The Hunger Games is one of my favorite book series of all time. When I heard that there was going to be a prequel, I was unimpressed. Collins, it seemed, had jumped on the ‘money grab’ bandwagon like so many other YA authors who write short story after novella after prequel and sequel to keep their storyworld relevant in a fast-paced industry.
After the title + cover were revealed, I felt a little better. Unlike a lot of fans who hated the title, I found it to show a thoughtfulness and a depth that was reassuring.
So I read it. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. All in one day. And here are my thoughts. (Spoilers ahead.)
I still have a hard time knowing what to think about the book or how to properly put those thoughts into words. It wasn’t as good as any of the Hunger Games books (or the Underland Chronicles for that matter) but neither did it ruin the series for me. I found the tone/mood/vibe of the book to be a lot different (and even more disturbing) than the original story. Collins didn’t try to play it safe with this prequel, which I appreciate. She gave the fans something new and fresh and meaty and dividing and risky.
Coriolanus was an interesting main character. I never felt much sympathy for him, I don’t think, which is good. He was very smart and there were times (a lot of times) where he was likable. But then he’d do or say or think something that would make me realize all over again what a creep-in-waiting he is. So yeah.
Lucy Gray bordered on manic pixie dream girl. I didn’t care too much for her either way and I didn’t really buy the romance between her and Coriolanus. *shrugs* Most of the other characters were kind of meh too, though Tigris was the bomb dot com.
And then there’s Sejanus Plinth.
In The Hunger Games, Katniss knows that the Games are wrong and she’s disgusted by them–and by extension, so are we. Peeta provides an even stronger argument against the whole thing with his “I’m not just a piece in their Games”. But because Coriolanus is the main character/’hero’ in Ballad, we needed someone else to be the true moral compass of the book. It would have been too easy for readers to slip into Coriolanus’ mind, the way in which he views the Games and tries to come up with ideas to make them ‘better’.
So Collins gave us Sejanus. A District 2 boy who misses his home and tries to empathize with the tributes and sees the Games for what they really are–a macabre carnival of death and gore. Annnnnd…of course he dies. Collins loves killing off most of the best characters, doesn’t she? Sejanus’ death scene was disturbing (thanks, in large part, to those bird calls) and though I didn’t cry once during Ballad, I came a bit close there. He was so nice and good and sweet! *sniffles*
Collins returns to third person, limited with Ballad (a ‘return’ because that’s how she wrote the Underland Chronicles as well) and it works. I think there might have been too much sympathy with Coriolanus if we’d been inside his head the way we were inside of Katniss’. The writing hasn’t been dumbed down or sucked dry of personality in order to rush the book to the publisher, thank goodness. It’s not as messy and scattered as Katniss’ narrative, which fits with Coriolanus trying to keep up his public image and being so smart and calculating.
Overall, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes doesn’t have the re-readability of Collins’ other books. And maybe it shouldn’t. This story of a villain’s rise to power, of the glamorization and marketing of a brutal killing sport, of broken, twisted, debauched people…you shouldn’t want to come back to it again and again.
Have you read Ballad? What are your thoughts? Who was your favorite/least favorite character?