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The Hunger Games #0

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

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It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capital, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute.

The odds are against him. He's been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined -- every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favor or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute... and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.

541 pages, Kindle Edition

First published May 19, 2020

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About the author

Suzanne Collins

59 books95.1k followers
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Since 1991, Suzanne Collins has been busy writing for children’s television. She has worked on the staffs of several Nickelodeon shows, including the Emmy-nominated hit Clarissa Explains it All and The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo. For preschool viewers, she penned multiple stories for the Emmy-nominated Little Bear and Oswald. She also co-wrote the critically acclaimed Rankin/Bass Christmas special, Santa, Baby! Most recently she was the Head Writer for Scholastic Entertainment’s Clifford’s Puppy Days.

While working on a Kids WB show called Generation O! she met children’s author James Proimos, who talked her into giving children’s books a try.

Thinking one day about Alice in Wonderland, she was struck by how pastoral the setting must seem to kids who, like her own, lived in urban surroundings. In New York City, you’re much more likely to fall down a manhole than a rabbit hole and, if you do, you’re not going to find a tea party. What you might find...? Well, that’s the story of Gregor the Overlander, the first book in her five-part series, The Underland Chronicles. Suzanne also has a rhyming picture book illustrated by Mike Lester entitled When Charlie McButton Lost Power.

She currently lives in Connecticut with her family and a pair of feral kittens they adopted from their backyard.

The books she is most successful for in teenage eyes are The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay. These books have won several awards, including the GA Peach Award.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 57,033 reviews
Profile Image for Nataliya.
784 reviews12.5k followers
July 8, 2020
For all of their faults, The Hunger Games books a decade ago became a pop culture phenomenon. The brutal premise in a YA book, the surly heroine with a backbone of steel, the motifs of manipulation vs truth, the moral ambiguity, the pain of survival, the lasting impact of trauma — yeah, I loved it shamelessly, warts and all .

And then Collins writes a prequel about President Snow. Yeah, *that* Snow. The Emperor Palpatine of that universe (I’m a bit shaky on Star Wars stuff, but I think I got that one right). The absolutely abhorrent embodiment of all evil, keen on sending children to death while oppressing the crap out of the country. So why?
Is it a villain origin/redemption story? We do tend to like redemption of villains, the origin stories that explain the eventual slide into darkness. Darth Vader. Joker. Severus Snape. Wicked Witch of the West. So is this book here to show us the tragic slide into villainy, the horror of the circumstances and the Games that eats away at you and taints you until there is not much left? Or is this just a case of innate sociopathy, an early glimpse of the soul that thrives on cruelty?
I think this book will alienate quite a few of Hunger Games fans. You see, it was easy to root for Katniss pitted against the ridiculous brutality of her world. She spoke to you, the girl who volunteered, the girl who defied her own self-preservation instinct to stand up for what’s right. But The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes makes it impossible to root for its protagonist because he is the ultimate antagonist, because we know what he will become.

You don’t root for young Hitler to find love and success, after all.

Coriolanus Snow cannot be redeemed. But he can be understood, to a point, and that’s what Collins did well here (or so my sleep-deprived brain after late night bleary-eyed reading believes).

I like that Snow is not a born sociopath. He is bright but unlikeable, ambitious, resentful, conceited and very entitled, with capacity for manipulation and ruthlessness. He is slippery like the titular snakes. But he has some humanity in him - capacity for friendship, capacity for love, capacity to care and even a degree of sacrifice.

The problem is the choices that he decides to make - the choices fueled by his over-developed self-preservation instinct which is by definition selfish. The problem is that you don’t need to be a born stone-cold tyrant — you can choose to become one when you choose yourself above all, when you make the corrupt system work for you instead of choosing to fight it. He chooses complicity — and that’s what shapes him into what he will become by the time 64 years later when Katniss Everdeen volunteers to become District 12 tribute in the horrific televised spectacle of Hunger Games.

Snow decides to remain a predator so that he wouldn’t become prey.
“So he added a paragraph about his deep relief on winning the war, and the grim satisfaction of seeing the Capitol’s enemies, who’d treated him so cruelly, who’d cost his family so much, brought to their knees. Hobbled. Impotent. Unable to hurt him anymore. He’d loved the unfamiliar sense of safety that their defeat had brought. The security that could only come with power. The ability to control things. Yes, that was what he’d loved best of all.”
This is a story of the formation of a tyrant - but the one who understands what makes others rebel, and that, as we know, makes him even more dangerous. No surprise he is behind the whole concept of Hunger Games as a mandatory sickening voyeristic pageantry spectacle.
“We control it,” he said quietly. “If the war’s impossible to end, then we have to control it indefinitely. Just as we do now. With the Peacekeepers occupying the districts, with strict laws, and with reminders of who’s in charge, like the Hunger Games. In any scenario, it’s preferable to have the upper hand, to be the victor rather than the defeated.”
It’s not a love story, despite the superficial resemblance to it. Snow wants Lucy, wants to possess her, wants her to be his — and wants it only as far as it suits his comfort. Don’t think that it ends up being a desperate turn to villainy after the loss of a loved one — that would be too cheap.
“His girl. His. Here in the Capitol, it was a given that Lucy Gray belonged to him, as if she’d had no life before her name was called out at the reaping. Even that sanctimonious Sejanus believed she was something he could trade for. If that wasn’t ownership, what was? With her song, Lucy Gray had repudiated all that by featuring a life that had nothing to do with him, and a great deal to do with someone else. Someone she referred to as “lover,” no less. And while he had no claim on her heart — he barely knew the girl! — he didn’t like the idea of anyone else having it either. Although the song had been a clear success, he felt somehow betrayed by it. Even humiliated.”
No, there is no redemption for Coriolanus Snow. There is only understanding which at least for me led to even more repulsion. Because he saw a path that Katniss eventually took — and instead forged his own, the easier one, the one of cruel overcompensation for almost not taking it.

Yes, I can see how it will alienate some long-standing fans.
But I am glad I read it. Even if I couldn’t root for anyone.
Now I can reread The Hunger Games trilogy with new eyes, understanding the underpinnings of that horror show better.

3.5 stars.
“He knew this would be easier if he wasn’t such an exceptional person. The best and the brightest humanity had to offer.”
June 14, 2020

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DNF @ p.101

Me going on a date with The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

Me: So what do you like to do for fun?

TBoSaS: Cabbage soup.

Me: Uh huh.

TBoSaS: Roman names.

Me: Uh huh. *signalling desperately to the waiter for a glass of wine* Those aren't really hobbies you know.

TBoSaS: Hobbies?

Me: You know, things that give your life meaning.

TBoSaS: Oh.

Me: Yeah.

TBoSaS: Does hating on the poors and being surprised that they have feelings count?

Me: This date is over.

So, nobody was looking forward to THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES more than I was and if they say they are, they are liars. Even though a prequel with Coriolanus Snow seemed a bit like a cash grab, I was still willing to put down a "soul of my firstborn" down payment to get my grabby little hands on a copy of this book because I love a good villain origin story.

Keyword: good.

I think the problem here is that it feels so impersonal and boring. The first three books were all narrated in first person and had tautly written action scenes so everything felt very in the moment and urgent. We see the Capitol from Katniss's eyes as this glittering bacchanalia of conspicuous consumption while she and her people are literally starving and she is horrified that she has to compete to the death for the entertainment of these awful people who don't care whether she lives or dies as long as she puts on a good show. Children, for these people, are just another commodity.

