“Nothing you can take from me was ever worth keeping.”

28 May 2020

I used to pride myself in completing 20-30 books per year, which is easy to track thanks to Goodreads Reading Challenge, but as years passed this number kept dwindling. For 2019, I finished a measly seven books. It's not for the lack of reading material as I still One-Click at least one book every or every other week, nor lack of time because working from home afforded me time that would have been spent on transportation. I have no other excuse aside from wasting time scrolling mindlessly and lack of energy to do little else.

I finished The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins in three days. That's a feat these days, considering how I am only able to read on weekends and before bedtime.

It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the 10th annual Hunger Games. In the Capitol, 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to out charm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute.

The odds are against him. He's been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined - every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favor or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute... and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.

A quick scan on my blog would show I am a huge Hunger Games fan. When the announcement came that Suzanne Collins is releasing a prequel and speculations went wild over whose story we are going to learn more about, I was disappointed to learn that of all the characters fans loved so much, the new book would be about the young life of the tyrant President Coriolanus Snow. In my head, he is a completely evil man and reading any attempt to humanize him or any kind of justification on why he became what he was would turn me off this trilogy completely. Nevertheless I knew I really wanted to read this if only for Suzanne's amazing world-building, and so I continuously refreshed Amazon, waiting for the Kindle version to be available for purchase (since we are not able to go out to go to bookstores anymore). We are familiar with Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay. We have no doubt that Snow rose to power and ruled with an iron fist for many years. It's just amazing to see how he got there.

In this book we are transported to the early days of the Hunger Games, the ultimate and most cruel display of the Capitol's power over all the districts of Panem. War has ended, and to remind Panem that the Capitol is in control, all districts must send a pair of tributes who will battle it out to the death in the arena until one remains. In the first book The Hunger Games, it was explained to us that victors from each district come back as mentors for tributes chosen at the annual reaping. Aside from Haymitch who was the only surviving victor that could help Katniss and Peeta, District 12 produced only one other victor that was not named. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is her story as much as it is Coryo's.

Apparently, the glitzy Hunger Games things like the fancy trains, sponsors, placing bets on tributes, glamorous designers and parades, and a technologically-advanced arena were not always the case. It was very interesting to see how they all came about, and the reasons why they were deemed necessary. Seriously, the level of detail in connecting this book to the original three is outstanding. My mind is blown.

Despite the grim nature of the book (kids forced into killing other kids for the whole country to see), this is actually the most lighthearted and funniest, if we would go by the dialogues and Snow's internal monologue. Make no mistake, though. We see parallels with our present times, like kids in cages, and I wonder if the horrific reality of the dystopian world of Panem is not very far after all. 

In the same vein of the Hunger Games quartet of movies giving us an expanded yet condensed version of the events that transpired in the books, I am very much looking forward to seeing the characters be brought to life in the big screen, and hopefully by then we can come back to the movie theatres again. Please bring Francis Lawrence back to direct.

I have a list of books I would like to read for the first time again, and the Hunger Games trilogy is one of them. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a great and worthy addition to the lore. If you are a fan of the books, do make sure to read it. I didn't want to spoil any of the other nice surprises for you, but definitely get a copy if you loved the original trilogy and wanted to consume more from the dystopian world of Panem. Now if you haven't read any of the books yet, I would suggest that you also start with the Hunger Games trilogy before picking this up, because it would make seeing the Easter eggs more fun and special, like a nice gift from an old friend you haven't seen in a while.

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