The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, by Suzanne Collins.
The acclaimed author of ‘The Hunger Games’ Suzanne Collins has done it again: created another heart-stopping episode in her Dystopian fantasy series of America ‘After the War’, this time giving her millions of fans (including me!) a forerunner to Katniss Everdeen’s heroic exploits for her people in the first trilogy.
In this prequel we follow the teenage life of President Snow – hard to believe such a man was ever a young man with normal hopes and dreams, but as a teenager, Coriolanus Snow (Ms Collins has a lot of fun with Latin names for her characters here) is no different from his other classmates at the Academy, an elite school in the Capitol, famed for producing future leaders – and he has a shameful secret: despite living in a penthouse in one of the most desirable apartment buildings in the city, he, his Grandmother and cousin Tigris are struggling to put food on the table; their family’s former rich holdings were all destroyed in the war, and Tigris has had to work long hours at menial work to keep the household afloat. The Snows could not bear the humiliation and shame of their neighbours learning of their dire straits, so try to keep up appearances, and Coriolanus is very accomplished at presenting himself as that which he is not – rich.
A prize-winning opportunity arises with the introduction of ‘mentoring’ tributes for the latest Hunger Games, providing back-up and support for whomever is chosen for Mentors to sponsor. Initially Coriolanus is hugely disappointed in Lucy Gray Baird, his tribute from District Twelve – she doesn’t look like she’d last five minutes up against all the other desperate youngsters, though most of them do look half-starved and ill. Oh well, time will tell, and it does: readers are treated to another horrific, hair-raising and tragic account of the Hunger Games, resulting in victory for Lucy Gray, and humiliating disgrace for Coriolanus who, instead of realising his ambition of going to university, is shipped off to District Twelve as a lowly PeaceKeeper.
And his rich, would-be friend Sejanus goes too, but for entirely different reasons: he wants to escape from the Capitol, that hotbed of privilege and corruption, and join rebels that surely hide in District Twelve. He wants to live a peaceful, honourable life some day.
Ms Collins brilliantly conducts us all yet again through a tightly plotted and suspenseful adventure that juggles ambitions, excuses and rationalisation with morals, principles and ideals: guess who comes out on top? SIX STARS