Here, it doesn't really work. We already know that the Capitol looks down on the other districts. Seeing Coriolanus bitch and moan about being in genteel poverty while in the same breath whining about how his mentoring Tribute is from the grodiest district doesn't really add anything new to the narrative. And it doesn't help that Lucy Gray is a manic pixie dreamgirl who literally arrives on stage in a frilly ruffled dress, singing stupid songs that take up waaaaay too much of the page count.

And if I heard Coriolanus talk about his fecking cabbage soup one more time.

I can't. I just can't. RIP my untarnished memories of the original series, because this bloated 500-page mess crapped all over it. I think the author would have been better off writing about the first Hunger Games, or one of the games that took place in extreme conditions (like the arctic one), or maybe about a more sympathetic character, like Haymitch or Finnick. I would LOVE to read about Haymitch or Finnick's competitions in the Games and seeing how they got to be the fucked up and jaded individuals that they were in the books. That is the kind of subtle darkness that I expected from the series. I wish it had panned out with this one, but I was mostly just really, really bored.

Date over. And I hope you know, you're paying for that wine, TBoSaS.

1 star
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,993 reviews298k followers
May 25, 2020
I feel absolutely drained by this book.

Because I was such a big fan of The Hunger Games trilogy, I was determined to finish The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, but doing so took a LOT out of me. What a chore this book was! I now understand the disappointed and outraged reviews of others who read it first, but what I don't understand is how those people were still able to blast through this in a day or two. You guys are far tougher readers than I am.

I have to confess that I was initially enthusiastic about this book being told from Coriolanus Snow's perspective. I know it put some people off, but one of the few things I love more than a good villain is a good villain origin story. No, I didn't expect to sympathise with him, but could I understand how he'd gotten so messed up and evil? Well, maybe.

But... I don't think it works. For so many reasons, but a major one for me is that this book is so boring. So meandering, unfocused, dry. There's a lack of urgency and emotion. A lack of any connection with the characters outside of Snow, who is so self-serving and self-pitying that I couldn't even have fun hating him. I could not understand what we were reading for. I had no real questions that needed answering. This book added nothing to the Panem universe.

And the "romance" was just downright unpleasant.

The plot takes us back to the 10th Hunger Games, where Coriolanus Snow is assigned as the mentor to the district 12 candidate, Lucy Gray (whose songs are the one shining light in this novel). Coriolanus sees this as an opportunity to shake himself free of the hardships of the past and improve his social status. Lucy's potential victory becomes deeply-entwined with Coriolanus's own, and their relationship is a discomfiting mix of romantic feelings and him using her to achieve his own means.

But, still, while this is unpleasant, I don't think I am half as bothered by it as I am by how utterly dull the story is. I'm not so refined as to be above some trashy drama, but that's the thing: it's not dramatic. It's lifeless and cold. 90% of the plot exists inside Snow's head. He tells us about the supposed hardships he has had to endure, but we never really feel them. And something about his perspective makes every other character he encounters seem dull also.

A few others noted that this book picks up at the end, which is possibly the only thing that carried me through. It does, but I can also say it was far too little and far too late for me. I think the only good thing about my lack of connection with this book is that I can safely say I don't even consider this part of the same universe as the original trilogy. I can now go forget about it.

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Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,406 reviews11.7k followers
June 1, 2020
Only last 20 pages of this book managed to stir my interest. So, is this 1 or 2 stars? If I hate read the rest of it? Okay, I'll be generous. 1.5 stars it is, but there is no way I am rounding this up.

The problem with The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is that it doesn't know what it wants to be until the very, very end. It meanders here and there, bloated, unfocused, wordy, boring, misguided, treading the same water on and on and on, to the point of tedium. Just to get to the climax where Snow needs to decide if he wants to be good and poor and in love or bad and successful. I kept waiting for some grand twist or revelation to happen. What I got was a tiny splash of excitement after 500 of uninspired blah.

There are failures of every type in this novel. Snow's evolution is convoluted, drawn out, poorly paced, and entirely too much time is spent on lingering on his sob stories of poverty, school demerits and cabbage soup. His inner world is neither explained well nor is it interesting. This is not a successful villain origin tale. You will never convince me that it is. Too many new characters are introduced, but none of them are memorable. There is not one person of Haymitch's caliber, or Cinna’s, or Effie's. There is an attempt to show the dawn and messiness of the early Hunger Games, with all the gore and DYI-horror, but it's diluted by the wrong perspective, weird Capitol apologia and a BIG BAD, super-boring first game maker villain. There is a romance that it totally unbelievable and an incomprehensible joke.

I literally spent 99% of this book with this expression on my face. (I wish I were exaggerating.) None of what was happening made any sense, especially the romance (gag).

I do believe there is a decent story somewhere in this mess of bloated mediocrity, a story that should have been told by Lucy maybe? But as is, this is a massive failure of execution. The pacing is off, the themes are muddled, there is no passion, there is no urgency, there is no heart, there are no stakes. There is, of course, Lucy who was badly underserved. And her songs (too many?). Two potential positives totally wasted on this travesty of a novel.

I am not touching this book ever again, and I am going to try to forget it ever existed.

A heartbreaking fiasco.

Not sure I liked this excerpt or the idea of redeeming a monster. Still, hope dies last...

Never expected this one to happen...
Profile Image for Kat.
270 reviews80k followers
July 12, 2022
- i did truly find the nods to the original trilogy fun. finally finding out the origin of the hanging tree song, why snow despised katniss so much from the get-go, how certain features of the games were implemented, etc. was really interesting. that being said, i've seen a number of reviews say that this read like fan fiction, and i honestly kind of agree. the way that every single loose end from the original story was tied up felt a lot like fan service to me, and while as a fan of the original trilogy i gladly ate that shit up, i don't think any of it was a needed addition to the overall world.

- snow's character felt like an afterthought in his own book?? I was surprised by what a passive protagonist he was for the majority of the story, and he lacked the detail and nuance that would have made this a compelling character study. while i liked that we got to see how easily he was able to manipulate others from the start, his overall transition from the little, privileged weasel of the first two parts to the actual villain in part three was entirely abrupt and unsatisfying.

- the pacing of this was also wonky as heck. the first 450 pages were moving at the pace of a snail (that's a fact, not a complaint. i enjoyed the slower bits more) compared with the breakneck pace of the final 60 pages, i got whiplash.

