Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins | a slow, sutble, yet intriguing villain origin story

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

May 19, 2020
Young adult dystopian fiction
Goodreads | Amazon

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.


4 stars

I honestly wasn’t expecting a whole lot from The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Like so many other people of my generation, The Hunger Games was a huge part of my teenage years; it shaped the books I read and how I started thinking about politics. I was worried this book would be like many other disappointing add-ons to my favourite childhood series, and that it would try to make Coriolanus Snow sympathetic, a ploy to endear the audience to another bigoted white guy. I was wrong. The Ballad of Songbird and Snakes is a fascinating character study and subtle descent into what makes a person a villain.

Coriolanus Snow is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve read about in a long while. His descent into the villain we come to know in The Hunger Games is subtle and slippery, and the cognitive processes we see going in Snow’s brain is done hauntingly well. This story does not try to make Snow a good person–oh, certainly, he sees himself as a good person, but a step back from his unreliable narration shows his manipulation of other people, and his constant rationalization, narcissism, possessiveness, and jealousy. Snow has a very strong voice. One thing I found very interesting is how Snow views other people. His view of others cycles, rapidly, going from good to bad to good again–mostly based on how they might affect Snow’s reputation and standing. Even his thoughts about the people he allegedly cares for, like Lucy Gray, are tinged with possessiveness and suspicion. I feel like a lot of people think this makes him a boring character because he isn’t outright villanous, but I enjoyed the subtlety.

Unlike the original trilogy, this is not a fast-paced book, and I think a lot of people will consider it boring because it is very character-focused and most of the action is merely observed. There are a few times Snow gets to participate in the action, but most of the time, he’s watching others do things, and creating most of the drama for himself. Personally, I was more into the first two-thirds of the book because the last third focused more on Snow’s romance with Lucy Gray, which I really didn’t care for.

The book also ropes in questions about the nature of humanity and what defines our species as good, or bad. It’s definitely a thought-provoking book in that regard, and it doesn’t provide an answer: it just shows the possibilities, and I really enjoyed that. I found it interesting how the book sets up these dichotomies between good vs. evil, between Capitol vs. district, and how that follows Snow’s way of thinking about people. Oddly enough, the book manages to comment on the grey areas in between by having the surface binaries.

All in all, I definitely enjoyed The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes–it’s a solid addition to The Hunger Games canon and interesting insight into one of the biggest villains of the YA dystopian generation, and a fairly interesting, if subtle, villain origin story.


content warnings | cannibalism, death, murder, gore, abuse


were you a hunger games fan? did you read the ballad of songbirds and snakes?


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