”Being a hero at home had its limitations; he needed a larger audience.”
So, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” made it into the “Goodreads Choice Awards 2020” and is probably one out of 3 books I actually managed to read this year. *lol* Taking a closer look at all the reviews that have been written about it, I have no idea how it ended up as a nominee in the awards but I suppose the main reason why it made its way in there is because it’s popular and provoked very conflicting emotions. I mean, all publicity is good publicity, right? 😉
I can see why so many people didn’t like it. The expectations for this were probably sky high and if you expected something similar like “The Hunger Games” it’s no wonder people ended up hating the book. As for me? Well, I went into this completely blind and all I knew was that it was going to be about President Snow. And tell you what?! I enjoyed it immensely! XD This book was right up my alley and the carefully hidden Slytherin/Dark Court faerie in me was a happy camper! ;-P (As was the part of me that loves to collect hints that are linked to the main trilogy.)
Yes, Coriolanus Snow is neither a hero nor an especially likable person but he’s cunning and knows how to use his strengths. I loved all the machinations and lies, the countless manipulations and the back-stabbing attitude of the tributes as well as their mentors. It kept the story going, it forced me to take a closer look at some of Coryo’s classmates and it helped me to understand Snow a little bit better. Mind you, I still hate him! *lol* But you can enjoy a book and still dislike its protagonist. 😉 So if you’re looking for a slow book whose focus is on the art of schemes, I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy this. If you’re looking for action and a good redemption arc, well, I’m sorry to say it, but you won’t get it in here. This is no story in which the heroes win; it’s a murky, morally grey and ambitious tale. And it ends with: “SNOW LANDS ON TOP. ;-P
You’re entering the Capitol! Make sure to leave all your good intentions at the front door because you certainly won’t need them in here. Be prepared to read some spoilers and to discuss them with our host Lucky Flickerman! Don’t say I didn’t warn you! Once you enter this spoilery arena all bets are off!
”A tendency toward obsession was hardwired into his brain and would likely be his undoing if he couldn’t learn to outsmart it.”
I have so many mixed feelings about this boy! On the one hand there were moments I could relate to him and on the other hand he did a lot of things I didn’t agree with. To say he’s a fascinating character would be the understatement of the century. Is he good? No! Is he bad? No. If anything Coryo is one hell of a multifaceted character and I’ve to give Suzanne kudos for managing to make him this way. So who is Coriolanus Snow while he’s the mentor of Lucy Gray Baird in the 10th Hunger Games? He’s a boy driven by the will to survive! The lengths he’s going to just to ensure that his family “stays on top” are kind of remarkable. I mean there’s a boy who knows hunger, who has nothing but his family, a fancy apartment and his good name. War hardened him, showed him his limits and taught him that sentimentality has no bearing once you’re faced with the decision to either burn your beloved books or to freeze to death. Still, while his cousin Tigris is working hard to keep food on their table, Coryo’s job is to attend the academy’s classes. All in the hope that he’ll become big and earn them enough money to keep them afloat. That’s the boy at the beginning of the book, but the longer I followed his journey, the more it became apparent that he’s also an exceptional egoist and opportunist. Everything he did was calculated, every move he made was deliberate. All of his actions had an ulterior motive, even if it was as simple as not to anger Dr. Gaul. This boy is trying to survive and as long as the end justifies the means everything is allowed! The most fascinating thing for me was the fact that Coriolanus knew Dr. Gaul was trying to manipulate him into a certain direction, but that he still decided to let himself be formed by her. It was way easier than to swim against the tide and to lose everything. There were so many road junctions, so many different routes he could have taken, yet he always, ALWAYS chose the one that made life easier for him. Even if it meant to betray his friends. In the end this led to him being the perfect pawn in Dr. Gaul’s game and it eventually culminated in the poisoning of Dean Highbottom. His first real and intentional murder; the very first cobblestone that paved the way for his cruel future. Well, I don’t know about you, but I think Dr. Gaul won in the end!
”He buried his head in his hands, confused, angry, and most of all afraid. Afraid of Dr. Gaul. Afraid of the Capitol. Afraid of everything. If the people who were supposed to protect you played so fast and loose with your life… then how did you survive? Not by trusting them, that was for sure. And if you couldn’t trust them, who could you trust? All bets were off.”
”I keep asking myself why you did it.”
Not much choice, really, thought Coriolanus. “He’s my friend,” he said.
”What awaited him farther down that slope if he was unable to stop his descent? What else might he be capable of? Well, that was it. It stopped now. If he didn’t have honor, he had nothing. No more deception. No more shady strategies. No more rationalization. From now on he’d live honestly, and if he ended up as a beggar, at least he would be a decent one.”
