64 years before Katniss Everdeen took to the arena and started setting Panem on fire, there was the tenth annual Hunger Games, and one school kid by the name of Coriolanus Snow was desperate to save what was left of his family from starvation and ruin and make a name for himself. Sound intriguing? It is! The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, by the author of the original Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins, tells the story of future president Snow's formidable years and shows us how Panem got to be how it was when we were introduced to it in The Hunger Games.
Now, if you haven't read The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes and intend to or care about spoilers, this is the time for you to stop reading and go read the book itself. Yes, there are spoilers in my review. It answers so many questions and adds another layer to the original series, especially in the Katniss vs President Snow aspects. So, go read it if you intend to and come back here when you're done.
So, shall we carry on then? Brilliant. Let's chat about Lucy Gray Baird. It was an interesting move introducing the Covey, who before the war (you know, the one where the Capitol wanted to control everything and the districts fought back at being relegated to poverty forever) roamed Panem as musicians and performers. They settled in district 12 since the war halted all travel, and the Capitol rule after the war made it impossible to travel freely. Being that Lucy was the one who wrote The Hanging Tree, the anthem of our rebellion, it makes total sense that President Snow associates that with a point in his life when he had a chance at being human, and willfully turned away from it in pursuit of his own ambitions. He spurned love, both romantic and brotherly, in order to feed his own need for power and control.
Back to The Hanging Tree song for a minute – when we were first introduced to it in the original trilogy, Katniss mentions it's an old folk song her father would sing. Given what we know about her father – that he was rebellious, he would take her to a lake outside district 12, and he was very musical and a good outdoors-man – it's probably very likely that one of Katniss Everdeen's grandparents is Maude Ivory, Tam Amber, or Clerk Carmine. Honestly, my money's on Clerk Carmine, aka CC, though it could just as likely be any of the three. It could even be Barb Azure and her girlfriend – but one thing's for sure, it's a short jump from Evergreen to Everdeen; her father could have changed his colorful Covey name to protect his family from the wrath of a vengeful President Snow. Goodness knows what that vengeful man could have done the Covey out of spite once he came into power.
Speaking of the Covey, they're a musical troupe very much akin to an old-style bluegrass band, which makes sense because district 12 is somewhere in the Appalachian mountains, and their culture and customs very much reflect that. Not only do we see the origin and creation of The Hanging Tree, but we see nearly all of the songs mentioned in the trilogy crop up in this book as well as many new ones. Snow's life used to be filled with music, with the Grandma'am singing the Panem anthem every night and day (guess that's where he got the idea to blast it through the streets of the capitol every night) and then with his relationship with Lucy Gray Baird and hanging around the Covey. Coriolanus relates music to a pivotal part of his life – one the person he became despises now – and that fills in the gaps to not only his hatred of music and rebellion but with his hatred of district 12 and Katniss especially as she's a descendant of the Covey.
Let's chat about that ending – it was frustrating. I knew Lucy's disappearance was coming since Maude Ivory sang the song Lucy got her name from, but it was still one of those mysteries that got me, none the less. Seriously, I get we never know where she went, but where did she go and why? Did she figure out that Coriolanus was a slippery sociopath and sold out his best friend to get back in good graces with a mad scientist? Did Lucy realize she couldn't actually go through with leaving the Covey behind after all? Why did the two characters never just talk about things and decide together not to run off? These are the burning questions that keep me awake at night.
Aside from me not doing so well with things I will never know the answer to, A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was enjoyable and gave me so many more answers to questions I didn't even think to ask, and that is exactly what a good prequel should do. It should take the characters as we knew them and fill in their backstory from long before they became themselves as we know them. Suzanne Collins does just that and she does it well, all while giving us a nod to Coriolanus Snow's character arc – it matches the Shakespeare drama and character of the same name.