People who love finding out the back stories in fictional universes—why Sherlock Holmes wears a deerstalker hat; where Indiana Jones got his scar—will relish the chance to learn these details ... This is violence porn. It is disturbing that we find it so compelling. It also means that the book inevitably loses some of its propulsive bite when the Games end and the action moves out of the Capitol. Parts of the last fourth of the novel feel flat and desultory after the excitement we have just been through.
... builds on the original series’ overt critique of violence and those who perpetuate it, again in terms that speak to a more mature audience than their young-adult marketing might suggest. But where Katniss was a heroine whose flaws were laid bare as she came into her own, Coriolanus sometimes feels reverse-engineered to fit his older mold, and the novel doesn’t fully explain the roots of his at-any-costs ambition ... For true fans of The Hunger Games, Collins shines most as she weaves in tantalizing details that lend depth to the gruesome world she created in the original series and Coriolanus’s place in its history.
True, it lacks the trilogy’s commercial canniness. Gone is the crisp, action-packed pacing of The Hunger Games, and the epigraphs featuring quotes from Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, William Wordsworth, and Mary Shelley suggest that success has filled Collins with a perhaps overly optimistic sense of how much philosophical weight a YA novel (or, really, any novel) can bear. But The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes nevertheless constitutes a bold move on Collins’ part ... A friend asked me if I thought The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, being a portrait of a tyrant as a young man, might be a veiled commentary on Trump. But Coryo is no vulgar, narcissistic bully and parvenu. The closer parallel is collective—to America itself, frantically trying to live up to past glories and cover up past sins ... Most people, and that includes most readers, are more like Coryo than the blameless and noble Katniss, and that makes his story, with its petty resentments, flashes of generosity, and moral failures truly (rather than aspirationally) identifiable. It also makes The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes a true novel, in the 19th-century sense, Balzac compared with the adventure yarn and romance of The Hunger Games. Its psychological realism will surely disappoint many fans of the earlier trilogy, and somewhere in the middle I did find myself growing impatient with Coryo’s ceaseless machinations. The stakes seemed low, and Lucy Gray the more obvious choice as a hero. But finally, particularly in the last section set in District 12, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes found its feet, maneuvering Coryo toward his moment of truth. The Hunger Games describes how life often feels to teenagers: a horror show endured in a state of total, excruciating surveillance. But The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes describes how most lives are actually lived, the consequences of countless small choices that ultimately amount to a big one: not just how to feel but who to be.
... delivers a mesmerizing look into the life of Coriolanus Snow and the root causes of his villainous behavior. Collins once again proves that she is a master of building a fascinating world around complex characters who must grapple with the complications of chaos and control and their effects on human nature.
The scenes during the Games are sharply plotted and move with the same super-speed readers will remember from the series. But it is the third part of the book, which takes the action to District 12, that is the most revelatory in terms of the gradual chipping away of Coryo’s humanity ... One of the delicious qualities of a prequel is that it fills in the blanks. For those who lapped up the trilogy and have been waiting 10 long years for answers, Collins has them ... It’s the pull between Coryo’s head and heart — and the realization that he actually has a beating heart, not just a rose-scented lump of coal — that makes the future President Snow very worthy of a 517-page prequel.
The book, while not an essential addition to canon, layers on darkly satisfying implications to the original series and makes for a compelling return to the Hunger Games world ... The young Snow is a compelling character: a poor little rich boy, stripped of all his wealth, trying desperately to bring glory back to his family name ... It’s a reminder of the power of propaganda—how putting the veneer of a good narrative atop any awful thing can get people to believe the message ... Collins’ choice to switch from the close first-person perspective of the Hunger Games trilogy to a more distant third person is also a boost...allowing readers to draw their own conclusions about his actions and enjoy more refined prose ... Collins reminds readers that even the most horrible people may have at one point done the right thing, but that doesn’t make them any less despicable or less worth overthrowing.
