Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Book Review 2020 #2 - Suzanne Collins's The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
Published by: Scholastic Press,
Publication Date: May 19th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 528 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Coriolanus Snow's life is about keeping up appearances. No one must know how far the great and illustrious Snows have fallen since the Dark Days. That Coriolanus, his cousin Tigris, and their Grandma'am struggle daily to put food on the table and clothes on their back. Coriolanus is a top student at the Academy but if he has any hopes of continuing on to the University he needs a full ride, something The Hunger Games could give him through the Plinth Prize, a monetary reward set up by the father of one of his classmates. If the tribute Coriolanus is assigned to mentor in the tenth annual Hunger Games wins all his worries will evaporate. But then he gets a slap in the face, he's assigned District 12's female. He knows he has no chance of winning with a tribute from this district, but he must try. This might just involve rewriting the rules but he will do anything to succeed. Lucy Gray Baird might seem unlikely to win, but she captured the hearts and minds of the Capital during the reaping with a song. He decides this unique individual needs a different approach than is traditional, so he greets her when she arrives and treats her like a human being. He makes sure she is taken care of and fed. She rewards his kindness by saving his life when the Capital Arena is bombed during a tour organized for the mentors and tributes. He knows he can't let Lucy Gray be just more fodder in the arena. If she can stay alive long enough she has a chance. Luckily Coriolanus's scheme to allow inhabitants of the Capital to bet on and sponsor tributes has been enacted by the Gamemakers and Lucy is a favorite of the viewers. The only problem is Coriolanus is starting to have too much of a personal investment in Lucy. He doesn't just care about the Plinth Prize anymore, he cares about her, and that makes him reckless. He cheats. He's caught. He's punished. He must find a way to rise again. No matter the cost.

It is a sadly rare occurrence when one of the year's most anticipated books is actually worthy of that accolade. But maybe that's just my jaded opinion because I so rarely agree with all those "best of" lists. Yet another reason for why I make my own. Therefore I was delighted when The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes actually exceeded my expectations as well as proving to all those people who said the title seemed to be randomly generated by a YA book title generator how wrong they were because it makes so much sense in context! IT MAKES SENSE PEOPLE! And yes, I'm dredging up arguments I had with people online almost two years ago over a title of a not yet released at that time book. It's what I do. You'd think a prequel starring an anti-hero who by the time we've met him later is an out and out villain would lack any way for the reader to connect and be invested in the character's journey, but you'd be so wrong. It's not that I felt emotionally invested in Coriolanus, it's that I felt pity for him and became invested in how he manipulated the world around him and those in his orbit to survive and thrive. It was a peak behind the curtain, seeing that this man, at one time, had vulnerabilities and how he exploited his connections to armor himself. There was even a glimpse at redemption, that maybe we had judged him all wrong, until the worm twisted. This isn't A Christmas Carol people, Coriolanus isn't going to give a goose to a poor family after a pleasant memory of charades. He's a tyrant who will die a tyrant after the violent overthrowing of the Capital. What's more we see how Coriolanus's need to grasp the golden ring leads him to make connections that others wouldn't. He finds ways to make The Hunger Games not just a punishment for the other Districts but something those in the Capital can be invested in. Again, this is all backstage stuff, we're seeing how the Capital suffered in the wake of the District uprisings and how they were ravaged and how revenge then festered and bloomed into The Hunger Games as we know them in Katniss's time. This is about the complete human experience, deprivation, desire, determination, and death. This is a prequel not just worthy of the original series but perhaps even better.


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