- the ending (no spoilers) but while i thought snow's portion wrapped up way too quickly just as he was getting interesting, there was enough left hanging with *cough* other characters *cough* that i truly wouldn't be surprised if we got a sequel to this story, and idk how i feel about that.

not sure what else to say....basically, unpacking more of panem's history was an ambitious idea on collins' part, and i think it could have been done well (maybe as part of a collection of novellas?) but, this book was just far too long and failed to strike a good balance between snow's story and the exposition of the early games.
Profile Image for monica kim.
202 reviews6,040 followers
May 20, 2020
a lot of people are not going to like this book. it’s weirder and maybe a little...goofier? than the original hunger games. it’s also much more philosophical - almost part novel part contemplation on nature vs nurture and the base instincts of humanity. and it is not a villain origin story like you’ve read before. if you’ve come here looking for a story like the joker where you leave sympathetic to the villain and understanding what moment pushed them to being evil? well, you’ll likely be very disappointed. but if you, like me, have grown frustrated with the narrative that destructive and horrible white men are just victims of society? you might love this one like i do. honestly, i think with this work suzanne is subverting and critiquing the entire narrative of the “villain origin.” house of cards could be a much better comparison to this novel than any villain origin story you’ve watched or read before.

biggest complaint and what kept this from 5 stars for me: the pacing is a little off. about 75% in, the novel seems to lose a lot of it’s bite and just sort of meanders (until the end, which is definitely explosive).

watch my reading vlog for the ballad of songbirds and snakes: https://youtu.be/hROVNIlYVWY
Profile Image for Cindy.
407 reviews116k followers
July 24, 2020
I really enjoyed the first half of the book and looked forward to how Snow's villain origin story would be pulled off. I was invested in his conflicted feelings about the Games and possessive affections towards his love interest - this set up a really interesting (and juicy!) dynamic, because there's a lot of potential to create a tragic, dramatic, and poignant story there. Unfortunately, the last third of the book bumped my rating down to 3 stars, as I felt very underwhelmed by the outcome and execution. The character development was so rushed at the end; rather than a gradual and nuanced transition to "evil", Snow flip-flopped way too many times for arbitrary reasons. The last third of the book also became extremely heavy-handed with all the mockingjay metaphors and the constant singing to basically sum up the entire story. And if you're going to turn to the dark side so quickly and unrealistically for the sake of canon, at least give us a dramatic showdown for entertainment! This prequel really did have potential, but the last act did not stick to its landing.
Profile Image for Cardan Greenbriar.
90 reviews943 followers
July 9, 2020
*the perfect portrait of me, who waited for something meaningful to happen in this book till the end*

sooooooo moral of the story: Snow was just going through late confusing raunchy Puberty

all in all from the beginning I was in the


oh and using the excuse "slow build/burn" for a book that has poor writing and plot is getting old, boy hoooooo boy the writing was BAD Ms. Collins!
the developing was BAD Ms. Collins!

*during reading*

*me waiting for something meaningful to happen in this book*

Profile Image for Mariah.
1,220 reviews449 followers
June 9, 2020
Listen, I hate President Snow as much as the next person.

This is actually brilliant. Like genius. Critical, and scathing and thought provoking.
Sprinkled with moments where your jaw just quietly drops in shock and pain but you can't do anything except keep on reading.

This book is hypnotic. It had an unputdownable quality I'm still unable to quite put my finger on.
Hats off, this is how you prequel.

The only reason I took off a star was because of the rushed ending. I would've easily read 200 or 300 pages more if it meant the ending was handled as beautifully as the rest of the book was.
Profile Image for Jesse (JesseTheReader).
468 reviews176k followers
December 19, 2020
I went into this one being VERY SKEPTICAL and for the most part I enjoyed it. I still didn't really feel like we delved in too deep on how President Snow became the corrupt person he is in the hunger games trilogy, but we definitely saw a different layer to his character through this story. I found the first portion of the story to be the most engaging bit and the later half I found a bit underwhelming. In a lot of ways it felt like the story was being dragged out, but I was also still engaged with what was happening, it was just not very strong plot wise in the later half. I can't say it really added anything to this world, but I wasn't mad at it to be honest. XD
Profile Image for Peyton Reads.
178 reviews1,784 followers
May 21, 2020
It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me it certainly was. If you’re someone who knows the original books super well, then I think you’ll get the most enjoyment out of it. There’s so many references and nods to the original books that made me so excited! I also thought Snow’s perspective was super interesting to be in and it gave us loads of information about the world of Panem. We learned so much in this book! Overall, I super enjoyed it and I flew through it because I simply couldn’t stop turning the pages.
Profile Image for Kai Spellmeier.
Author 6 books13.7k followers
Shelved as 'on-hold'
October 7, 2020
*whispers softly*: fuck

*whispers louder*: this book releases tomorrow and if I see any of you posting even the mildest spoilers in your status updates you'll have a safe place in hell that looks exactly like the 74th Hunger Games

*yawns*: 60% in and I can't make myself care so I'll just finish this some other time...or not

Find more of my books on Instagram
Profile Image for Maryam Rz..
220 reviews2,749 followers
July 4, 2020
Am I the only one excited to read more of Snow's brilliantly manipulative ways and dive into his past and (hopefully) rise to power? I mean, poisonsssssss *snake hissing*

| 🐍 | • | 🐦 | • | 🐍 | • | 🐦 |

I have a vital, life-changing question: why does this book have 14,680 ratings when IT'S NOT EVEN OUT YET!?

UPDATE: it's out so you guys can finally have an excuse for RATING BOOKS YOU HAVEN'T READ.
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
553 reviews60.5k followers
Want to read
February 29, 2020
So apparently this is about President Snow...

“A teen born to privilege but searching for something more, a far cry from the man we know he will become. Here he’s friendly. He’s charming. For now he’s a hero.”

Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,308 reviews44k followers
Currently reading
June 4, 2023
When you patiently wait for this book too long and you find out this book's plot is about: President Snow's early times:
Profile Image for NickReads.
461 reviews1,195 followers
Want to read
May 16, 2020
I really really really don't care about Snow's life.
Profile Image for emma.
1,869 reviews54.6k followers
July 10, 2023
always trust your gut.

for example, here is my initial note on this book:

do i want to read this book?


well, i don't think so.

okay i'm going to leave this here just in case

and if i had just gone with that feeling and absolutely sprinted in the opposite direction, we wouldn't be here right now.

writing a rant review about a book whose main crimes are being boring and not as good as the actual series it's a prequel of.

see? even my complaints about it aren't interesting.

like, for example, this million page long book would be more like 40 if you took out every usage of the protagonists' incredibly long names (coriolanus and lucy gray, which they say CONSTANTLY and always IN FULL), plus the words cabbage soup, for some reason.

if you took out every reference to the title we wouldn't have a book at all.

and, for another example, what if i told you this was one of the suckiest romances of all time, so awful i am forced to use the already made up term "sucky" to the fullest extent english grammar will allow me. a love story between two boring teens, one who is classist and misogynistic and hateful and boring, and one who is poor and a woman and saccharine and also boring.

what if, hypothetically, the lucy gray character's main personality trait is that she writes and performs songs, and what if the songs are unbearable and corny even as everything else in the book rides on our ability to believe they, for lack of a better word, slay?

what if everything that made the hunger games so appealing and well-done - the action, the satire, the quiet and subtle moments of revolution - did not exist here?

and have you considered if the whole thing were so boring it feels like it could be charged in international court?


not good.

bottom line: get in, loser. we're going to trust our instincts and avoid unnecessary additions to beloved series
Profile Image for Jayson.
1,926 reviews3,446 followers
June 3, 2023
(B+) 77% | Good
Notes: Awfully banal, too many names to recall, the end carries weight, but too-little-too-late, revealing but not urgent at all.

*Check out progress updates for detailed commentary:
Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,589 reviews157k followers
April 7, 2021

A new BookTube Video is Up all about whether you should buy, borrow or burn 2020 YA books! Let me know what you think!
The Written Review

“Well, as they said, it's not over until the mockingjay sings.”
Coriolanus Snow, future president of Panem, is just eighteen-years-old in this prequel to the Hunger Games trilogy.

