Book Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Title: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Author: Suzanne Collins

Series: Hunger Games #0

Genre: Teen Dystopia

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: 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.

The Review: 

I’ll start with the burning question: is TBoSaS worth reading? The answer to that really depends on what you’re hoping to get out of it. If you’re looking for that same fast-paced, in-your-face, heart-stopping excitement from experiencing the games with Katness, you’re in for sever disappointment. Ballad is drawn-out, introspective, and 95% about the character, Snow. It does a decent job illustrating what life was like in the Capitol after the war ended, and provided some insight as to how the Hunger Games were shaped by influencers at the time. But it’s definitely not going to bring you the same feels as the trilogy. What it does do is show a mastery of craft and immersive character construction… but exciting it is not.

Call me a genius, but it wasn’t until the last 5% of the book where I figured out the main character is a sociopath (although in hindsight it was pretty evident from the start). Those few pages of insight were enough to rock me on my heels, putting in to new perspective everything I had just read. What was going to be a lackluster rating definitely improved, as I think what Collins did here was quite brilliant. It just won’t appeal to the masses.

I found it brilliant because of how precisely Collins stuck to her character design. Telling the whole story through the eyes of a sociopath takes a lot of subtlety and careful thought. She couldn’t emphasize her scenes with extreme emotions (which is how she appealed to me while I was in the games with Katniss), but instead had to convey the story through a creepy, impartial evaluation. Then she took it one step further by introducing a “love” interest. Only, nothing about it sat right. The relationship was just too weird. Snow viewed love as someone to be possessed. “She’s mine!” but not for any emotional appeal, but rather because possession equals power. He treated those around him with a “what can they do for me” mentality and eliminated them from his life when they could not longer offer him anything. One thing I’ve recognized about Collins is that she’s a very deliberate writer. Everything has a careful purpose and she’s brilliant at cutting the crap and getting right to the meaning of every event and scene. This stripped down story was a perfect exhibition for that skill, which I didn’t have a chance to pick up on during the main trilogy because I was too busy feeling things.

The Hunger Games themselves were a veritable shit show, and understandably so, considering the timeframe in which they were happening. However, as the competition aspect was my main draw to the series, I was disappointed it didn’t claim a little more of the page count. But I suppose it fit in with the theme and mood of the book anyway.

Recommendations: don’t pick this up for any of the action and excitement that made the HG trilogy so addicting. It’s a very introspective novel that displays exceptional writing and character construction, but it won’t leave you feeling great (not that HG was all roses (ahem…pun)), but this one’s even worse. It would be difficult to recommend, but not because I didn’t like it. Rather, because I don’t think it has what everyone’s expecting.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Top 17 Books You Might Like If You Enjoyed The Hunger Games!

Almost as untouchable as Harry Potter, The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins sparked a love for dystopian and post-apocalyptic books in millions of readers, myself included. Hunger Games was definitely not the first of its kind, but it was the series that launched dystopian storytelling into the mainstream and led to an explosion of followers in the YA market. Even though the concepts had been told before, Collins reinterpreted them in a way that was exciting, accessible, and fun. After selling thousands of copies to customers every year, I quickly realized that I needed to be prepared for when they came back with “Ooooooh! I loved it so much! What can I read next?” From that question was born this list:

Top 17 Books You Might Like If You Enjoyed Hunger Games!

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

Book Info: The Testing by Joelle Charboneau

Genre: Teen Dystopian

Reason for Recommending: concept, character, atmosphere: The Testing series is one of my favorite recommends on this list. It reminds me of Hunger Games from a conceptual standpoint because both were stories that felt fresh and original (with a strong dystopic feel). I also love how the main character from the series compared to Katniss when it came to resourcefulness. Even thought the first book was fairly average compared to the rest of the series, the second book is one of my favorites ever. Overall, it’s definitely worth your time if you’re a Hunger Games fan.

red risingBook Info: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Genre: Science Fiction [adult]

Reason for Recommending: story, atmosphere: even though this book is an adult science fiction, it still reminded me strongly of Hunger Games. It had the same elements of overcoming oppression, deadly competition, and overall intensity that made the Hunger Games so memorable. I even liked the last book (Morning Star) more than I liked Mockingjay, if you can imagine…

Not a drop to drinkBook Info: Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

Genre: Teen Post-Apocalyptic

Reason for Recommending: writing, character, atmosphere: even though this book is more of a post-apocalyptic than a dystopian, it’s one of my favorite survival stories, possibly because of how brilliantly it’s written. I’ve always appreciated Katniss for her ability to adapt and do what was necessary to survive. Lynn in this story was just as determined, and I found her added bit of snarkiness particularly endearing. The book also has the same feel of desperation and urgency that made Hunger Games such a page-turner. I loved this book and would probably recommend it even if you didn’t like Hunger Games.

