In One Word

In One Word, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins is…

ballad

  • Published in 2020 by Scholastic USA
  • Format: Audiobook
    • Narrator: Santino Fontana
    • Listening Speed: 1.5x (last third)
  • Listening Time: 5 extended days

Unsatisfying

  • Undertaking this as part of the Summer Reading Challenge 2020. I didn’t have time to re-read the Hunger Games trilogy ahead of reading this as I’d hoped but I’m familiar enough with the canon to not need a catch-up. Now, I’d heard mixed reviews about this book but the challenge asks for a book published in 2020 and this one fits the bill so I was willing to pick it up and make up my own mind. This book is told by future antagonist, Coriolanus Snow. At age eighteen, the once prosperous Snows are teetering on the edge of ruin and the only way Coriolanus can hope to regain his family’s position is to mentor the winning tribute in the upcoming 10th Hunger Games. Hope looks lost, however, when he is given the task of mentoring the girl from District 12, a humiliating assignment that is almost certain to result in failure. This year’s tribute, however, is much more than anyone, much less Coriolanus, was expecting.
  • Not the best style I’ve seen. It’s a lot more descriptive with a lot of flashbacks to important events in Coriolanus’ life. That really drags at the pacing and makes the book a very slow read. The tone is a lot more grim than the original trilogy too with no hint of a brighter future, only a more rigid and ‘stable’ one. There’s definitely no symbolism-laden rebellion here (though the symbolism is fairly generous in this one).
  • Snow as a teenager was an interesting choice of protagonist but I don’t think that was a good choice in hindsight. He can be seen as an anti-Katniss, someone who can use charm to get what he needs rather than hunting skills and someone whose ultimate goal is to rise in the world rather than simply survive it. While he’s certainly an engaging main character in the bulk of the book, the end of the book decided to throw all his character development out the window for the sake of tying it back to the original trilogy. If it had been a completely original character (like Sajanus, who was a great good-hearted but hapless foil) and the author was free to do what they liked with the ending, it might have been better. I also would have liked it if the author hadn’t insisted on a romance subplot.
  • A striking first impression from Lucy Gray right from the first scene. I definitely was not expecting the Reaping to go that way. She’s another great anti-Katniss character who loves being the centre of attention and who knows how to work an audience. The reader will certainly love every moment she’s on the page. She’s well-developed and brings a nice lightness to an otherwise very grim book.
  • Taking the opposite approach to main series in regards to names of the tributes. It makes sense seeing as the main character is more involved with the Capital side of events and with watching all the tributes but it does create quite an overload of names.
  • I get the feeling that this might have been better as a duology. The book was just trying to cram too many details into one place and it’s infested with info dumps. I was puzzled as to where it was going to go once the Hunger Games ended about two thirds of the way through the book and then it went on a completely different tangent. If the books had been split and more attention had been paid to fleshing out the last third, it would be have been better.
  • So many more songs than the original trilogy which, if the audiobook had a more musical narrator, would have been brilliant. Unfortunately, the narrator’s performance was a bit hit and miss. While the faster-paced, jazzy numbers were enjoyable, they really struggled to make the slower, emotional ones anything more than cringey to listen to.
  • Full of world building on the Dark Days, the Snow family and the Capitol. A little too full in places and a little lacking in others but the best part was the signs of progression. This book presents us with the idea that the Hunger Games and Panem as we know it didn’t just spring out of thin air, fully formed. The games weren’t very imaginative at first and the tributes definitely weren’t given the celebrity treatment the 74th Hunger Game tributes were given. It definitely felt darker and more like a brutal ongoing ritual that not even the Capital likes anymore. It was interesting to see how some of the traditions evolved in these Hunger Games and what the Capital and the Districts were like in a time when the Dark Days were over but still in vivid living memory. It was also fascinating to see how Capital schools subtly turn their students’ minds toward the Capital’s way of thinking by encouraging them to think of things they liked about the war and why controlling the Disticts is good for them. Still, I both wish it hadn’t been laid on too thick and that it had been a bit better developed.
  • Yes, there are quite a lot of references to the original trilogy and several moments that will make fans of the series go ‘a-ha! That’s where it came from’. I won’t spoil them here but they include several aspects of the trilogy’s Hunger Games and a song or two. Most of it was well done but the mockingjay part was pretty clumsy, especially Coriolanus’ instinctive dislike of them that was never fully explained.
  • I really disliked the ending. It definitely fell into ‘running out of page space’ and ‘not knowing how to tie this back to the canon’ category. It was also trying too hard to follow the Lucy Gray poem (which is specifically mentioned as the inspiration for Lucy’s name) and to push Coriolanus towards what he would become sixty years in the future.
  • Not at all convinced by the arguments made by Dr Gaul about the need for order or everyone would start ripping each other’s throats out. It just comes off as an unbalanced woman who is so fixed on her view of the world that she wants to impose it on everyone. I didn’t feel the Capital citizenry’s prejudices against the districts were well justified either. It’s not as if the author didn’t have material to work with. Instead, they chose the ‘they’re poor and dirty’ option instead of anything more that would add a bit of moral complexity and that would allow the readers to sympathise with the Capital.
  • Got a good view of what the author was aiming for but they didn’t quite get there. The epilogue, in particular, felt like the author was still trying to cram too much into a book that’s too small. It also felt like the author was trying too hard to explain why the 10th Hunger Games were never mentioned in the original series. If it had been a duology, the book would have been able to create a better link. As it was, it felt too rushed and it really let the book down. This is more on the 2 1/2 scale but a 2 star book nevertheless.

Goodreads Rating: ⭐⭐

Did you agree with my rating? Can you think of a better word to describe it? Please let me know with a like, share or comment.

6 thoughts on “In One Word, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins is…”

  1. Definitely agree that there was too much going on and like your idea that this would’ve worked better as a duology. also agree that Snow was not a good pov character. I did like Lucy too- she was one of the better parts of the book- but agree that the romance subplot didn’t work. Completely agree that this just didn’t live up to its potential. Excellent review!

    Liked by 1 person

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