He is one of the Snows - a once mighty house in the Capitol but now is on the edge of desolation.

He's desperate to preserve the image of his family and find a way to claw his way back to the top.

Then, the unthinkable happens.

Coriolanus's graduation is now tied to the Hunger Games.
You can blame it on the circumstances, the environment, but you made the choices you made, no one else.
He's been given the girl from District 12 (Lucy Gray) to mentor and must find a way to bring her to the top.

Despite her being wholly and completely below him (after all, she'd district)...he finds himself drawn to her and her light.
Nothing you can take from me was ever worth keeping.
But there's darkness within Snow, a darkness that he's willing to embrace to get what he wants. And no one - not the Capitol, not his friends, not even Lucy Gray - better stand in his way.
Snow lands on top

Guys, gals, people of all genders - wow.

I was BLOWN away by this Hunger Games prequel.

So many prequels feel like completely and utterly unnecessary additions to the lore...but this one? I think it worked really well.

It added to and expanded the Hunger Games series - giving some much needed insights to the origins of the Hunger Games.

It was MB to watch these cruel humans design new muttations and calmly discuss the best way to wring out emotions (and participation) from the outer districts.

I also hated and loved Snow. There's no doubt that he's an AWFUL being. Like completely and utterly terrible.

And yet, I was glued to him.

I never truly emphasized with him (cause, hello, he was appalling) but he was riveting to watch and provided such an interesting perspective.

There were a few loose ends that I wished were tied up in the end but overall, I really enjoyed this return to the Hunger Games - and am crossing my fingers for more!

YouTube | Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | Snapchat @miranda_reads
Profile Image for ✨ A ✨ .
432 reviews1,792 followers
August 17, 2023
review to come

Its astonishing that I've managed to avoid spoilers for 3 years. All I'm hoping for is that Collins doesn't give Snow a redemption arc. Let me hate him in peace

Pre-read theories:

Profile Image for Meagan Andersen.
66 reviews15 followers
May 25, 2020
As much as the idea of a whole book dedicated to the mind of President Snow reviled me, I knew this book would be as excellent as it was!

The most captivating piece of the book is in the early development and psychology behind The Hunger Games. It’s a fresh angle. We get to see Capitol citizens living in a post-war redevelopment stage, in which they’ve actually experienced starvation and fear. They have not yet been lulled into complacency regarding the depravity of the games. I loved reading the moral based arguments that eventually abandoned themselves for a fear-conditioned dependency on the power structure between the districts and the Capitol.

Without Coriolanus Snow, we would only have been able to read about this time through a newly made-up character. As loathsome as Panem’s president is, it was a brilliant and logical choice to write from his perspective.

It was fascinating to think of the Games before they were a huge production fueled by gambling, showmanship, and style. The classic arena with tickets, turnstiles, and viewing boxes and the delivery of the victors like livestock in a cattle car. The games of the past are the same as the games of the future, only played out on a smaller, more openly brutal and inhumane scale. No prize but survival, no posh meals (or food at all), no elegant outfits, no interviews, no tokens, no training, and no mentors. Until the 10th Hunger Games.

The mentoring system begins with students of the Capitol’s Academy, Coriolanus Snow being one of them. Several of the Capitol students bond with their tribute and mourn their death. This obviously eventually gives way to the Victor-Mentor system, because there has to be division between the Capitol and the Districts to continue the “eternal war”. One of my biggest questions in the original trilogy was always how none of the Capitol citizens objected to the televised murder of children. But seeing the early stages and development of the games through the eyes of manipulated Capitol teenagers makes the 75 years of terror plausible. Fear begets fear, hatred, and a desire to control. Some Capitol characters are even lovable, despite their willful ignorance.

A few such lovable characters are Tigris and Lysistrata; compelling characters with moments that at least hint at un-Capitol opinions on The Games. Or at least a sadness over the lost of certain tributes and a recognition of their humanity. I also liked Clemensia although she wouldn’t feed Reaper, because her storyline was so intriguing to me. She experienced the snakes and their aftermath first-hand and knew what it was like to be afraid for her life the way the district tributes did. The scene where she and Coriolanus turned the paper in to Dr. Gaul was actually my favorite scene, because I enjoyed the slow, dreadful dawning of what was about to take place in the snake habitat. And of course, Sejanus Plinth. He was too good and too gullible. I loved when he broke into the arena to sprinkle the bread on Marcus’ body, but I wish he’d died there so that his end didn’t have to hurt so much.

President Snow’s character, thankfully, is hardly ever lovable. Even his best moments are manipulative and calculated. Collins does a great job of creating charmingly insincere interactions between Snow and his acquaintances/friends/enemies that showcase his desire to protect and advance his status at all costs. His need for control and order is highlighted not just through his sadistic additions to the games, but in his relationships. He constantly refers to the girl he ‘loves’ possessively - as his girl, and is fraught with jealousy concerning her ex beau that she expresses no continuing interest in. As much as you pity his circumstances, and are impressed with his ambition, he would be distinctly unlikable even without the foresight of his future in The Hunger Games Trilogy. You root for him to make the right choice, while knowing he won’t.

Snow’s snake-like charm made it difficult to love Lucy Gray by association. She was a very unique character that I found well-developed, but had a hard time identifying with. I think having insight to Snow’s character makes it hard to support any girl that finds him lovable. It makes her seem naive and foolish, although she was being played like Master of Puppets. I appreciated that she values trust more than love, and that realizing Coriolanus’ lie is what caused their fallout. I like to believe she was clever enough to get away from Snow and escape to the north! Since the book is from Snow’s perspective, he has to believe that she’s most likely dead, and we get to believe that she’s now a hopefully less dystopian, Canadian free bird.

I loved the tie-ins to the trilogy. I loved getting to learn The Valley Song that made Peeta fall in love with Katniss and the origins of The Hanging Tree. It was interesting to read about a District 12 that was free to go the meadow and the lake and free to play music in the Hob. At certain points I felt like there were too many tie-ins to be realistic, particularly in the mirrored figures of Lucy and Katniss, but I appreciated the sentiment all the same. Despite their relationship as protagonist and antagonist, you get the sense that Katniss and Snow understand each other. They do agree “never to lie to each other” and hold true to that agreement. But seeing her through Snow’s eyes - as a sort of reincarnated Lucy Gray - justifies that understanding. Her name alone brings him back to a time at the lake with Lucy. The songs she sings are Lucy’s songs. Her defiance, her talent, her “star-crossed love” as ill-fated as his own. Her mockingjay pin and Peeta’s frosted cookies, both tokens of his betrayal of Sejanus. The parallel of Snow giving the snakes Lucy’s scent in the arena to protect her and giving the snake-mutts Katniss’ scent so they could hunt her to her death was wicked cool. All brilliant... but almost too brilliant to be believable. Seeing Snow in all of Katniss’ old haunts felt more fan-service than authentic.

