BOOK REVIEW: THE PERFECT PITCH TO CORIOLANUS SNOW
Heroes look better in stories because there exists a perfect villain. Books are measured not just by the development of its protagonist but also largely by how excellent (see hateful) the antagonist is. The success of Suzzane Collins’ 'The Hunger Games' trilogy has the combination of Katniss Everdeen and President Snow largely to thank for. In this prequel, we dissect and dig in deep into the former life of the trilogy's antagonist, Coriolanus Snow.
Heroes look better in stories because there exists a perfect villain. Books are measured not just by the development of its protagonist but also largely by how excellent (see hateful) the antagonist is. The success of Suzzane Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy has the combination of Katniss Everdeen and President Snow largely to thank for. The tribute-turned-rebel-turned-mockingjay has been likened as the second coming of Joan of Arc and has since become the figure to call for present day revolution.
Hers is a character that has become immortalized in different GIFs, memes, and many hashtags. Pop culture will not be complete without reference to the girl on fire. While the fierceness of Katniss adored the readers throughout the series, it was President Snow’s dark ambiguity and puppetry of the circumstances that kept the reading public guessing. His nonchalant persona as the main antagonist balanced the intensity of the entire storyline. His outward likability is an exact contrast to how he runs his governance as the ruler of Panem. President Snow’s silent presence was a streak of writing genius that made Collins a force in the literary world. Yet given his importance in the trilogy, some critics and fans are unanimous that Snow’s character lacked exposure and his latter appearances did not bring justice to his overall character.
That is why, when a fourth book–a prequel–was announced by Collins to be in the works, excitement and anticipation filled bookworms especially when it was revealed that the focus will be put on Coriolanus Snow, albeit decades before his downfall and his eventual death. Fans were expecting to find explanations and probably conclusions about the life of Panem’s dictator. Luckily, it did not disappoint. In its many twists and complexities, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is the perfect pitch for Coriolanus Snow.
The narrative was told mainly from the perspective of 18-year old Snow, a capitol-native of the once prominent Snow family who was barely clinging to old glory just to get by. With the Dark Days still fresh in the minds of the whole Panem, young Coryo tries to charm his way to the top despite having real difficulty eating daily.
The book started with a bit of surprise by revealing that the future authoritarian of Panem is related to fan favorite Tigris, not just by blood, but by affinity–having lived together for most of their childhood. Together with their grandmother accurately addressed as grand-ma’am, in a penthouse previously screaming of lavishness but is now loud with room space, the cousins by blood but more like siblings in life is the first of the many contradictions Collins put in motion.
In Mockingjay, Tigris is the kindhearted woman who extended assistance to Katniss and Squad 451. Despite her surgically enhanced features, Tigris’ character was fondly remembered by fans when she harbored Katniss and her group and provided critical information of what was happening in the Capitol when the rebels were heavily advancing. Now knowing her family heritage and all, and how close she and President Snow were, the dynamics of their life philosophies cannot be avoided to be compared. Imagine, a rebel sympathizer is actually a kin of the ruthless ruler.
Being the prequel of the original Hunger Games, it is expected that the Games will be incorporated in the backstory telling of the young Snow. True enough, the central figure in the student life of Coryo was when he was tapped to be among the very first mentors of one of the 24 tributes in the 10th Edition of the Hunger Games.
As one of the most accomplished senior students of the academy and his family considered to be one of capitol’s old guards, Coryo tries to maintain some semblance of normalcy by acting still high and mighty, rich and powerful, when all he can afford for most days is cabbage soup for breakfast. That’s why being paired with Lucy Gray Baird from District 12 was such an insult not to mention a big obstacle for his dream to finally land Snow on top.
Gray, a Covey, who possesses a voice so sweet, stood out among the rest of the tributes when she made a spectacle during her reaping. Her love for the music as well as her fascination about snakes create a colorful personality opposite of the paleness of which Coryo has. Perceived by him as an easy target, with little to no shot at winning the Games, Coryo sees this as a dent to his already demolished life.
A defeat in the game will jeopardize what future he can manage to salvage. Still, as a proud Snow, he forged ahead and formed a bond with his tribute more than he originally intended. Coriolanus and Lucy Gray appear to be mismatched in all aspects but their tandem turned out to be unexpectedly delightful. There were moments that Coryo seems to be heavily infatuated with his tribute or even love the idea of being with her, sans his plan for redemption. If President Snow was who allowed the persona of Katniss to shine, it was Lucy Gray’s character that allowed the dullness of the young Coryo to be exciting.
However, as the story progressed, Coryo’s self-preservation to the point of selfishness manifested in more ways than one. Also, while it is interesting to see the young Snow agonizing over internal and moral conflicts, it is evident that even before he occupies the high tower of Panem, his ambition to resurrect his family name to glory is more important than any other life, even his. All favorable results are welcome, with no regard how callous the process and no matter how screwed his moral compass was. As long as Snow lands on top, as long as Snow stands on top.
Ballad fades greatly with how the original Hunger Games trilogy was written. Compared to the original which was packed at every page with twists and turns, Ballad is majorly monotonous, infused with long and tiring paragraphs. The consolation here is Collins’ use of actual and real songs specially altered to fit the story but even this is saturating at times. The characters lack interaction and exchanges with one another despite the situation actually calling for it. Collins’ decision to shift to long and winding storytelling which is sadly boring at times, might be partly due to the fact that the aim of the prequel is to supply answers and not to demand more questions.
Still, its historical approach in shedding light on President Snow’s history and the origins of the Games is bordering scholastic which might not be as exciting and not as thrilling as most would expect. Any preconceived notion that the Ballad will attempt to humanize the character of Snow can finally rest because in true Hunger Games fashion, the backstory did not even attempt to dwell with this at all. Any shred of Coriolanus’ humanity (or what appears to be remnants of it) is meticulously placed and shown with the ultimate goal of having personal gain. Coryo never did anything out of pure altruism. His addiction to fame drove him to show an ounce of compassion but never without equivalent exchange. He might be courteous, formal and respectful, but these, in his own description, are nothing short of expected from a civilized Capitol boy.
Overall, while the Ballad lacks the punch the Hunger Games trilogy is known to have, it is good in supplying answers to many theories formed from and in the original series. While this might be minimal for some, for those who followed the story of the uprising of the districts, its liberation from the stronghold of the Capitol and perpetuate mockingjay as the symbol of revolution and freedom, knowing finally the origins of the single person who advanced the cruelty of the Hunger Games and learning why the Hunger Games was even created in the first place somehow settles the past. While the Ballad failed to further the discussion and inadvertently left promising questions for the readers’ mind to dwell on (again), it provided the puzzle pieces for the picture to be completed.
Still, Ballad served its purpose. The story is rich in symbolism which can be tied down to the main Hunger Games trilogy and to gain readers’ fervor. The reason District 12 is special in the eyes of President Snow, the importance of roses to him, his contempt for mockingjays, to Katniss. Equally important, of course, is the history of the song The Hanging Tree, along with the role of the children in shaping Coriolanus’ massive support for the Games.
Suzane Collins’ newest work may be a far cry from being the best but it came as the perfect supplement for a trilogy which will forever be ranked among the best in pop culture history.
As long as Snow lands on top. Until the Mockingjay sings.