It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capital, eighteen-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 outcharm, 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.
I find myself conflicted by this novel and I’m not even entirely sure what I feel. On one hand, I loved learning more about how President Snow became the cold hearted despicable creature we met in the original Hunger Games trilogy. On the other hand, there are some glaring issues with this story. I’ll try not to spoil anything, but I think it’s best if I break things down in a few categories so I can organize my thoughts.
Panem and the Districts
As it has only been a decade since the Capital beat the Districts, the setting of this story is still far from what you expect if you have already read the original trilogy. Although there are still some individuals who are well to do in the Capital, as a whole, it’s still nowhere near the opulent and overindulgent metropolis of the future. Despite this, the citizens of the Capital still feel superior to those who live in the district, and there is no better example of this than Coriolanus Snow’s Grandma’am. Even when hosting a woman whose family has more money than they do, both Coriolanus and his grandmother look down on her because she is “district.” It’s easy to see the groundwork for what is to become within the culture and atmosphere of the Capital.
You don’t get the privilege of seeing much of the other districts, however you did get a chance to return to the District 12 of the past. Based on the differences between this prequel and the original novels, I found myself wondering when specific things would become enacted in between the two storylines. Without giving too much away, there is currently no electrified fence surrounding the district and people regularly visit the Hob. This is not to say the people in the districts are any happier than they were when Katniss volunteered for the games. It’s just merely some insight into how far into how far into reconstruction the nation truly is.
The Hunger Games
I suppose I should begin with one of the biggest differences of the games from what you might be familiar with: the tributes. During the time Katniss and Peeta are tributes, they are given a royal treatment leading up to their entry into the Hunger Games. They are fed well, pampered, and treated like precious commodities (i.e. the force field surrounding the training center.) If they win, they are granted a luxurious home in the Victors Village and their district receives extra food and rations for a year.
This was not true in the early days of the Hunger Games. Based off of what you discover, the tributes in the first 9 years were dumped in a dilapidated arena with weapons and the games lasted maybe a day or two. However, in this novel, for the 10th anniversary, mentors are assigned to the tributes for the first time, interviews are conducted for the first time, and the Capital makes some attempt to leave a record of the tributes who are bound to fall. But the way they are treated is horrendous and utterly gut wrenching. No food, trapped in a monkey pen at the zoo, and just completely viewed as no better than livestock. It’s very clear that despite the Capital’s thoughts of the Districts during Katniss’s time, those early days were still fueled by hatred and fear because the scars of the war were still fresh. This treatment of the tributes is used in two ways: 1. to introduce how customs of the games begin, 2. to make Coriolanus seem more likable. The author actually does a decent enough job that if I didn’t know the Coriolanus of the future, I believe I would have felt sorry and rooted for this Coriolanus of the past.
This is probably one of the areas of the book I have the hardest time separating out my feelings. As an orphan with an aging grandmother and cousin to take care of, he is the type of character most of us would have no problem sympathizing for. It’s clear that his experiences during the war have left their scars, and though he’s a snob and not always very nice to his peers at the Academy, there seems to be something not quite yet tainted or ruined in him. Especially as he realizes how the tributes are being treated and makes every attempt to help Lucy Gray Baird in the Hunger Games. However, his motives aren’t completely noble and it’s clear he wants to win, so he can get a scholarship for University and the prestige to help uplift his family’s somewhat fallen reputation. He also wants to help Lucy because he wants Lucy. That being said, while he does some good things throughout the book, he is still sneaky and slimy. He’s quick to toss others under the bus so he can get ahead and he cares about himself first and foremost.
Lucy Gray Baird
From the get go, I couldn’t help but feel dread by Lucy’s entry into the Hunger Games. Despite what I have seen online, I haven’t had a chance to reread The Hunger Games series to find the point in which Katniss supposedly mentions a victor other than Peeta, Haymitch, and herself. Apparently she did, but I do believe that she was referencing Haymitch, because she even mentions it when they watch his games, and she said he was the first person from District 12 to ever win. Maybe I’m wrong, but this thought process completely colored my experience throughout the book.
Lucy comes off as a natural entertainer and she seems to be personable. She’s the opposite of Katniss and I’m sure this was intentional on the author’s part. However, I couldn’t help feeling she was putting on a show the entire time… even with Coriolanus. I have seen other reviews about how she was destroyed to find out the truth about Coriolanus, but I didn’t feel that way. I truly believe she used him for all he was worth and I think her betrayal is what led to him ultimately transforming into the monster we meet 64 years later. I’m just not sure why so many other readers were fooled by her, her motives, or what her true purpose in the plot was.
A few other things
What is the deal with all of the stupid songs? Yes, on an intellectual level, I understand why they were used as a plot device, but come on! I couldn’t help agreeing with Coriolanus as he was mentally rolling his eyes and calling them stupid. Then again, I was also rolling my eyes and calling him stupid for constantly saying that so many of the words were nonsense, just because he didn’t understand what was being said. By the end of the novel I wanted to pull my hair out. I don’t need to hear “Oh my darlin’, oh my darlin’. Oh my darlin’, Clementine” repeated again and again. There were so many scenes that could have been shortened by saying a character sang a song, while Coriolanus was busy doing something else (which he was already doing the entire time they were writing out lyrics). The repetitiveness of this song and that song leaves you frustrated and bogged down the storyline. In fact, it even leads to some huge plot holes in the District 12 setting.
That being said, Lucy’s songs are what gives away her true motives to me. Surprisingly, Coriolanus even makes some comments that led me to believe he was truly picking up what she was saying. Yet, in the end, he still never really got what happened. Which is also a huge plot hole. Also the author has shed some light on the origin of the “Hanging Tree” song Katniss sings in Mockingjay and hints to which one of the characters she descends from.
I didn’t hate this book and I actually thought the first 2/3 of the book was done really well. I think that the author got way too wrapped up in the songs and it really ruined the ending for me. There were some big revelations that came out and they just seemed rushed, not well thought out, and half-baked. I love a good villain origin story, but this one falls a bit short in the end. I still am glad I was able to read it and I think the author had some very interesting ideas and backstory for the series.