It’s never clarified, but in my mind, Snow’s old penthouse becomes the training center. This is based off nothing except my wild imagination and maybe some strategically reminiscent verbiage? The Snow family lives on the top floor - the same floor that might eventually be where the District 12 tributes stay. There’s also a flat roof with a garden, very like the one where Katniss and Peeta spend some secluded time. And Coriolanus and Tigris both mention an elevator several times, which gave me déjà vu to when Katniss first rides the elevator in the tribute center and almost asks Effie if they can ride it again. Especially because selling or repurposing the Snow family’s ancestral home would provide another reason for Tigris’s hatred of her once loved cousin. Yes, I know lots of buildings have penthouses, flat roofs, and elevators. There’s no proof, but I like the theory and I’m sticking to it.

Anyway, all this to say I loved it. It was a great read and it made me want to reread the trilogy which I just read a month ago. Thank you, Suzanne Collins!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Mel.
113 reviews11.9k followers
May 8, 2023
cackling at myself for picking this up 3 years ago and DNF’ing it, and now reading it and giving it 5 stars💀😂
Profile Image for Sara.
1,123 reviews363 followers
May 7, 2023
Reread 2023: I decided to pick this up after watching the trailer for the film. Still really enjoyed it.

Original review: From what I have seen from early reviews, I'm in the minority for this one - but I really enjoyed this. I can understand the criticism, and perhaps the argument that this isn't particularly necessary, but there's just something about this world and its set up that manages to suck me in every time.

Following Snow as a main character was always going to be a bold choice. He's not likeable or redeeming in anyway, and I think many people will be put off by this as he's often hard to connect with on an emotional level. He's selfish, ambitious, proud and generally doesn't care about anyone unless he can get something out of having a relationship with them - whether this be power, money or advancement in society. When he becomes so taken with Lucy Grey it comes as surprise at first, until we see just how unhealthy their relationship is. His perception of love is so skewed from the norm that he believes he possesses Lucy. He owns her like an extension of his property and her success in the games can only lead to more success for him. He doesn't really want her to be free.

His relationship with Sejanus Plinth is another complicated edition to the story. As the son of a wealthy former District 2 entrepreneur, Snow is obviously jealous of the boy at the start of the novel. While Snow must keep up a persona of class, and uphold the Snow name while secretly wollowing in poverty, Sejanus is frequently bought his way to the top by his powerful father. But Sejanus is almost the opposite of Snow. He's a romantic, a believer in goodness and putting the world to right. Fairness and equality. Everything the Hunger Games fights against. He's also incredibly annoying to Snow, constantly throwing him into situations he has no intention of being involved in. But he's the only friend he has.

I was also delighted to see the history and revisit some of the well known places of the Hunger Games. The story builds and expands on the lore well, intrinsically linking the stories together from the past. There are the ghosts of Katniss and Peeta throughout the story in the form of Lucy's songs, the tree by the forest and the mockingjays - a creature Snow instantly hates because of their obvious subversion from the Capitol dream. It was interesting to see the backstory of the games, its purpose and development beyond dumping a bunch of children in an abandoned arena with weapons. By instilling interest into the event by involving the citizens of the Capitol and engaging the psychology behind it you encourage its continued existence and validate the violence. Especially when you combine the idea of the games with a leader who is clearly a psychopath (looking at you Dr. Gaul) by adding in mutts to kill your tributes in fun and colourful ways.

The writing has improved immeasurably too, when compared to Collins previous novels. On a base level the story is simple, yet you can delve a lot deeper into the philosophy of human nature, war and the constructs of political dominance and the effect on society. Why do the Hunger Games persist? What is their purpose and what are the consequences for the people who live in the Capitol and districts? I found it thought provoking.

I understand the complaints, but any trip into Panem is a winner for me. Coupled with an interesting, morally grey lead and machinations of power and corruption with crazy professors who mutate snakes and bunnies to kill and you're onto a winner for me.
Profile Image for Samantha.
440 reviews16.8k followers
June 14, 2020
1.5 stars

I went into this cautiously optimistic because although I was not pleased that we were following Snow... I thought Suzanne wouldn't do us dirty like that right? WRONG. She absolutely did.

My biggest complaint with this story is simply that it didn't need to happen. I didn't care. I didn't want to know any of the information I was told in this story. Snow's backstory does not make him more interesting or compelling. In fact, it makes him less so.

The story forces you to follow this character whose ending you already know. Even with that, he has no character arc. He doesn't really change throughout the story. So you are forced to read about him being awful but not realizing he's awful for 500 pages. And while I don't think the story romanticizes him in any way, you still are forced to suffer through it. Also, the games themselves are more brutal because the Capitol has yet to figure out how to make them into the spectacle that they are in the trilogy, and I just didn't need to see that brutality in fiction when I have to see it in real life in 2020.

AND HE HAS A ROMANCE! puuuuuke! A romance with a character who has very little agency and who he makes his own personal manic pixie dream girl. She would have been far more interesting to follow as a protagonist. Actually, a number of the side characters would have made much better protagonists for this story. ANY NUMBER of other stories from this world would have made a better story!

The extra .5 I gave this book was that it's not horribly written and there are a few "easter eggs" for things in the original trilogy, how things got to be the way they are, etc. But I still don't care about those things and could have done without learning them.


Anyway, I have a vlog of my reading experience coming up so you can see my immediate reactions.
Profile Image for Virginia Ronan ♥ Herondale ♥.
547 reviews34.7k followers
November 10, 2020
”Being a hero at home had its limitations; he needed a larger audience.”

So, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” made it into the “Goodreads Choice Awards 2020” and is probably one out of 3 books I actually managed to read this year. *lol* Taking a closer look at all the reviews that have been written about it, I have no idea how it ended up as a nominee in the awards but I suppose the main reason why it made its way in there is because it’s popular and provoked very conflicting emotions. I mean, all publicity is good publicity, right? ;-)

I can see why so many people didn’t like it. The expectations for this were probably sky high and if you expected something similar like “The Hunger Games” it’s no wonder people ended up hating the book. As for me? Well, I went into this completely blind and all I knew was that it was going to be about President Snow. And tell you what?! I enjoyed it immensely! XD This book was right up my alley and the carefully hidden Slytherin/Dark Court faerie in me was a happy camper! ;-P (As was the part of me that loves to collect hints that are linked to the main trilogy.)

Yes, Coriolanus Snow is neither a hero nor an especially likable person but he’s cunning and knows how to use his strengths. I loved all the machinations and lies, the countless manipulations and the back-stabbing attitude of the tributes as well as their mentors. It kept the story going, it forced me to take a closer look at some of Coryo’s classmates and it helped me to understand Snow a little bit better. Mind you, I still hate him! *lol* But you can enjoy a book and still dislike its protagonist. ;-) So if you’re looking for a slow book whose focus is on the art of schemes, I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy this. If you’re looking for action and a good redemption arc, well, I’m sorry to say it, but you won’t get it in here. This is no story in which the heroes win; it’s a murky, morally grey and ambitious tale. And it ends with: “SNOW LANDS ON TOP. ;-P

The characters:

You’re entering the Capitol! Make sure to leave all your good intentions at the front door because you certainly won’t need them in here. Be prepared to read some spoilers and to discuss them with our host Lucky Flickerman! Don’t say I didn’t warn you! Once you enter this spoilery arena all bets are off!

Coriolanus Snow:

”I keep asking myself why you did it.”
Not much choice, really, thought Coriolanus. “He’s my friend,” he said.

