Review: A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

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I read Suzanne Collins’ The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Well, okay, I listened to it. I wasn’t confident I would like it, so rather than buy the book full price, I used my June credit on Audible. On one hand, now that I’ve read it I really wish I had a physical copy to complete the set on my shelf and re-read without an internet connection (my iPad’s very old), but on the other hand, I’m glad I had the chance to listen to the official audiobook so that I can include that in my review. The recording could have been better, for sure!

My Rating: 4 Stars overall & story, 3 stars for audiobook performance.

If you’d rather watch and listen to my review, I did record my thoughts for YouTube! You can also read my review directly on Goodreads.

As someone who read The Hunger Games books when they were new, re-read them multiple times, and owns all the films, I didn’t know I could be lead to like Snow. Suzanne Collins has done a wonderful job of showing us all the things we hate about the old man president in this teenage boy, but at the same time she’s managed to put us on his side, have us root for him, and wonder at every turn is this the thing that hardened him?

This story takes place alongside the tenth Hunger Games, the first to have mentors, sponsorships, and betting. At this early stage in the development of the games, high school students from the Capitol are the mentors, and Snow is paired with the District 12 girl tribute, Lucy Gray. We already know from The Hunger Games that District 12 only has one victor around when Katniss and Peeta become tributes, and that’s Haymitch, so we’re constantly wondering when this District 12 girl will meet her end, how it’ll happen, and how much of what happens between her and Snow shapes the man we know he becomes.

I think it’s well-paced, though I’m not sure someone reading this book before consuming the main trilogy in any form would experience this book the same way. It’s a prequel in that it takes place before the main trilogy, yes, but someone who has no prior knowledge of the state of Panem or District 12 during Katniss’ and Peeta’s Games isn’t going to be expecting Lucy Gray to die, so I think a bit of the urgency would be lost. Beyond that, there’s absolutely enough world-building for this book to stand on its own, and since so many of the characters are new, we do get all the back story information we need on them.

As someone who has experienced the main trilogy many times before, I appreciate the expanded lore on the Jabberjays and Mockingjays, the evolution of the Hunger Games, and the nods to District 13 and the Hanging Tree song.
This book also has a lot to say about privilege and inequality, if one cares to read it that way. I look forward to analyzing that with my daughter when she’s old enough for these books. This will be a good teaching tool.

I listened to the audiobook, and I wanted to comment that there were some slightly distracting edits to the audio recording itself. Perhaps they were more obvious to me, listening at 1.5x speed, than it would be at regular speed. What I noticed was that it sounds like the narrator re-recording certain lines without taking care to match the tone and energy he’d originally had built up in his first take, so some individual lines stick out as being recorded at a different time than the lines before and after. The tonal/energy shift isn’t called for in context. At times I even wondered if there were actually two narrators, especially early on when I first caught it in dialogue, so initially I ignored it as someone else voicing a different character, but that does not appear to be the case.

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