The Hunger Games Trilogy characterised my early teen years as a relatively new reader. So, upon hearing of a new prequel being released, I was ecstatic. I devoured The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes in 24 hours quite soon after publication, and as a result I have a lot of thoughts when reflecting on that experience.
Following President Snow as an 18-year-old, the novel tells the story of Snow’s attempts to earn a place at university through mentoring a tribute in the 10th Annual Hunger Games and winning. Burdened with the female from District 12, the odds are not in his favour, making his journey to university and power more difficult.
Starting with the positives, the focus on the earlier years of the Hunger Games was fascinating. It was interesting to see where the Games that we know of have progressed from, viewing it in its most primitive and underdeveloped state. The majority of my positive feelings towards this book, however, come from a place of nostalgia rather than because the book was great. Being back in Panem and reading about the Games brought back so many memories and my love for the series, but as a piece of literature on its own, I was for the most part underwhelmed.
In the lead up to the Games, the action was forced for the sake of having action, in what would have been a quite dull build-up. The limitations attached to Snow’s perspective meant other plot directions were needed to up the stakes and create excitement, but none were executed in a way that made them feel important or needed. There are two instances in particular that fall under this assessment, and although they were shocking and therefore effective, the shock came from the randomness of it rather than the nature of the event. If you have read the book, I think it is fairly obvious the instances I am discussing here.
The Games themselves, although the most interesting part, were stunted by the external perspective provided from Snow’s point of view. Reading as Snow watched the Games lead to the events of the Games being broken up by his interactions with the other mentors, and the cameras filming the Games only covering some of the arena meant a lot of it was off-screen. There was never a moment when the action was immersive because of this viewpoint, and although the perspective of Snow is detached from the action, it just translated into a boring story.
In my opinion, the last 200 pages of the book were not necessary. Not overly relevant and fairly boring, this part of the story felt like it was only put in for the purpose of making the book longer. It expanded story arcs and plot points that were not important or interesting, such as the romance which added nothing and was only thrown in to appeal to as many readers as possible.
All in all, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes felt like a box-ticking exercise. The main plot and subplots did not feel substantiated at all, and the novel tried to achieve too much. I think the book relies on nostalgia and the already present fan base both for sales and enjoyment based on the prior adoration of the world and concept. Although, on its own, it is not the mind-blowing addition to the previous series that we all hoped for.
Words by Sam Hewitson
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