The teens offered up as tribute suffer far more than the mentors, but the book reaches a point where readers begin to suspect that every kid who has a name is going to be at least maimed in some way. By the time the games are over (but the book still has more than 100 pages to go), I was really tired of all the dying. Collins clearly was not ... Mostly, though, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes explores the many ways in which young people can be tortured (physically and/or psychologically) and how other young people can be manipulated into aiding and abetting in that torture ... As for all the other young adults in the book, most of their names will likely be a blur. This is a bleak read about pointless murder that ends with a pile of bodies and no hope. Now we know that from the very beginning, the Hunger Games were stupid, but everybody went along with supporting them because standing up was too hard. Now we know why Snow never stood up. Yay. Another villain’s weak soul has been unnecessarily revealed. Forgive me if I don’t think that was enough to justify reading about so much gratuitous suffering.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes marks an interesting choice on Collins’s part. It’s a combination that you don’t often see in this sort of franchise fiction – a prequel focused on the villain as protagonist and their origins. We’re used to the good guys being the stars, particularly in the realm of YA fiction. One could argue that this new book is a bit more thematically sophisticated than the previous offerings, but ultimately, while the perspective is different, we’re still talking about teenagers forced to make adult decisions by a largely unfeeling system. It’s a bold maneuver in its way, pivoting as it does away from the iconic rebellious heroine of the original trilogy ... It is also a largely successful one ... It’s wild, having such a character in the lead. There’s an engaging frustration to it – and I mean that in a good way. He makes ethical choices for unethical reasons and vice versa. Even with the biases inherent to knowing who he becomes, we still find ourselves rooting for Snow to find his way out of the shadows and into the light ... Yes, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a bit denser, a bit heavier than previous installments. The narrative does get a little jagged in spots, with a tendency toward somewhat excessive chapter-ending cliffhangers. It’s not a perfect book by any stretch ... It is, however, quite a ripper of a read. Fans of the world that Collins has created will doubtless find much to like in this latest installment
A Hunger Games without Everdeen might have seemed as peculiar as a Potter without Harry, but it works beautifully, largely thanks to a new character. The clever, charismatic precursor, Lucy Baird Gray ... Collins sets off Hobbes against Rousseau nicely in her quotes at the front and this conundrum is at the story’s heart ... We discover in the end who drummed up the idea for the Hunger Games tournament to begin with, and Collins leaves us with a cliffhanger that doesn’t just ask politely for another book, it prostrates itself and begs. Please don’t make us wait another decade.
The new book is billed as an origin story for Coriolanus Snow ... And it fulfills that function capably enough, although it fails to ever quite reach the adrenaline-pumping urgency of the first trilogy ... The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes digs a little deeper. It’s interested not just in the fact of the murder of children, but in the why of it ... calculation and coldness makes Coriolanus a tricky protagonist. Collins has no interest in making him sympathetic or a figure to root for ... while Coriolanus can be compelling, he never resolves into the kind of iconic survive-at-all-costs protagonist that Katniss was. And in general, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes lacks the relentless urgency of the original trilogy ... in the end, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes isn’t quite the moment-defining achievement the original trilogy was. It’s more of a curiosity, a cold-blooded philosophical inquiry that adds depth to the original three books but is not essential reading. It’s a nightmare from which it is all too easy to wake up.
The events are all related in deadly earnest, but there is what seems to be unintentional comedy in Ms. Collins’s choice of names for her minor characters ... Ms. Collins should be commended for conjuring Coriolanus and his grim surroundings in the relatively graceful past tense rather than the grinding present tense of the trilogy. She is not a subtle stylist, though, and in places the prose is so wooden that Katniss could fashion arrows from it...That said, Hunger Games devotees will probably be too busy relishing their return to Panem to care. Readers who enjoyed the details of gladiatorial game-making in the trilogy will find all sorts of satisfying explanations for why things developed the way they did ... One has the sense that Ms. Collins is in a hurry to get to her foregone conclusion. There is a point in the novel at which Coriolanus describes himself feeling 'like a marionette being jerked here and there by invisible strings.' That’s a pretty good description of what happens to the reader of this exhausting book, already a bestseller.
it’s a risky narrative choice to focus on Snow, since through three books and four films, fans have been conditioned to abhor him. Will anybody care to learn his origin story? Certainly, few will sympathize given what they already know about who he becomes. However, by introducing a new cast of teenagers, Collins is able to raise questions about privilege, the uses of violence, and the futility of war ... Will everybody be reading Ballad this summer? (Scholastic announced a first printing of 2.5 million copies.) The odds appear to be ever in its favor. The film version is already in the works.
