Sunday, July 12, 2020

Book: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Collins, Suzanne. 2020. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Scholastic Press.

This book is a prequel to the Hunger Games trilogy that details a crucial period in the life of Coriolanus Snow, who is president of Panem during the trilogy. In this book, the reader learns about his senior year of high school - the author knows her audience - and the following summer, which manage to fill 517 pages of (not particularly dense) text.

The key event in the book is the 10th running of the Hunger Games. I found one of the most interesting aspects of the book the author's telling of the early history of the games. The 10th games are the first with betting and with the ability for audience members to send gifts by drone to their favorite tributes. Crucially to the plot, for the 10th games the powers-that-be assign Academy students as mentors to the tributes for the first time. Though Coriolanus gets assigned to a seemingly hopeless District 12 tribute he manages to make some lemonade out of the lemons in ways that serve to illustrate his character and provide insight into why he rules Panem the way he does in the later trilogy.

The final quarter of the book or so concerns the summer following the 10th games. I will avoid spoilers but say that I did not find this part as compelling, particularly the last 30 pages or so that serve to resolve all the uncertainty. It seemed to me that Coriolanus falls a bit out of character at the end. Had I been the editor, I would have pressed the author for a few more iterations on this bit prior to signing off on publication.

I do like it that the book quite consciously engages with deeper issues around nature versus nurture and related questions of political philosophy without preaching about them. Is life in the state of nature really solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and sort? Collins wants her readers to think about that.

As an aside, I remain puzzled by the fact that no one in any of the four books seems at all interested in history prior to the bigger war that led to a world consisting of districts and a capitol. Some of the characters in this book encounter some ruins from that time (i.e. our time) but display no interest in them whatsoever. I find that reaction implausible.

Recommended if you're really into the Hunger Games world. Being a YA book it makes for fine bedtime reading.

Seminary Coop book page (which is where I ordered it).

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