”He’d continue the Games, of course, when he ruled Panem. People would call him a tyrant, ironfisted and cruel. But at least he would ensure survival for survival’s sake, giving them a chance to evolve. What else could humanity hope for? Really, it should thank him.”
Lucy Gray Baird:
”You can’t take my sass.
You can’t take my talking.
You can kiss my ass
And then keep on walking.
Nothing you can take from me was ever worth keeping.”
I absolutely loved Lucy Gray Baird! She was one hell of a girl and I couldn’t help but admire her for her strength. She was scared and alone, but she still refused to back down. Some might say she’s a survivalist and that would be true. In contrast to Coryo she still has compassion and a good heart though. I think those two were pretty similar but what distinguished them were their different moral concepts and convictions. Coriolanus was like a wind chime always going in the direction of the least resistance without regretting (most of) his decisions while Lucy Gray had to do horrible things in order to survive and despised herself for them. She had to do those things to stay alive, but she neither enjoyed doing them nor did she accept her situation as an excuse. Quite the contrary, she didn’t excuse her actions; she lived with the harsh reality of them! Maybe it was her being a part of the Covey that helped her to get through the Hunger Games. I mean she was exceptionally resourceful and she knew how to work a crowd. Both qualities that worked in her favour. And let’s be honest here, the fact Coryo fell for her gave her an undeniable edge over the other tributes as well. He cared for her wellbeing, gave her food and helped her to avoid the deadly poison of the snakes. Guess Lucy Gray Baird might not only have been sassy and charming but also a little bit manipulative as well. ;-P
”Why? Are you asking?” said Lucy Gray seriously. He looked up in surprise. “Because I think this could work.”
Coriolanus felt himself blush a little at her teasing. “I’m pretty sure you could do better.”
”If you’re familiar, if they have pleasant associations with your scent – a warm tank, for instance – they’ll ignore you. A new scent, something foreign, that would be a threat,” said Dr. Gaul. “You’d be on your own, little girl.”
Dr. Gaul is one of those characters you can’t help but despise. She has no regard for life, or at least not as long as it isn’t useful for her purposes. This woman was ruthless and cruel, using her position in order to threaten, bully and hurt the people that got in her way. The handful of mentors she took an interest in all either ended up dead or were sent on their way to madness. For her the tributes were as much a part of the game as their mentors and she saw them all as tools. I don’t know why but for some reason the picture of Tilda Swinton in “Snowpiercer” always came to my mind when I thought of Dr. Gaul. *lol*It just seemed to fit her personality and the weirdness of her character. The thing that happened with Clemensia?! Oh boy! Dr. Gaul was one hell of a manipulative witch and it’s no surprise Snow turned out the way he is now after ending up under her tutelage. >_<
”How quickly civilization disappears. All your fine manners, education, family background, everything you pride yourself on, stripped away in the blink of an eye, revealing everything you actually are. A boy with a club who beats another boy to death. That’s mankind in its natural state.”
”They’re not animals, though,” said Sejanus. “They’re kids, like you and me.”
“They’re not like me!” the little girl protested. “They’re district. That’s why they belong in a cage!”
Sejanus Plinth was too precious for this world and that’s exactly what cost him his life in the end. He was too trusting, too compassionate; he saw the tributes as people and not as animals like everyone else. Sejanus was brave but also so very innocent and naive. I think he underestimated the power, wiliness and cruelty of the people he was dealing with. On the one hand that made him braver than any of his classmates but on the other hand it also painted a target on his head. Someone like Sejanus had no place in a world like the Capitol and I think the only three people to ever realize this were his mother, Coryo and yes, unfortunately also Dr. Gaul. I think Sejanus was an idealistic dreamer and I really liked him for it. But dreaming will only get you as far and he didn’t have the necessary slyness to go about things the right way. It pained me to see where his way was heading but as a reader there was nothing I could have done to stop it. Which is another reason why this book was so intriguing. It made me pull for him, but at the same time I knew he wouldn’t make it.
”The only thing I loved about the war was the fact that I still lived at home. If you’re asking me if it had any value beyond that, I would say that it was an opportunity to right some wrongs.”
”You never miss a beat, do you? I remember that from school. Watching you watch other people. Pretending you weren’t. And choosing the moments you weighed in so carefully.”
Coriolanus & Lucy:
”So you didn’t have a second thought about diving into a cage of tributes?” prompted the reporter.
“A second, a third, and I imagine the fourth and fifth will be hitting me sometime soon,” admitted Coriolanus. “But if she’s brave enough to be here, shouldn’t I be?”
