The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a YA prequel novel to the dystopian fictional world of the The Hunger Games trilogy written by American author Suzanne Collins. Its premise is set 64 years prior to the events explored in the first book of the trilogy, 2008's bestselling The Hunger Games. The prequel is stylistically written in the third-person point of view, diverging from the original books of the series which are told using the first-person point of view of protagonist Katniss Everdeen.
The book was announced on June 16, 2019 by Scholastic Press. Suzanne Collins said in a statement that she would return to the world of Panem, the setting of the original trilogy, and explore the timeperiod after the Districts' failed First Rebellion referred to as the Dark Days. Scholastic spokeswoman Tracy van Straaten declined to comment on the new book's contents or featured characters beyond what's described in the first official announcement.
The cover art and title was announced by Scholastic at New York Comic Con on October 4, 2019. The cover art for the novel was designed by Tim O'Brien.
The novel follows the journey of an 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow and is set in the world of Panem 64 years before the events of the original Hunger Games trilogy. The book starts on the morning of the reaping for the 10th Hunger Games—well before the lifetime of the original trilogy's protagonist Katniss Everdeen. Historically, the book explores the reconstruction period of Panem, 10 years after the district's First Rebellion, commonly referred to as the Dark Days. With the backdrop of the Games looming, the aftermath of a war torn country struggling back to its feet, and power up for grabs, there is plenty of fertile ground for characters to grapple with questions of morality, define their views of humanity, and comprehend exactly what it takes to ignore them.
Ambition will fuel him.
Competition will drive him.
But power has its price.
It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capitol, 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.
- Main article: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes/Summary
Coriolanus Snow is one of 24 students of the Academy selected to mentor a tribute in the 10th Hunger Games. His family has fallen on hard times and he is assigned the female tribute from District 12, a girl named Lucy Gray Baird of a singing and performance group called the Covey. He quickly forms a bond with the girl, but things get chaotic before the games even begin. One of the chosen mentors, Arachne Crane, is killed by her own tribute and several tributes and mentors are injured and killed in a bombing of the Capitol Arena.
Coriolanus Snow tries everything he can to help his tribute, but is also drawn into the troubles of his classmate, Sejanus Plinth. Sejanus is originally from District 2 and is horrified by the treatment of the tributes and particular his own tribute, Marcus, who is strung up in the arena for trying to escape during the bombing of the arena. Coriolanus ends up in the Arena himself, at the orders of Dr. Volumnia Gaul, the Head Gamemaker, who has taken a personal interest in Coriolanus. He rescues Sejanus, but ends up killing one of the tributes, Bobbin, in the process. As the Games continue, he ends up taking more desperate measures when he learns that Dr. Gaul is releasing snake muttations in the arena. He places a handkerchief riddled with Lucy Gray's scent in the muttation snake tank to prevent them from attacking her. This does work, and the snakes seem mesmerised when Lucy Gray begins to sing “The Old Therebefore”. Coriolanus wonders whether this magical scene was happening because of Lucy Gray’s singing, or the fact that in an open, vast arena, her scent was one the snakes were familiar with. Lucy Gray then makes it to the final three, where she kills Treech by throwing one of the snake muttations that she had hidden in her dress, at him. She then kills Reaper by exhausting him in the searing sun, and poisoning him. Lucy Gray then waits for over half an hour, until she is finally declared the winner of the 10th Hunger Games. However, shortly afterward, Coriolanus is confronted with his father‘s handkerchief that he’d dropped in the muttation tank, a napkin he used to bring food to Lucy Gray, and his mother's compact, filled with the rat poison he instructed Lucy Gray to use by the Academy's dean, Casca Highbottom, who seems to have some sort of grudge against him. Highbottom expels him from the Academy, but promises not to reveal his disgrace if he enrolls in the Peacekeepers.
Coriolanus enrolls in the Peacekeepers, asking to be assigned to District 12, where he has fallen head-over-heels for Lucy Gray Baird, though he worries about her spurned lover, Billy Taupe. In District 12, things quickly become tangled, as Sejanus Plinth was made to enroll in the Peacekeepers as well. Sejanus seems bent on helping the rebels in District 12. Coriolanus learns of the bubbling rebel resentment in the community of District 12, while trying to form a new life with Lucy Gray as well. He also takes the test to become an officer with the Peacekeepers, Sejanus having used his father Strabo Plinth's influence to secure a diploma for Coriolanus. Things come to a head when Coriolanus discovers Sejanus aiding the rebels. He covertly informs the Capitol of the activity, but he himself ends up shooting Mayfair Lipp, the mayor's daughter and Billy Taupe's other lover. He hatches a desperate plan with Lucy Gray to run away north, before learning that he passed the officer's test.
