After three installments of The Hunger Games series from 2008 to 2010, Suzanne Collins is back with a fourth novel. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes once again features the yearly tourney, but at a very different time in Panem's history. It's the 10th year of the games, still relatively new and viewed differently from what fans might expect. It's also told from a point of view that will shock some, as Coriolanus Snow takes center stage as one of the game's first mentors. It also delves into President Snow’s childhood and reveals details fans never knew about his upbringing. Warning: Spoilers for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes follow.
Some of the details are what one might expect. Coriolanus was the firstborn son of the House of Snow, an old and prestigious line. His father had a distinguished military career, his mother was a lady, and they lived in one of Panem's toniest penthouses at a fashionable address, with his dowager grandmother.
But then the war came, and Coriolanus' time wearing velvet suits and living a life of luxury ended. His father insisted on personally overseeing the war munitions business until a rebel bullet killed him. His mother died in childbirth soon after, taking the baby with her. Coriolanus had no one but his "Grandma'am," who was slowly losing touch with reality, and his cousin Tigris, just two years older than him. Worse, the family fortune is tied up in District 13. When it is nuked, so is their income.
When the story opens, Snow is barely 18, desperately working to keep up appearances. He resents the new money families who have come from the districts, frantically relying on his charm to keep himself in the respectable circles. He also desperately needs money to go to university, or his education will end upon graduating the Academy, where he attends for free based on his family's name. His best hope is to be chosen as a Mentor for this year's Hunger Games.
Only 10 years into its run, the Hunger Games are not yet appointment TV. The event is still as initially envisioned: A yearly reminder of the horrors of war. It's a punishment to the Districts, reparations for the lives they took in the rebellion. Few watch the games, which are ugly, brutish, and short. Just 24 kids tossed in a dilapidated arena with some knives and guns, desperately killing each other off.
The 10th annual Hunger Games is an attempt at turning the event into watchable TV. Mentors are the first step. The Capitol's best and brightest, helping the tributes, including coaching them for a five-minute interview on prime time. But though Snow lands a Mentorship, it is proof of his tenuous position in the hierarchy. He's given the last tribute on the list: The girl from District 12.
Lucky for him, Lucy Gray is nothing like he expects. She might be the perfect partner for a winning team of a boy whose entire life has been about faking 'til you make it. Katniss would be stunned.