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Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

The prequel to Suzanne Collins Hunger Games trilogy adds another layer of twisted morality and raises questions about the nature of humanity.

  • Pick up this book if: you like origin stories and understanding the motive and rationalization of a story’s villain. 
  • Don’t pick up this book if: you need to be able to relate to and agree with the protagonist.

In this book: You will find an only slightly dystopian world which is not too far a stretch from our own. Coriolanus and Tigris Snow are two cousins of the once mighty family which has fallen on hard times in the Dark Days of the war. Coriolanus has the weight of the world on his shoulders as he tries to find a way to save the family home and honor through his new role as a mentor in the 10th annual Hunger Games. The deceptively charming Coriolanus bends others to his will and manipulates situations around him while internally justifying each decision in a way that makes it seem to be for the greater good of everyone. 

At the soul of this novel, there is a question about whether human beings are inherently good or evil. There are tropes throughout the novel which invite self reflection. Even the basic reality of an audience (and an international audience at that) being entertained by a novel about a children fighting to their deaths, welcomes criticism about

Spoiler alert:

Coriolanus Snow’s digressing morality leads to his callous destruction of multiple lives. By the end of the novel, he has potentially killed 5 people, one of them being his best friend and another being his girlfriend. As he progresses as a murderer, he has next to no remorse for the lives he ends. He doesn’t even care enough to discover whether Lucy Gray is dead or alive after he shoots at her. Then after going home, he sets up the murder of his school Dean. Ending the novel in this way leaves the reader with an uncomfortable sense of guilt for trying to relate to this diabolical character. 

There is a missing sense of catharsis at the end of the novel, which usually means the author wants the reader to reexamine their life and bring about the change they want to see. Only in this case, the author ends the novel with the protagonist justifying and even normalizing his actions. Collins uses philosophy and logic to make Snow’s actions seem acceptable for most of the novel, baiting the reader into a relationship and a sense of trust with the character. Just like Lucy Gray, the reader finds their trust betrayed at the end when Snow reveals how truly heartless he is. On Collins’ part, it is an interesting ploy to engage the reader in the mistaken belief that the antagonist is the protagonist. At the end, it feels as if the reader is thrust into the realization that Lucy Gray has always been the protagonist, but because she misplaced her trust, she is either killed or silenced forever. It is a strange feeling to see the evil triumph over good and to find that you have been reading from the antagonist’s point of view. Of course, going into the novel as a prequel to a world-wide best-selling trilogy, most people know that Coriolanus Snow will be an antagonist, but it is still a twisty ride nonetheless. The end of the novel feels like one of the hanging scenes. In this case, it is Coriolanus’s morality that dies, but the reader is left with the last cries of his conscience echoing in their heads – as if a group of Mockingjays are repeating his dying words. Snow lands on top.

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