I’m sure you all know I just finished Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, the prequel to The Hunger Games. I posted about it enough.
I was of two minds about it. On the one hand, I was excited about reading this book. I loved Hunger Games. It was responsible for me crying in public more than once.
On the other hand, I’ve been burned before. I was so afraid that it was going to be some cheap story thrown together to make a profit. And if that was going to be the case, I was going to rage. I was going to light the internet aflame with my nerd fury. Hell hath no heat like the anger of a woman in her thirties who loves a young adult dystopian fantasy.
My first hint that this wasn’t going to be the case was the sheer weight of the book. She thick.
And the story, my friends, the story worked. Here’s why.
The capitol is messed up. And that’s satisfying.
Let me explain. In the trilogy, the capitol is a fantastic city of opulence and waste. There is no want there. No one’s starving, no one’s homeless. The people of the capitol are bored. They dress up in the weirdest outfits. They genetically modify themselves to look more like animals. They go to parties, overeat, then intentionally puke so they can go on eating.
I grew up in a little town in Western PA. It’s snuggled in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. We are basically District 12. I’m not saying I grew up in a freezing shack without sufficient food or enough clothing. But we’re not big on waste in my family. So I had no love in my heart for the people of the capitol. I didn’t care that they lost their shiny lives. I thought Effie was a really sweet character. I still kind of liked it when she was brought down a few pegs.
It was something to see the capital scarred from the war. It was good, to see that these people suffered. That the people of the capital were the children and grandchildren of war. Their parents made sure that their lives were easy because theirs had been so hard. Because they feared that lack. I mean, people were eating other people they found dead in the street to survive. There’s insinuation in Ballad that Coriolanus’s cousin, Tigress, prostituted herself to feed her family.
The war was awful for them, too. They suffered, and they were left scarred. It makes sense that they would never want to suffer through that again. I’m not saying they are right. The people of the capitol are monstrous. But it’s a more understandable monstrosity.
We delve into the history of the Games.
This was something I was excited about. The premise of the Games themselves was so dark, so evil, that I had to know everything about them. In Ballad, we see that the first few games were far different than the ones in the trilogy. In a way, they were better, more honest. There wasn’t all this pomp and circumstances. They didn’t make these children believe that anyone gave a damn about them.
On the other hand, it does sort of feel like some of the people did give a damn about them. There was a team of people dedicated to the success of each tribute. They get them good food, clothing and training with weapons. Every kid going in at least has a fighting chance.
I mean, we’re still talking about sending twenty-four kids into an arena to kill each other. But in the games in this book, there is no preparation. There is no food, no help. They just pick these kids up in a filthy train and put them in a cage in the zoo. It’s horrific, but it’s honest.
As we find out in Ballad, Snow is largely responsible for the games being what they are. The monster.
Which leads me to my last point.
Snow is a fascinating character. There is kindness in him. There’s decency. He loves his cousin, Tigress. He loves his grandma.
And that is fucking it.
Everyone else, everyone in the whole world, is just a means to an end. Every friendship is just to build allies to use later. Every moment of kindness is only to ask a favor later. He does nothing for anyone else unless he can see where there is something for him in it.
And then there’s his love for Lucy Gray. He adores her when she can do something for him. When she loves him. When being around her makes him feel like a big man. But in the end, Snow only cares about himself.
So for all of his good deeds, this book proves beyond all else that Snow is one of the most frightening monsters I’ve ever seen in a work of fiction.
Of course, some in the real world make Snow look like a damned superhero.
In the end, I’m still very happy to say that we could all hear the sound of Snow falling.
Did you know that my prequel novel came out the same month? Check out Falling From Grace, available now on Amazon.
A woman of the rebellion, Grace’s life has been one of hardship. Her people live in poverty, under the uncaring eyes of their mad king. So when her brother in law, Calvin, leads an army to overthrow the king, she inspires the women to become healers, witches and warriors.
But once she gets Calvin on the throne, her world only becomes darker.
Given all of the power of the crown, Calvin gives into his darker instincts. While Grace learns to be a witch and queen, Calvin slowly loses his mind. He becomes a crueler king than any the country of Calistar has ever seen. Grace finds that her greatest challenge is overthrowing the king she put on the throne