partialsBook Info: Partials by Dan Wells

Genre: Teen Post-Apocalyptic

Reason for Recommending: character, atmosphere, love story: The Partials Sequence has long been one of my favorite teen books to recommend (even though the third one felt a little rushed). I loved the main character for how clever she was, I loved the premise of the story and the excellent momentum it gained throughout each book, and I loved the world building for its creepy, post-apocalyptic feel. It also had a compelling Katniss-loves-Peeta type of romance that came about more organically than most teen books. All of these things add up to a no-brainer when trying to recommend titles. Read it.

angelfallBook Info: Angelfall by Susan Ee

Genre: Teen Post-Apocalyptic

Reason for Recommending: originality, relationship: To steal from what I said above, Hunger Games was definitely not the first of its kind, but it was the series that launched dystopian storytelling into the mainstream and led to an explosion of followers in the YA market. Even though the concepts have been told before, Collins reinterpreted them in a way that was exciting, accessible, and fun. In my opinion, if Angelfall had been a first-mover in the industry, I feel as though it’s unique twist on post-apocalyptical setting and excellent writing could have shaken up the market as well. Additionally, the main character and her younger sister reminded me strongly of Katniss’ relationship with Prim. That said, I only felt this way about the first book – the remaining two of the trilogy let me down a bit (but were still good).

Enclave by Ann Aguirre

Book Info: Enclave by Ann Aguirre

Genre: Teen Post-Apocalyptic

Reason for Recommending: character, writing, story: Ann Aguirre is one of my favorite writers. Her characters are phenomenal and, in my opinion, every bit as memorable and well-rounded as those in Hunger Games. This post-apocalyptic “zombie” story brings to mind the same savage fight for survival that made Hunger Games so intense. Overall, it’s a great trilogy with a new spinoff coming out in 2017.

Legend by Marie Lu

Book Info: Legend by Marie Lu

Genre: Teen Dystopian

Reason for Recommending: story, character, love story: Legend has the same rising-from-oppression appeal as Hunger Games, but offered POVs from both the oppressed and privileged ends of the spectrum. I especially appreciated how clever the main characters were, thought the love story was convincingly organic, and enjoyed all three books pretty equally. When ranking dystopians, Legend always lands in the upper half of my list.

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

Book Info: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

Genre: Teen Dystopian

Reason for Recommending: atmosphere, originality, character: The Darkest Minds was one of the more unique dystopians I’ve read and definitely gets an A+ for cool concept. Overall, it had the same gut-wrenching dystopic feel that satisfied that Hunger Games hangover for me. It also had fantastic characters and a fast-paced storyline.

Hunter by Mercedes Lackey

Book Info: Hunter by Mercedes Lackey

Genre: Teen Fantasy/Post-Apocalyptic

Reason for Recommending: competition, action, character: Hunter is one of my favorite books from this list – I loved almost everything about it. It has a clever main character who always thought things through (hello, Katniss – no harebrained heroines here!), And a competitive storyline with loads of action. Add to that a dystopic society where viewers revel as these teens fight monsters, and you have a series that captures many of the things I loved about Hunger Games while standing solidly on its own. I loved it.

Pure by Julianna Baggott

Book Info: Pure by Julianna Baggott

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian [adult]

Reason for Recommending: atmosphere, intensity: Pure is most definitely NOT a young adult series, but I think Hunger Games fans would like it just the same. It’s gritty and ugly and yet somehow beautiful all at once and definitely one of the coolest books I’ve ever read from the genre. It’s also a very odd book, one that will probably stick with you long after you put it down. Overall, if Mockingjay was your favorite of the trilogy and you loved that gut-wrenching intensity, this series might be the one for you!

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Book Info: Uglies

Genre: Teen Dystopian

Reason for Recommending: concept, genre appeal: Uglies was one of the first movers of the teen dystopian genre and one which has always been easy for me to recommend to customers. It has a great concept (even though it’s not totally original, it was executed well), a well-imagined society, and a storyline that’s incredibly memorable. I consider it a staple for the genre, so if you love dystopians and haven’t yet picked it up, do it – do it now!

The Fifth Wave by Ricky Yancey

Book Info: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Genre: Teen Post-Apocalyptic

Reason for Recommending: character, story, atmosphere: if you want a story with a heroine as convincingly kickass as Katniss, this is a great place to start. The 5th Wave also offers a similarly unique storyline with loads of action and moments of high intensity. I don’t think it built relationships quite as well as Hunger Games, nor did it maintain the same momentum throughout all three books, but it still definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already.