I really think those two loved each other. The way they fell in love might have been pretty fast but considering their circumstances I think it was realistic. I mean Lucy could have died any second and Coryo’s life was dangerous as well. Not to mention that they were both very young and at least for Coriolanus it was his first love. If he wouldn’t have harboured real feelings for her he would have never even considered giving her his mother’s compact. It was, after all, his most precious possession. This said they barely knew each other and never had the time to spend all too much time in each other’s company. It’s no surprise they didn’t work out in the end; I’ve to admit that I was sort of thrown by the events at the ending of the book though! I mean OMG!!! After everything they went through together he actually wanted to kill her… just like that?! But that’s Snow for you. He was always way too practical for his own good and he saw an opportunity to get the life he dreamed of. Lucy was the only obstacle left in his way so his logical conclusion was that she had to go. I’m glad Lucy was so smart and figured it out before he got a chance to kill her, but I’ll always wonder what happened to her. Maybe Katniss is her descendant? Who knows?
”You matter to me, Lucy Gray,” he repeated. His words drew her eyes back to him, but she still seemed distant.
”You’re not alone.” He took her hand. “And you won’t be alone in the arena; we’ll be together. I’ll be there every moment. I won’t take my eyes off of you. We’ll win this thing together, Lucy Gray. I promise.”
”It really would be like having you with me, wouldn’t it?”
“Go on,” he urged her. “Take me with you. Take it.”
Coriolanus & Sejanus:
”That’s not your fault,” said Coriolanus.
“I know. I know. I’m so blameless I’m choking on it,” said Sejanus.
Was it friendship or not? I think everyone who read this book might have asked themselves this question at some point. I think it was and then it wasn’t. The only reason Coryo saved Sejanus so often was because he would have probably died if he didn’t. I mean it’s not like Dr. Gaul gave him any choice in that matter. For Sejanus it was definitely friendship, he trusted Snow and considered him to be his best friend. For Coryo? I think some part of him actually cared about Sejanus, but it just wasn’t enough to put his friend before himself. When faced with the choice between his or Sejanus’s life Snow would have always chosen himself. And he did it in the end. He knew exactly what he did when he sent Dr. Gaul that voice record and even though he tried to reason with himself he ultimately knew that he had made the wrong choice. He knew about the consequences, no matter how hard he tried to convince himself into believing that he didn’t and yet he still did it. What really struck me as tragic was that nothing would have happened if he would have let Sejanus disappear with the rebels. I mean all they planned was to run away and to seek refuge in another district. So why did he do it? An ingrained sense of duty? To curry favour with Dr. Gaul? Aside from that he had absolutely no reason to turn on his friend. So if you ask me it was some combination of stepping over his friend to get where he always wanted to be and some twisted kind of payback for all the times he got into trouble because of Sejanus. That’s just my opinion though. If you have another theory: Hit me! I’d love to discuss this! XD
”Thanks. You’re quite the rebel,” said Sejanus as they carried their trays to the conveyor belt that ran to the kitchen.
“I’m bad news , all right,” said Coriolanus.
”The one thing Coriolanus had never questioned was Sejanus’s honesty. If anything, he’d have welcomed a little less of it. But this was a bald-faced lie, delivered as naturally as the truth. Which meant that now anything he said was suspect.”
”Coriolanus buried his face in his hands. He had killed Sejanus as surely as if he’d bludgeoned him to death like Bobbin or gunned him down like Mayfair. He’d killed the person who considered him his brother. But even as the vileness of the act threatened to drown him, a tiny voice kept asking, What choice did you have? What choice? No choice.”
Dr. Gaul and Sejanus:
”Possibly on his way to freedom,” said Sejanus in a strained voice. “Possibly captured and under wraps. Possibly injured and hiding. Possibly dead. I’ve no idea. Do you?”
Honestly, I was kind of impressed that Sejanus was able to defy Dr. Gaul for so long. That boy had guts to stand up to her like that and to question her in front of his entire class. Truth be told I was surprised she didn’t shut him up immediately, but then again he probably was another one of her experiments. She enjoyed to be challenged by him and for a while it seemed to amuse her. Also she would have had plenty of opportunities to harm him but she chose a public execution AFTER the Hunger Games in a district that was so far off that no one even noticed. Talk about revenge. Dr. Gaul got her payback alight. >_<
”That’s our right,” Dr. Gaul countered.
“No, it isn’t! I don’t care what you say. You’ve no right to starve people, to punish them for no reason. No right to take away their life and freedom. Those are things everyone is born with, and they’re not yours for the taking.”
Since this was Snow’s story I didn’t expect to be all too invested in it, but the more I read the more I was intrigued by the book. “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” was definitely a surprise in this regard and I don’t regret picking it up. Backstabbing, cruelty, machinations and complex characters, this book has it all. I can recommend it to everyone who can’t help but appreciate a well-crafted and thought-provoking intrigue. ;-P