I have so many mixed feelings about this boy! On the one hand there were moments I could relate to him and on the other hand he did a lot of things I didn’t agree with. To say he’s a fascinating character would be the understatement of the century. Is he good? No! Is he bad? No. If anything Coryo is one hell of a multifaceted character and I’ve to give Suzanne kudos for managing to make him this way. So who is Coriolanus Snow while he’s the mentor of Lucy Gray Baird in the 10th Hunger Games? He’s a boy driven by the will to survive! The lengths he’s going to just to ensure that his family “stays on top” are kind of remarkable. I mean there’s a boy who knows hunger, who has nothing but his family, a fancy apartment and his good name. War hardened him, showed him his limits and taught him that sentimentality has no bearing once you’re faced with the decision to either burn your beloved books or to freeze to death. Still, while his cousin Tigris is working hard to keep food on their table, Coryo’s job is to attend the academy’s classes. All in the hope that he’ll become big and earn them enough money to keep them afloat. That’s the boy at the beginning of the book, but the longer I followed his journey, the more it became apparent that he’s also an exceptional egoist and opportunist. Everything he did was calculated, every move he made was deliberate. All of his actions had an ulterior motive, even if it was as simple as not to anger Dr. Gaul. This boy is trying to survive and as long as the end justifies the means everything is allowed! The most fascinating thing for me was the fact that Coriolanus knew Dr. Gaul was trying to manipulate him into a certain direction, but that he still decided to let himself be formed by her. It was way easier than to swim against the tide and to lose everything. There were so many road junctions, so many different routes he could have taken, yet he always, ALWAYS chose the one that made life easier for him. Even if it meant to betray his friends. In the end this led to him being the perfect pawn in Dr. Gaul’s game and it eventually culminated in the poisoning of Dean Highbottom. His first real and intentional murder; the very first cobblestone that paved the way for his cruel future. Well, I don’t know about you, but I think Dr. Gaul won in the end!

”He buried his head in his hands, confused, angry, and most of all afraid. Afraid of Dr. Gaul. Afraid of the Capitol. Afraid of everything. If the people who were supposed to protect you played so fast and loose with your life... then how did you survive? Not by trusting them, that was for sure. And if you couldn’t trust them, who could you trust? All bets were off.”

”He’d continue the Games, of course, when he ruled Panem. People would call him a tyrant, ironfisted and cruel. But at least he would ensure survival for survival’s sake, giving them a chance to evolve. What else could humanity hope for? Really, it should thank him.”

Lucy Gray Baird:

”You can’t take my sass.
You can’t take my talking.
You can kiss my ass
And then keep on walking.”

I absolutely loved Lucy Gray Baird! She was one hell of a girl and I couldn’t help but admire her for her strength. She was scared and alone, but she still refused to back down. Some might say she’s a survivalist and that would be true. In contrast to Coryo she still has compassion and a good heart though. I think those two were pretty similar but what distinguished them were their different moral concepts and convictions. Coriolanus was like a wind chime always going in the direction of the least resistance without regretting (most of) his decisions while Lucy Gray had to do horrible things in order to survive and despised herself for them. She had to do those things to stay alive, but she neither enjoyed doing them nor did she accept her situation as an excuse. Quite the contrary, she didn’t excuse her actions; she lived with the harsh reality of them! Maybe it was her being a part of the Covey that helped her to get through the Hunger Games. I mean she was exceptionally resourceful and she knew how to work a crowd. Both qualities that worked in her favour. And let’s be honest here, the fact Coryo fell for her gave her an undeniable edge over the other tributes as well. He cared for her wellbeing, gave her food and helped her to avoid the deadly poison of the snakes. Guess Lucy Gray Baird might not only have been sassy and charming but also a little bit manipulative as well. ;-P

Dr. Gaul:

”How quickly civilization disappears. All your fine manners, education, family background, everything you pride yourself on, stripped away in the blink of an eye, revealing everything you actually are. A boy with a club who beats another boy to death. That’s mankind in its natural state.”

Dr. Gaul is one of those characters you can’t help but despise. She has no regard for life, or at least not as long as it isn’t useful for her purposes. This woman was ruthless and cruel, using her position in order to threaten, bully and hurt the people that got in her way. The handful of mentors she took an interest in all either ended up dead or were sent on their way to madness. For her the tributes were as much a part of the game as their mentors and she saw them all as tools. I don’t know why but for some reason the picture of Tilda Swinton in “Snowpiercer” always came to my mind when I thought of Dr. Gaul. *lol*It just seemed to fit her personality and the weirdness of her character. The thing that happened with Clemensia?! Oh boy! Dr. Gaul was one hell of a manipulative witch and it’s no surprise Snow turned out the way he is now after ending up under her tutelage. >_<

Sejanus Plinth:

”They’re not animals, though,” said Sejanus. “They’re kids, like you and me.”

Sejanus Plinth was too precious for this world and that’s exactly what cost him his life in the end. He was too trusting, too compassionate; he saw the tributes as people and not as animals like everyone else. Sejanus was brave but also so very innocent and naive. I think he underestimated the power, wiliness and cruelty of the people he was dealing with. On the one hand that made him braver than any of his classmates but on the other hand it also painted a target on his head. Someone like Sejanus had no place in a world like the Capitol and I think the only three people to ever realize this were his mother, Coryo and yes, unfortunately also Dr. Gaul. I think Sejanus was an idealistic dreamer and I really liked him for it. But dreaming will only get you as far and he didn’t have the necessary slyness to go about things the right way. It pained me to see where his way was heading but as a reader there was nothing I could have done to stop it. Which is another reason why this book was so intriguing. It made me pull for him, but at the same time I knew he wouldn’t make it.

”The only thing I loved about the war was the fact that I still lived at home. If you’re asking me if it had any value beyond that, I would say that it was an opportunity to right some wrongs.”

The relationships & ships:

Coriolanus & Lucy:

”You’re not alone.” He took her hand. “And you won’t be alone in the arena; we’ll be together. I’ll be there every moment. I won’t take my eyes off of you. We’ll win this thing together, Lucy Gray. I promise.”

I really think those two loved each other. The way they fell in love might have been pretty fast but considering their circumstances I think it was realistic. I mean Lucy could have died any second and Coryo’s life was dangerous as well. Not to mention that they were both very young and at least for Coriolanus it was his first love. If he wouldn’t have harboured real feelings for her he would have never even considered giving her his mother’s compact. It was, after all, his most precious possession. This said they barely knew each other and never had the time to spend all too much time in each other’s company. It’s no surprise they didn’t work out in the end; I’ve to admit that I was sort of thrown by the events at the ending of the book though! I mean OMG!!! After everything they went through together he actually wanted to kill her... just like that?! O_o But that’s Snow for you. He was always way too practical for his own good and he saw an opportunity to get the life he dreamed of. Lucy was the only obstacle left in his way so his logical conclusion was that she had to go. I’m glad Lucy was so smart and figured it out before he got a chance to kill her, but I’ll always wonder what happened to her. Maybe Katniss is her descendant? Who knows?

Coriolanus & Sejanus:

”The one thing Coriolanus had never questioned was Sejanus’s honesty. If anything, he’d have welcomed a little less of it. But this was a bald-faced lie, delivered as naturally as the truth. Which meant that now anything he said was suspect.”

