måndag 25 maj 2020

Review round up: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes - minor spoilers follow.

A decade after the last instalment of The Hunger Games trilogy hit bookshelves, Suzanne Collins has finally returned to Panem with her new book, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

But, what are critics saying about the highly anticipated prequel?

Set a decade after the war and 64 years before the first novel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes follows the adventures of a teenage Coriolanus Snow who, while living with his cousin Tigris Bardon, has fallen on hard times and is tasked with acting as one of the elite Capitol-based mentors enlisted to shake up the tenth annual Hunger Games.
Tasked with mentoring District 12 tribute Lucy Gray Baird, Coriolanus finds himself working with Lucy to ensure she wins the games and Snow can secure the illustrious future he so desperately craves.

Alas, it seems critics are divided over what Ballad brings to the Hunger Gamesuniverse.

Related: The Hunger Games prequel brings back another familiar face

With a movie adaptation already officially in the works, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is sure to appease fans with answers about who came up with the idea of the Hunger Games in the first place and a lot of mockingjay references.

However, while some critics have dubbed the prequel "pleasing and thrilling" with a cliffhanger that "prostates itself and begs" for a follow-up, others weren't convinced by the "baggy, meandering prequel", its strong philosophical undertones and its use of Coriolanus Snow as the protagonist.

Plus, a lot of people miss Katniss!

Here's the review round-up:

The Guardian

"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 Times

"A Hunger Games without Everdeen might have seemed as peculiar as a Potterwithout Harry, but it works beautifully, largely thanks to a new character. The clever, charismatic precursor, Lucy Baird Gray, a Covey (a sort of gypsy) who is chosen to represent District 12 in the tenth Games.

"Collins leaves us with a cliffhanger that doesn’t just ask politely for another book, it prostrates itself and begs."

Entertainment Weekly

"On the level of pure pulp, this book may satisfy any readers who want their Hunger Games to have, well, Hunger Games. Gone is Catching Fire's All-Star teamwork and Mockingjay's the-city-is-the-arena sidestep. Here, again, is a no-escape duel of nasty brutishness, with violence only abated by the antics of a parrot in the commentary booth.

"Ballad is a major work with major flaws, but it sure gives you a lot to chew on."

The Telegraph

"The story that follows is engaging: the formula of the Games themselves provides an engine for creative detail, plot twist and peril. But Coriolanus and his mentee, Lucy Gray, are both pale imitations of Katniss.

"What I think Collins intended her readers to take from The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is what the trauma of war can do to a person: how it can strip them of their essential humanity. What I took away was that she should stick to plucky heroes and dazzling plot-twists. When it comes to writing the murkiest backwaters of the human psyche, Collins is fathoms out of her depth."


"Collins' new novel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, is a baggy, meandering prequel to the events of The Hunger Games that tells the story of Katniss' nemesis and Panem's authoritarian ruler, Coriolanus Snow.

"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."


"Collins might've been better served in exploring the Dark Days of Panem by bringing in the viewpoints of some of the supporting players like Sejanus Plinth, a District 2 transplant in the Capitol who views Coriolanus as a brother, or Lucy Gray herself.

"For true fans of The Hunger Games, Collins shines most as she weaves in tantalising details that lend depth to the gruesome world she created in the original series and Coriolanus's place in its history. And while the character does not appear in the timeline, Collins subtly calls back to Panem's true hero."

The New York Times

"It is a steep challenge to write a book whose hero is, everyone knows, destined to become deeply evil. Do we want to hear — now, after we know the endgame — that the young Voldemort was unfairly saddled with a demerit in class or that the adolescent Sauron fretted because he had to wear hand-me-down clothes?

"Yes, please."

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