The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is the action-packed prequel to The Hunger Games that we never knew we needed
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is the action-packed prequel to The Hunger Games that we never knew we needed.
Released on May 19, it begins by following eventual-president-of-Panem Coronalius 'Coryo' Snow as he gets ready to be a mentor in the 10th Hunger Games.
The 18-year-old's family has fallen on hard times, with their future - and his own - hanging on by a thread; fully depending on him being able to outcharm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute.
It's the first time that the Capitol has set mentors for the tributes, picking the best and brightest students from The Academy for the trial - and Snow is determined to see his tribute be victorious so he can walk away with the top prize.
Then comes a pretty big problem: he's been assigned to mentor the female tribute from District 12, Lucy Gray Baird. Their fates are now completely intertwined — every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favour or failure, triumph or ruin.
From the moment she sets foot on stage in District 12, Lucy Gray makes an unforgettable impression on the residents of the Capitol - setting off a chain of events that changes everything not only for her, but for all future tributes in The Hunger Games.
Snow comes to the realisation that hardly anybody in Panem watches the games - after all, it's seen to be a brutal and unnatural event.
As he brainstorms to find ways to coerce the residents of Panem into watching the games, attempting to put a glossy sheen on the events, the reader gets unsettling echoes of the original trilogy.
The 10th Hunger Games ends up being the trial run for a number of aspects that fans of the series would be familiar with: the idea of betting on the contestants; sending them food and water; putting updates about the tributes on the scoreboard; and the interviews with the tributes.
And, of course, the introduction of some more sinister aspects that made the games an even more terrifying event.
Since the book takes place 64 years before the original trilogy, there are very few characters whom readers may be familiar with - there's a Heavensbee in Snow's class; a Flickerman MC'ing the Hunger Games; and there's Tigris, the stylist who helps Katniss, Peeta, Cressida, and Gale in Mockingjay (who is also Snow's cousin, as it turns out).
While there aren't many familiar faces in the book, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes does dive into the history of some important elements from the series.
The origins of the mockingjay - the species of bird that Katniss is often linked to in the original trilogy - are explored on a deeper level. The novel gives the reader more background on the origins on the bird, as well as the reason for Snow's eventual hatred of them.
We also find out the origins behind two of the songs that Katniss sings in the original trilogy - The Hanging Tree and Deep In the Meadow, the lullaby she sings for Rue and Prim.
Since Snow is the central character of the novel, the significance of some of the items linked to him in the original trilogy - especially the roses - are also explained.
Having Snow as the lead character of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a bit unnerving at times: you know he becomes a tyrant, and each page brings a bit of a sense of wonder if *this* is going to be the moment that sets him off.
The book makes no attempts to redeem Snow, or to give him a some kind of tragic backstory that makes you want to root for him.
Instead, every move he makes - even when he believes he's trying to save Lucy Gray - comes off as cold and calculated, with his ruthlessness and paranoia coming to light as the book goes on.
The epilogue brings Snow's story - and the start of his path to power - to an end with a sense of finality, so it's unclear if there will be a sequel to The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
However, in good news for fans of the series, there's a film adaptation on the way - and you can read more about that here.
- The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins, published by Scholastic, is available now.