Was it friendship or not? I think everyone who read this book might have asked themselves this question at some point. I think it was and then it wasn’t. The only reason Coryo saved Sejanus so often was because he would have probably died if he didn’t. I mean it’s not like Dr. Gaul gave him any choice in that matter. For Sejanus it was definitely friendship, he trusted Snow and considered him to be his best friend. For Coryo? I think some part of him actually cared about Sejanus, but it just wasn’t enough to put his friend before himself. When faced with the choice between his or Sejanus’s life Snow would have always chosen himself. And he did it in the end. He knew exactly what he did when he sent Dr. Gaul that voice record and even though he tried to reason with himself he ultimately knew that he had made the wrong choice. He knew about the consequences, no matter how hard he tried to convince himself into believing that he didn’t and yet he still did it. What really struck me as tragic was that nothing would have happened if he would have let Sejanus disappear with the rebels. I mean all they planned was to run away and to seek refuge in another district. So why did he do it? An ingrained sense of duty? To curry favour with Dr. Gaul? Aside from that he had absolutely no reason to turn on his friend. So if you ask me it was some combination of stepping over his friend to get where he always wanted to be and some twisted kind of payback for all the times he got into trouble because of Sejanus. That’s just my opinion though. If you have another theory: Hit me! I’d love to discuss this! XD

”He had killed Sejanus as surely as if he’d bludgeoned him to death like Bobbin or gunned him down like Mayfair. He’d killed the person who considered him his brother. But even as the vileness of the act threatened to drown him, a tiny voice kept asking, What choice did you have? What choice? No choice.”

Dr. Gaul and Sejanus:

”Possibly on his way to freedom,” said Sejanus in a strained voice. “Possibly captured and under wraps. Possibly injured and hiding. Possibly dead. I’ve no idea. Do you?”

Honestly, I was kind of impressed that Sejanus was able to defy Dr. Gaul for so long. That boy had guts to stand up to her like that and to question her in front of his entire class. Truth be told I was surprised she didn’t shut him up immediately, but then again he probably was another one of her experiments. She enjoyed to be challenged by him and for a while it seemed to amuse her. Also she would have had plenty of opportunities to harm him but she chose a public execution AFTER the Hunger Games in a district that was so far off that no one even noticed. Talk about revenge. Dr. Gaul got her payback alight. >_<

” I don’t care what you say. You’ve no right to starve people, to punish them for no reason. No right to take away their life and freedom. Those are things everyone is born with, and they’re not yours for the taking.”


Since this was Snow’s story I didn’t expect to be all too invested in it, but the more I read the more I was intrigued by the book. “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” was definitely a surprise in this regard and I don’t regret picking it up. Backstabbing, cruelty, machinations and complex characters, this book has it all. I can recommend it to everyone who can’t help but appreciate a well-crafted and thought-provoking intrigue. ;-P
Profile Image for luce (that loser crying on the n° 2 bus).
1,438 reviews4,048 followers
August 27, 2021
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It's a yikes from me.

Did the world really need The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes?
I think not.

Full of unnecessary exposition and weighed down by self-indulgent fanservice, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a train-wreck of a novel. The story lacks rhyme or reason, things happen only to advance the plot (regardless of whether they make sense because what is even logic?), there are no stakes (Coriolanus having to eat cabbage soup and not being able to pay taxes are hardly sources of tension), the characters are ridiculous and one-dimensional, frequently the writing veers into the ludicrous, and the author doesn't trust her readers to reach obvious conclusions by themselves.

Having recently re-read the Hunger Games trilogy, I was reminded of how good a writer Collins is.
One of the strengths in THG series lies in Katniss' first person narration which brings immediacy and urgency to her story. In THG Collins' exploration of the ethics of violence and the conflict between survival and sacrifice struck me as being both nuanced and intelligent. There was also a certain ambiguity that allowed, nay encouraged, readers freedom of interpretation.
Which begs the question...Collins, what happened?

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes may be the prequel to THG trilogy, but it's an altogether different beast. Which would have been fine by me if it had been 'different but good'. What we have instead here are simplified discussions about human nature (are we inherently bad? Do our circumstances shape who we are ? Are we responsible for what we do in order to survive?), an unconvincing story that is dragged-out for 500+ pages and is populated by goofy characters.

The novel strives for depth, yet its attempts to address the nature/nurture question and other moral quandaries result in a clumsy and overt parable that is leagues from being a satisfying or insightful philosophical inquiry into human nature. An example of this would when Dr. Gaul assigns Coriolanus Snow and other mentors homework along the lines of: “Write me an essay on everything attractive about war.”
What follows is a predictable and cringe-y scene in which they express their different opinions (shocking I know). Was that the only way to include a discussion on the ‘positives’ of war? It seemed a desperate, and rather pathetic, attempt to throw into the story some 'serious' material. Just because the characters who are talking about these things have ancient-Roman-sounding names that doesn't make their conversations any more meaningful or thought-provoking.
Not only does the character of Dr. Gaul exist to tick the 'mad scientist' box (I will get to her in due time) but she's also there so she can explicitly ask characters 'challenging' questions regarding their moral and political tenets. So subversive and illuminating is she that she says things such as: “Who are human beings? Because who we are determines the type of governing we need” and “What happened in the arena? That’s humanity undressed. The tributes. And you, too. How quickly civilization disappears.”
We also have characters like Sejanus Plinth who although District-born has spent the last few years in the Capital, and he comes out with: “You’ve no right to starve people, to punish them for no reason. No right to take away their life and freedom.”. Did this guy just suddenly realised what kind of world he lives in? After years of Hunger Games he's like 'nah, that's wrong. Humans should be free.' (as if he doesn't know that his words will have consequences?).
Away with Plato. Move aside Nietzsche. Sontag? Get out of here. There is a new philosopher in town.

Corny philosophising aside, the writing was weighed down by obvious statements which made the characters seem rather simplistic. Worst still we have cheesy gems such as “you’re mine and I’m yours. It’s written in the stars”, “although he didn’t believe in it, he tried to channel her telepathically. Let me help, Lucy Gray”, “The cabbage began to boil, filling the kitchen with the smell of poverty. ”
What in the world? I'm supposed to take this seriously?

The third person narration didn't do the novel any favours. Most of Coriolanus' thoughts and feelings aren't articulated so that his character is given no new depths. Collins' shies away from portraying him as a truly morally corrupt yet self-delusional person, making him into a not very convincing 'he's not that bad' kind of guy. He's an orphan who is tired of eating cabbage soup and not having money. Boo-hoo. His personality is just so tepid...he's sort of ambitious, sort of a liar, a 'sort of' kind of person. Look, I wasn't expecting the next Ripley or Humbert Humbert but Coriolanus is such a non-entity. While the narrative makes it seem as if he's this cunning and charming guy, Coriolanus' no Machiavelli. His elitist views are exaggeratedly rendered, so much so that they make him into a caricature of the contemptuous heir. Even those scenes in his family apartment or the ones where he's with Tigris or Lucy Gray did not make Coriolanus any more believable or sympathetic. His 'arc' as such was merely motivated by his desire for wealth. As the descendant of a powerful yet crumbling Aristocratic family he believes he's entitled to more than just cabbage soup for dinner. And of course, he hates Sejanus because 'new money'.