Worried that he will still be implicated in the crime, Coriolanus runs away with Lucy Gray anyway, but then discovers that he can get rid of the evidence. At the same time, Lucy Gray realizes his betrayal of Sejanus and his loyalty to the Capitol. She runs away and sets a trap for him. He tries to track her down, but is bitten by a snake in the woods. He fires into the woods, hoping to kill her, though it is unclear if his shots connect. The next day, he travels away to become an officer, but is diverted back to the Capitol by Dr. Gaul. She has decided to take him on as her protege. He begins studying at the University in the Capitol and also takes on a position as an apprentice Gamemaker although the others treat him as a full fledged member. Coriolanus then implemented many of his ideas into the Games that we see in later years. The Plinths fund his studies and lifestyle, convinced he was a great friend of their son and unaware of his betrayal. He poisons Casca Highbottom, the first victim of his signature method of dispatching his enemies, reflecting that "Snow lands on top."
- Coriolanus Snow - One of the 24 mentors assigned by the "Academy" for the 10th Hunger Games. His family was once one of power in the Capitol, but has since fallen on hard times. He assigned to mentor Lucy Gray Baird, the female tribute from District 12. He becomes embroiled in the still ongoing conflict between the Capitol and rebels and must face matters of love, chaos, contract and control.
- Casca Highbottom - The dean of the "Academy" and credited for creating the Games. Doped up on morphling, he has a dark secret in his past and seems bear a grudge against Coriolanus Snow.
- Sejanus Plinth - The mentor for the District 2 male tribute. He is from District 2 himself and still sympathizes with those in the Districts. His father, Strabo Plinth, is a powerful war profiteer who bought his family a new life in the Capitol, but struggles against his son's rebellious ways.
- Clemensia Dovecote - The mentor for the District 11 male tribute. She was the daughter of the Capitol's energy secretary.
- Tigris - Snow's cousin, she has lived with the Snow family from a very young age. She and Coriolanus Snow are more like close siblings and she does her best to help him, but worries over him as the family's financial situation worsens and the fires of the Hunger Games ignite.
- Lucy Gray Baird - The mentee of Coriolanus Snow. The female tribute from District 12. She is talented singer and part of a group known as the Covey. She makes a dramatic entrance into the Hunger Games and Coriolanus Snow finds himself falling head over heels for her. She is District 12’s very first victor. She falls in love with “Coryo” but upon finding out who he really is, she attempts to run away, setting a trap for him. Lucy Gray’s ending mirrors the poem by William Wordsworth for which she was named, presumably intentionally by Suzanne Collins.
- Grandma'am - the grandmother of Coriolanus Snow. She sings the Capitol anthem "Gem of Panem." She doted on Coriolanus and often spoke of the Snow family grandeur. For his part, Coriolanus loved her, but felt she had lost touch with reality a long time ago. She grows roses in a rooftop garden. She is a regal woman who begins to descend into denial and eventually despair as the Snows struggle to mask their poor financial situation.
- Volumnia Gaul - The Head Gamemaker of the 10th Hunger Games. She works in the Capitol's experimental weapons division at the Citadel and is also a top professor at the Capitol's University. She believes that people are inherently violent and is convinced that war is eternal and must be managed.
- Billy Taupe - Lucy Gray Baird’s old boyfriend. He ditches Lucy Gray for a much richer, Mayfair Lipp, and upon learning that Billy Taupe was dating them both, Mayfair ordered her father, the mayor, to call out Lucy Gray’s name in the reaping.
- Main article: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (film)
Lionsgate has reportedly begun working on a “Hunger Games” prequel movie, based on The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
- "As the proud home of the ‘Hunger Games’ movies, we can hardly wait for Suzanne’s next book to be published. We’ve been communicating with her during the writing process and we look forward to continuing to work closely with her on the movie."
- ―Joe Drake, chairman of the Lionsgate Motion Picture Group.