Everything you would expect from Collins is here: fraught teenage love; plenty of violence; character names untethered from their contexts and a pervasive awareness of the power of media ... Whereas it was easy to root for Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of the trilogy, as she battled her way through the Games, it’s harder to do the same for Coriolanus, watching safely from the sidelines ... The plot of the novel rests on deception and pretence, its view of humanity bleak; yet Collins’s themes of friendship, betrayal, authority and oppression, as well as the extra layers of lore about mockingjays and Capitol’s history, will please and thrill.
... the author returns to Snow's youth with a song in her heart and acid in her veins. The prequel is stranger than its predecessors, and funnier, overlong, dangerously goofy. It grasps shamelessly for social meaning and conjures a vampiric spell ... At worst, what follows is an undigested lesson plan for the whole Hunger Games idea, clashing exposition with familiar story beats. At best, it table-flips the trilogy's striving into an anti-morality tale of consuming ambition: Mr. Ripley Goes to Washington ... The first and best act of Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes carves into an amoral world of preening wealth and corrosive power ... The storytelling itself trends desperate at times. Chapters close on violent cliffhangers that edge into parody ... I admire the ambitions, but all the explicit philosophy reflects another prequel problem: the urge to explain what was once so vividly felt. The expository impulse brings momentum to a halt ... runs over 500 pages, and at one point it almost seems to become a different novel. There are too many folk music interludes, some ludicrous franchise callbacks, and a genuinely awe-inspiring final setpiece ... Collins still has a gift for horrorshow scene-setting, and there's a renewed political edge ... On the level of pure pulp, this book may satisfy any readers who want their Hunger Games to have, well, Hunger Games ... a major work with major flaws, but it sure gives you a lot to chew on.
... baggy, meandering ... The question of how much of character is innate, how much formed, becomes a more explicit — OK, painfully obvious — theme ... Readers who loved the moral ambiguity, crisp writing and ruthless pacing of the first three books might be less interested in an overworked parable about the value of Enlightenment thinking. That's not to say Collins can't or shouldn't work serious moral and political questions into her novels: It's the sheer obviousness that drags, the way that we know what the right answer is supposed to be ... Coriolanus is just a flat, wily sociopath. In contrast, Katniss was allowed contradictions: She was a wounded, vicious, plotting, independent, ferocious rebel — willing, at various points, to murder, steal and betray her loved ones for a larger goal. As a protagonist, there was something gloriously undidactic about her. She was a monster, she was a killer, and she was also a principled and intractable author of herself ... The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes tells us what we should think. But The Hunger Games allowed for both.
When the first chapter of this prequel to superselling The Hunger Games, was released, fans objected to the trilogy’s villain, the president Coriolanus Snow, being the hero. But even after 540 pages, Snow needs another episode to explain him ... There is no Katniss, of course; Snow’s mentee is Lucy, a scrawny, brave singer of Covey heritage (like gypsies) who steals his heart and the show. There’s also a psychopathic doctor, a righteous friend, the threat of poverty, and Snow’s own ambition in the melange of his motives. Asking big questions, this is fantasy for those who like their violent horror breezily tempered by philosophy.
... confirms Collins as a master of dystopian YA, able to spin engaging tales around deeply flawed characters and societies ... Collins writes with the expectation that readers have read the original trilogy, and thus already know who Coriolanus Snow is and what he will become. The suspense is not so much in what the ending of the story will be, but in how it will play out, pervading the sweet romance with a sense of dread for the inevitable catastrophe ... Collins knows what kind of story she is telling, and tells it well, showing us how a charming young boy in love becomes the villain of the original trilogy
Collins continues her unflinching exploration of power and morality in this prequel ... A gripping mix of whipsaw plot twists and propulsive writing make this story's complex issues—vulnerability and abuse, personal responsibility, and institutionalized power dynamics—vivid and personal.
Conflicted Coriolanus thinks of himself as a good person in an impossible situation but also as exceptional—a belief with a high price. Collins humanizes him as superficially heroic and emotionally relatable while also using him for a vehicle for philosophical questions. Though readers know how he will eventually answer the questions explicitly asked of him, the central question is why, resulting in both a tense, character-driven piece and a cautionary tale. There is some mention of diversity in skin tone; Coriolanus and Lucy Gray seem to be white. The twists and heartbreaks captivate despite tragic inevitabilities.