From the first chapters characters are classifies as either good or bad. Throughout the course of 500+ pages they don't change. Their thin personalities remain fixed.
Because of this the cast of characters is entirely forgettable. Although their names may appear on a page, their personalities remain largely non-existent. Coriolanus' fellow students and mentors....did they even possess an individuality ? With the exception of holier than holier-than-thou Sejanus, these ill-defined Academy kids soon morphed with one another. What they say or do matters very little. They are mere accessories to Coriolanus' story (we get it, although they have been indoctrinated to believe that the Districts are scum, they are not entirely entirely desensitised to violence or cruelty).
Lucy Gray was just so ridiculous. She seems one of the few random characters to have a normal name, and yet there was something comical about the way a 'distressed' Coriolanus would shout out her name. While the narrative did seem now and again aware that she was treated as an object, the way she’s depicted seems to corroborate this. She just didn't convince me as an actual human being. At times she seemed a twelve year old Marie Sue, at times she seemed to have walked off the stage of a musical, and yet we are meant to find her intriguing?
The adult characters are unintentionally funny. From the 'deranged' Dr. Gaul (who speaks only in cliches and is not at all intimidating) to Dean Highbottom (whose surname merely brought to mind Neville Longbottom) who for some reason I don't care enough about doesn't like Coriolanus. These two, similarly to the other characters, do not leave their assigned roles (in this case 'the mad scientist' and 'the bitter guy who for reasons holds a grudge against the protagonist').
The characters in this novel are clownish. They have wannabe-Roman names, they speak in clichés and come out with uninspired maxims.

The world-building relies on readers having read THG. Which is weird given that this is not a sequel.
Panem is a dictatorship because reasons.
The novel also has a weak sense of place. The Capitol is barely delineated. The Academy is a building, Coriolanus lives in an apartment, and the Hunger Games take place in an arena. The architecture of these places is obviously irrelevant. Who even cares about descriptions of the characters and their environment? (I do).

Minor spoilers ahead
One of the first things that did not seem very rational was that the Capitol assigned the tributes to eighteen-year olds. Sure, the childhoods of these Academy students were marred by the war, but in comparison to the tributes, they've led a fairly privileged existence. But however rich their education may be, they still lack experience. They have little insight into the entertainment industry and just because they've discussed war strategies doesn't mean that they could give any useful battle tactics. One thing is theory, the other one is practice. Yet, we are supposed to believe that the powers that be
decided that this particular group of students will mentor the tributes for the upcoming Hunger Games. The reason for this 'mentorship' is to make the Hunger Games more popular, garner some extra views or I don't know. To me this seems an ill-conceived plan.
Anyway, let's go along with it: mentor=more entertaining Hunger Games. Okay, so why am I meant to believe that the same people who are working extra hard to make the Hunger Games more interesting would let the tributes starve for a few days in a zoo cage? So they can collapse and die as soon as they enter the arena? Why even bother with the mentors then?! It was quite clear that the only reason why the tributes end up in a zoo cage is to remind us readers that to the 'civilised' citizens of the Capitol, District people are less than 'animals'.
There were so many scenes like this. They did not make sense but they are theatrical. Characters are attacked, killed, and or tortured for effect. For all she writes about violence and human nature, Collins' will often sacrifice believability for exaggeration. The whole thing with Dr. Gaul and her snakes was laughable. She's such a crudely drawn figure that it was impossible to feel intimidated by her actions. The violence in this novel seems closer to that of splatter film.
The Hunger Games themselves are not only boring but they are described in a yawn-inducing way. The games section reminded of how in THG films they occasionally showed the game makers watching Katniss to make up for the fact that in the book we had Katniss' narration to fill the moments of 'quiet'. There was something so impersonal about these Hunger Games that I really did not care to see the way they would unfold (we know who is going to win anyway).

Shockingly enough, I struggled to finish this novel and ended up skimming a few pages in the final section. I'm baffled. What is this mess? What was it trying to achieve? It adds nothing to the THG. Coriolanus is not nuanced nor is he believable. If anything he seems a very different shade of evil to that of President Snow. We still don't know much about the war. We get it, the Capitol suffered at the hands of the 'rebels'. Collins' tries to make this particular Hunger Games more significant by making characters come up with ideas that will be implemented in the following Hunger Games (like the sponsors or whatnot). For some reason Collins' has to 'foreshadow' later events or can't help but to reference mockingjays (“the show’s not over until the mockingjay sings”) and 'the hanging tree' song. What was the point in Tigris? She had a small cameo in the ...why try to make her ‘important’? Especially since her role in this prequel in pretty irrelevant.

With so many pages did we really need to have passages in which earlier conversations reappear in italics? Why not trust that your readers will be able to remember what Coriolanus is referring to?

Last but not least: I am so done with the ‘muttations'. They were the weakest aspect of THG trilogy and to dedicate so much page time to them is just...

Moral of the story: approach prequels with caution.

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Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.6k followers
September 26, 2020
im so confused. was this supposed to make me like snow?? because it really didnt. can we make it a rule that if authors do a spin-off, it needs to be about a character worth reading about?

im just really not sure what the point of this is, because its definitely not a redemption story and theres hardly anything that directly ties it into the main series. i just… i dunno what to do with this.

the thing is, i had a really good time being back in panem. i also thought SCs writing has really improved since the original trilogy. i genuinely think if there had been more mentoring, more hunger games, more interaction between snow and lucy, this could have been a really interesting story to read. and its insane that im asking for more when the book is already 500 pages. so much page time is spent on unnecessary things.

i think my expectations were probably set too high for this.

2.5 stars
Profile Image for Charlotte May.
720 reviews1,116 followers
June 8, 2020
I enjoyed this well enough. It wasn’t as terrible as some of the reviews make it seem, neither did it blow me away.

3.5 ⭐️

Coriolanus Snow is from a noble Capitol family. His father was a war hero and his grandmother sings the Capitol anthem each morning.
He and his cousin Tigris are both orphans, and since the war nearly all their fortunes were lost in shares in District 13.

When the 10th Hunger Games comes around the students are offered the chance to work as mentors to the tributes, with a scholarship to the elite university for the winner.

When Coriolanus ends up with the Girl tribute from District 12 he is less than impressed, surely a Snow deserves better. Yet his relationship with the feisty, musical Lucy Gray Baird will soon come to change him forever.

A lot of reviewers have said how they don’t like Coriolanus. I agree, he’s elitist, controlling and often cruel, but we know this already. We know he becomes a villain- so I never felt obligated to like him. I could just follow him at a distance.

The ‘relationship’ with Lucy Gray was weird. It wasn’t love, no matter how much he says otherwise. He wants to own her, to use her for his own ends.

I enjoyed being back in Panem, seeing how so much of the history came about. The book was long, but then it covers such an amount I feel it couldn’t have been shorter without removing something relevant.

I liked reading about Snow’s past. He was an asshole then, and grows up to be basically the devil incarnate. I loved the songs Lucy Gray would sing and the relevance of The Hanging Tree which we hear Katniss sing in The Hunger Games trilogy.

It isn’t non stop action like the original trilogy, but it delves into the lore of this world a lot more, and I found myself swept away nonetheless.


Just ordered myself this bad boy online with my birthday money - can’t wait until it arrives!!


OMFG! What?!? 😍 This is the prequel I didn’t know I needed until now 🙌
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