On April 21, 2020, the film release was announced being officially in development. The film is slated to be directed by Francis Lawrence, director of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire as well as both The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2. Nina Jacobson returns as a producer for the film alongside author Suzanne Collins. The film's writer is Michael Arndt, one of two writers of Catching Fire. Regarding the announcement, chairman Joe Drake stated "Suzanne’s new book has been worth the wait. It offers everything fans could hope for and expect from The Hunger Games while also breaking new ground and introducing an entirely new canvas of characters. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is creatively thrilling and takes this world to complex new dimensions that open up amazing cinematic possibilities. We’re thrilled to reunite this filmmaking team with this very unique franchise, and we can’t wait to begin production."
In association with the book's release, Scholastic also released The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Journal on the same day as the book itself. The journal is adorned with mockingjays from all four titles in the series and features 192 lined pages, an exclusive Hunger Games design, and a ribbon placeholder.
Regarding the new title, Scholastic publisher and editorial director David Levithan stated "Over a decade ago, Panem provided a very useful lens through which to see our own world, and I think applies as well in 2020, where questions of power and moral choice are as prevalent as ever. It’s also fascinating to revisit a place you feel you know, but 64 years earlier." Author Suzanne Collins stated that "With this book, I wanted to explore the state of nature, who we are, and what we perceive is required for our survival."
The cover art for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was designed by Tim O'Brien. It features a golden Mockingjay at a new angle, entwined with a snake. Regarding the cover art, VP publisher and editorial director for Scholastic David Levithan stated that "This cover does an extraordinary job of capturing the conflict—both inner and outer—that lies at the heart of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. The mockingjay has returned, but at a new angle . . . which is very much in line with the story that Suzanne Collins is telling."
Scholastic has announced a world record first printing of 2.5 million copies for the book. Barnes and Noble will release an exclusive edition of the title featuring a reader's group guide, as well as a Q&A with author Suzanne Collins and editor David Levithan. Walmart is also planning a release of an exclusive edition of the title which will come with a collectible bookmark. The title has also been announced for release as an audiobook. The audiobook will be narrated by Santino Fontana, a Tony award-winning actor of stage and screen, who has previously narrated titles such as Stephen King's The Institute, for which he won he won the 2020 Audie award for Best Thriller/Suspense title. This version of the title will also be released as a pre-loaded digital audio player, a format intended mainly to be purchased by libraries for patrons to check out and play without the need for any additional equipment. As of October 2019, translation rights for the title had been sold in 28 territories. In a call regarding Scholastic quarterly results, Scholastic CEO Dick Robinson was asked about the possibility of the publication date of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes being changed in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. He stated that Scholastic is reviewing its options, but that currently they strongly feel that they wish to hold on to the May 19 publishing date. Scholastic has warned that they expect sales of the title to be lower than what they anticipated when they first announced it due to the outbreak.
On April 23, 2020, a clip was released of author Suzanne Collins reading a bit less than two minutes of the opening of the book. The scene features Coriolanus Snow fretting about the upcoming Reaping for the 10th Hunger Games, eating cabbage to prevent his stomach from growling and worrying over the shirt that he will wear to the event. Tigris is revealed as a cousin of Snow who is aiding him with his wardrobe. With stores unable to hold live events due to the ongoing pandemic, Barnes & Noble has announced a virtual book club on May 29th at 7 P.M. on its Instagram channel. On May 12, 2020, Scholastic Audio released an excerpt of the first 11 minutes of the audiobook edition of the title as read by Santino Fontana. At 12:01 A.M. on the day of the book's release, Suzanne Collins gave a special reading of the title, revealing the answer to the question "Who is the girl from District 12?"
Amazon designated the title an "Amazon Best Book of May 2020." Reviewer Seira Wilson of Amazon Book Review stated "It’s been a decade since Mockingjay, the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy, was published and fans are going to be thrilled with Suzanne Collins’ unexpected prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. This novel has been under serious lockdown, so all that can be said until May 19 is that it begins on the day of the reaping for the tenth annual Hunger Games, and an eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is mentoring the underdog tribute from District 12. Prepare to read this in book one sitting because you won’t be able to put it down."
As of the evening of May 16, 2020, the title was #5 on Amazon's "Charts" feature, below John Grisham's Camino Winds and above Stephen King's If It Bleeds and had reached the status of being the company's #1 bestseller in books.
