In Collins' new book, the story centers on uber-villain Coriolanus Snow, the despised future president of a dystopian version of America called Panem

By Sue Corbett
May 19, 2020 09:00 AM
The Hunger Games Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland as Coriolanus Snow in The Hunger Games
| Credit: Color Force/Lionsgate/Kobal/Shutterstock

This prequel to Collins’ trilogy, global bestsellers that spawned four films, is set 64 years in the past, opening on the morning of the reaping for the 10th annual Hunger Games. That’s right. The only time the word “katniss” appears, it’s referring to the plant.

Instead the story here centers on uber-villain Coriolanus Snow, the despised future president of a dystopian version of America called Panem. The government’s post-war method of conveying to the populace who’s in charge – a televised event in which sacrificial teenagers from the rebel districts fight to the death until one remains -- are a ratings dud and no wonder. Tributes arrive in the Capitol on cargo trains, smelling like livestock, and are housed at the war-ravaged zoo until the competition begins. No stylists, no parade, no glitz.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (a Hunger Games Novel) Suzanne Collins
Credit: Scholastic Press

Looking to inject interest the game makers enlist students at the Capitol’s most prestigious high school to act as mentors to the tributes. Snow, 18, is up for the challenge but disgusted when he is partnered with the tribute from impoverished District 12, which had never produced anything close to a competitive combatant. He and his classmates do introduce innovations: the public will now be allowed to bet on who will win and to send supplies into the arena via drone.

But 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. (The book opens with quotes from 17th Century political philosophers.)

Suzanne Collins
The author
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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.