the ages of 12 and 18 at a public ‘Reaping’. These tributes shall be delivered to the custody of The Capitol and then transferred to a public arena where they will fight to the death until a lone victor remains. Henceforth and forevermore this pageant shall be known as The Hunger Games.”

And that right there is exactly why I think absolutely anyone would love these books. As a tribute of the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss’ story was one of survival, love, inequality, and hope. How can you not love it?

When I first discovered that there was a prequel to this outstanding trilogy, I can’t lie, I had very low expectations. The main trilogy had set the bar very high and from looking at ‘Goodreads’ reviews, this prequel had not been received nearly as well. With an average rating of 3.86 out of 5 stars, many people had critiqued it for being more like a fan fiction, and had said that it was a waste of a good opportunity.

However, I am here to tell you that I stand proudly among the 28% of people on ‘Goodreads,’ who believe that this is a 5-star book. I will now tell you why, but, before that, here’s a little bit of context.

The book is set just before the 10th annual Hunger Games and follows 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow as he becomes a mentor to District 12’s female tribute, Lucy Gray Baird. For those of you who may not know, Coriolanus Snow is the main villain of Katniss’ story (64 years later), being Panem’s ruthless President, overseeing the cruelty of The Hunger Games.

When I first heard that the prequel would follow him as an 18-year-old mentor, I was initially quite unenthusiastic. He was one of the last characters that came to mind when thinking of who should deserve their own prequel. Characters like Haymitch and Finnick, victors of the 50th and 65th Hunger Games, would have been much more thrilling reads in my opinion.

Collins makes it clear right from the beginning that Coriolanus Snow is extremely preoccupied with the notion of becoming powerful and will do anything (even cheat) to help his tribute win.

However, after reading this prequel, I can now say that Suzanne Collins’ characterisation of Snow was absolutely flawless. The book is set following the destructive war with the districts, and the Snow family, once wealthy, powerful and respected, are now falling to pieces. Coriolanus Snow, son of the Snow’s patriarch, is determined to raise his family’s status back to the way it was. So, when he becomes a mentor to the female tribute of District 12, he sees this as the perfect opportunity to restore his family to prosperity. The mentor who successfully aids their tribute to win The Hunger Games will be rewarded with a scholarship and a monetary prize.

I was very relieved to find out that Collins would not glorify Snow in any way whatsoever, which some villain origin stories unfortunately do. Collins is successful in making Snow’s character so detestable and his actions so inexcusable, that even if you didn’t know about the villainous role he later plays in the main trilogy, it is impossible not to utterly hate him.

Even when he does have his seemingly ‘glorious’ moments as a mentor, ultimately aiding Lucy to become the winner of The Hunger Games, Collins still portrays him as a very manipulative, cunning, calculating, and selfish character – the President Snow we know and hate. His position as a mentor, a role that’s supposed to be supportive, helpful, and understanding, is instead one of toxic obsession. Collins makes it clear right from the beginning that Coriolanus Snow is extremely preoccupied with the notion of becoming powerful and will do anything (even cheat) to help his tribute win. Therefore, his mindset going into the Hunger Games is one of greed, immorality, and selfishness. He views Lucy Gray Baird’s triumphs in the arena as ones that will benefit his unjust and extremely unfair rise to power. I absolutely loved how Collins constructed his character.

Readers who are familiar with the main trilogy will also appreciate Collins’ well-placed references and nods to Katniss’ story. I love it when prequels address the origins of things mentioned in their main series and I think Collins did this perfectly.

Being set 64 years before the first book, Collins gives her readers an insight into how certain aspects of the Games were created. Mentors, betting, sponsors, interviewing tributes, forming allies, the Victor’s Village, some things that Snow created himself, were all further explained in this prequel. Knowing what I know now makes re-watching and re-reading the main trilogy even more impactful.

Overall, this book most definitely exceeded my expectations. The one bit of advice I’d give to anyone wanting to read it is to familiarise yourself with the main trilogy; it will make you appreciate this book so much more. I cannot wait for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes to be released in cinemas (on my birthday!) and I hope it will impress me as much as this book did.

5/5 stars

Comments (2)

  • Okay, you have officially convinced me to read it – I’m off to buy the book now! I’m also glad to know that Collins has not lost her exceptional writing quality over the past decade.

  • This is an incredible review and makes me even more excited for the film to come out! Good job and may the odds be ever in your favour! 🙂

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