Since its release on May 19, 2020, the title has received mostly positive reviews from critics. Sarah Lyall of The New York Times gave the book an overall positive review, but felt that its ending feels "flat and desultory" following the excitement of the earlier portions. Annalisa Quinn of NPR panned the novel overall, feeling that Coriolanus is ultimately a "flat, wily sociopath," whereas the character of Katniss Everdeen allowed for contradiction and that while The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes tells us what we should think. Constance Grady of Vox described the book as "your apocalyptic escape from our current apocalypse," noting that as the current world grows to feel more apocalyptic, "it can be oddly comforting to escape to a fictional dystopia." Karin Tanabe of the Washington Post gave particular praise to the third and final portion of the book, stating that it is "the most revelatory in terms of the gradual chipping away of Coryo’s humanity." She also praises the title for filling in the blanks regarding questions such as “Which unhinged savage came up with kids killing kids?” or “What’s the meaning behind the song ‘The Hanging Tree’?
The title sold more than 270,000 units in its first week of publication, resulting in a 77.4% in the YA fiction category as compared with the previous year.
- Amazon - The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Retrieved on May 1, 2020.
- APNewsBreak: 'Hunger Games' Prequel Novel Coming in 2020. Usnew (June 17, 2019).
- Canfield, David (January 21, 2020). Who's the star of the Hunger Games prequel? Read the exclusive first excerpt. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved on January 26, 2020.
- Lionsgate Planning ‘Hunger Games’ Prequel Movie. Variety (June 17, 2019).
- Chitwood, Adam (April 21, 2020). ‘Hunger Games’ Prequel Movie Officially in the Works; Francis Lawrence Returning to Direct. Collider. Retrieved on April 21, 2020.
- Amazon - The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Journal. Retrieved on January 26, 2020.
- Donvito, Tina (January 30, 2020). Everything We Know About the Hunger Games Prequel, Plus Exclusive Intel From the Publisher!. Parade. Retrieved on January 31, 2020.
- Scholastic Announces Title and Cover for New Novel in the Worldwide Bestselling Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins. Scholastic Press (October 4, 2019). Retrieved on February 29, 2020.
- Flood, Allison (January 22, 2020). Extract from Hunger Games prequel sparks anger among fans. The Guardian. Retrieved on January 26, 2020.
- Barnes and Noble - The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes exclusive edition. Retrieved on January 31, 2020.
- Walmart - The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes exclusive edition. Retrieved on February 2, 2020.
- Maughan, Shannon (January 31, 2020). Spring 2020 Announcements: Audio Books. Publisher's Weekly. Retrieved on February 16, 2020.
- Gans, Andrew (April 8, 2020). Tony Winner Santino Fontana Will Narrate Audio Edition of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Hunger Games Prequel. Playbill. Retrieved on April 8, 2020.
- The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Preloaded Digital Audio Player. Amazon. Retrieved on April 14, 2020.
- Italie, Hillel (May 14, 2020). Promotion for 'Hunger Games' prequel, 'The Ballad of Songbirds,' will be virtual. USA Today. Retrieved on May 14, 2020.
- Hunger Games prequel: exclusive extract from The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes - audio. The Guardian (April 23, 2020).
- Ridgely, Charlie (April 24, 2020). The Hunger Games Creator Reveals Preview for Her New Spinoff (text version). Comicbook.com. Retrieved on April 24, 2020.
- Swartvagher, Jennifer (April 27, 2020). Attend a Virtual Book Club Event for “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes”. Red Tricycle. Retrieved on April 27, 2020.
- Canfield, David (May 12, 2020). Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes: Listen to the first 11 minutes of the Hunger Games prequel. Retrieved on May 12, 2020.
- Almost there! Tune in at 12:01am EST.... The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Twitter (May 18, 2020). Retrieved on May 18, 2020.
- Amazon Charts - The Top 20 Most Sold & Most Read Books of the Week. Amazon. Retrieved on May 16, 2020.
- Amazon Best Sellers: Our most popular products based on sales. Updated hourly.. Amazon. Retrieved on May 16, 2020.
- All Book Marks Reviews for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Book Marks. Retrieved on May 21, 2020.
- Grady, Constance (May 19, 2020). The new Hunger Games prequel is introspective and dark as hell. Vox. Retrieved on May 21, 2020.
- Tanabe, Karin (May 26, 2020). In ‘The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,’ Suzanne Collins reveals the origin of the Hunger Games. Washington Post. Retrieved on May 31, 2020.
- Print Units Jumped 11% in Mid-May. Publisher's Weekly (May 29, 2020). Retrieved on May 31, 2020.