Fire and Flood by Victoria Scott

Book Info: Fire & Flood by Victoria Scott

Genre: Teen Dystopian

Reason for Recommending: competition, atmosphere: basically, if Hunger Games were watered down a smidge and geared towards a slightly younger audience, you’d have Fire and Flood. This is not my favorite book on the list, but still merits a spot because, despite a few shortcomings, it was still a fun read. It had that competitive atmosphere I loved so much in Hunger Games and even brought to life several fun “arenas” for the contestants to race through. The ending of the second book led me to believe there was going to be a third one, but it has been a long time coming and there’s still no news on the horizon…

The Bane by Keary Taylor

Book Info: The Bane by Keary Taylor

Genre: Teen Post-Apocalyptic

Reason for Recommending: character, action, love story: The Bane is another post-apocalyptic story with an excellent and resourceful main character. It has a much more prominent love triangle than Hunger Games (likely because all three spent a lot more time together than they did in Collins’ novels), so if you wanted more romance admdst all the fighting, this is the series for you!

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Book Info: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Genre: Teen Dystopian

Reason for Recommending: story, atmosphere: admittedly, I have a love/hate relationship with this book (the first half was awesome, the second half not so much) but I seem to be in the minority, so it made the list. It has a similar caste system as Hunger Games (extravagantly rich vs. the dirt poor), but it’s determined by blood color (red vs. silver) rather than district, which is an interesting twist.

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Book Info: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Genre: Teen Post-Apocalyptic

Reason for Recommending: atmosphere: Under the Never Sky is futuristic and post-apocalyptic and the characters go through a similar desperation for survival (albeit a tad watered down). It also had that “not everything is as it seems” vibe that made Hunger Games so interesting. This one may not fully satisfy your Hunger Games cravings completely, but I bet you’ll still enjoy it.


Book Info: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Genre: Teen Dystopian

Reason for Recommending: story, character – yes, I’m including this on the list even though, realistically, if you had any interest in it you’ve probably already picked it up by now. The Divergent Trilogy had a lot of good things going for it and is still worth a read if you liked Hunger Games because it will give you that same overall “feel.” It’s unfortunately not at the top of my recommendations. While I love to the first two, the third let me down enough to suck the wind out of my “series enthusiasm” sails.


I hope you find this list helpful and enjoy these titles as much as I did! I’ve added all of them to a shelf on my Goodreads page if you’d like to go read more about them. Happy reading! :-)

Have you read any good books similar to Hunger Games?

by Niki Hawkes

Niki’s Book Recommendations

If you liked: The Hunger Games By Suzanne Collins


Then you might also like:

42Title: Partials

Author: Dan Wells

Series: Partials #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

This is my top recommend for books similar to HG. It has an excellent fast-paced plot, interesting characters, and compelling conflicts. It is also written beautifully, landing itself as my favorite book of 2013! Read full review

divergentTitle: Divergent

Author: Veronica Roth

Series: Divergent #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

What I loved most about the HG (aside from how well it was written) was the unique concept behind it. Divergent also had a highly original plot that actually kept me up into the night (I hardly ever sacrifice sleep for books anymore). Read full review

aTitle: Delirium

Author: Lauren Oliver

Series: Delirium#1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Although this dystopian novel focuses more on the romanic element, the overall arc of the plot and general writing style are quite similar to the Hunger Games.

a1Title: Uglies

Author: Scott Westerfeld

Series: Uglies #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

This series was one of the first dystopian books on the market, and no doubt an inspiration to many writers. I loved the idea, I loved the world, and I loved the characters. This is a must-read classic for any dystopian lover. Read full review

a2Title: Matched

Author: Ally Condie

Series: Matched #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Like Delirium, matched is more focused on the romantic aspect of the story rather than fast-paced action, but it’s still an excellent dystopian novel in its own right. Its kind of a cool mix between Fahrenheit 451 and the HG. Definitely geared more towards women.

a1Title: Ship Breaker

Author: Paolo Bacigalupi

Series: N/A

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Ship Breaker reminded me a lot of the HG because it had a similar overall feel to the story.  It sounds weird, but it made me somehow nostalgic of Suzanne Collin’s work, and was such a good story I remember it vividly several years later. It definitely made me want to read some of his other fantasy novels.

Well, there you have it! My top picks for books like Hunger Games. Let me know if I’m missing any really good ones! :)