The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a dystopian action-adventure novel by American author Suzanne Collins. It is a spinoff and a prequel to The Hunger Games trilogy. It was released May 19, 2020, published by Scholastic. An audiobook of the novel read by American actor Santino Fontana was released simultaneously with the printed edition.[1] The book received a virtual launch due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[2]

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Suzanne Collins).png
North American first edition cover
AuthorSuzanne Collins
CountryUnited States
SeriesThe Hunger Games
Publication date
May 19, 2020
Followed byThe Hunger Games 


The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a book set in the universe of the The Hunger Games. It follows Coriolanus Snow, who is chosen to mentor a tribute in the upcoming 10th Hunger Games. He is assigned the District 12 tribute, Lucy Gray Baird, who sparks the Capitol's attention after singing during the reaping.

Coriolanus begins sneaking Lucy Gray food from the Academy as the tributes turned out to be hungry. The other mentors follow suit, but the arrangement ends when one mentor, Arachne Crane, is murdered by her tribute. Clemensia, Coriolanus's team member is distraught by the murder, leaving Coriolanus to complete an essay they were to do together by himself. He presents the essay to Head Gamemaker Volumnia Gaul, proposing a betting scheme and sponsorship of the tributes to engage the people of the Capitol in the Games. Dr. Gaul drops the essay into a tank of genetically modified snakes. They attack Clemensia, and she is severely poisoned, proving that Coriolanus was the sole author of the project.

During a tour of the Arena, undetected bombs explode, killing several tributes and mentors. The Games begin, and many tributes quickly die from starvation, disease, or injuries, while Dr. Gaul enacts Coriolanus' proposals within the Games. Sejanus, resentful of both the Capitol and the Games, enters the Arena at night to die as a martyr, and under the orders of Dr. Gaul, Coriolanus extracts him.

Lucy Gray is declared the victor of the Games. At a celebration party at the Academy, Coriolanus is confronted with the evidence that implicates him in cheating in the Games and stealing food from the Academy. Facing punishment and public humiliation, he chooses to become a Peacekeeper in District 12.

Coriolanus reunites with Lucy Gray. He discovers that Sejanus, who is now a fellow Peacekeeper, plans to help District 12 residents escape north, which is rumored to be beyond the Capitol's control. Lucy Gray's former lover Billy Taupe, and the Mayor's daughter, Mayfair, overhear the conversation and are shot dead by Spruce and Coriolanus to prevent them from blowing their cover.

The bodies are discovered by the Covey after the concert. Sejanus is arrested by Peacekeepers and hanged, leaving Lucy Gray and Coriolanus as the only remaining witnesses of the murders. Lucy Gray tells Coriolanus that she is going to escape to the North and he decides to leave with her.

Coriolanus accidentally finds the hidden guns used to shoot Billy Taupe and Mayfair. He tries to kill Lucy Gray, but she disappears. After dumping the incriminating weapons into a lake, Coriolanus returns to District 12.

In the epilogue, Dean Highbottom, who is the dean of the Academy, reveals he had developed the idea of the Hunger Games simply as a cruel, but theoretical, event for a school project with Coriolanus's father, Crassus. Crassus would later present the idea to Dr. Gaul, making the Games a reality, and causing animosity between Highbottom and Crassus. Coriolanus poisons Dean Highbottom, starting his trademark killings that will fuel his rise to power. Meanwhile, Coriolanus implements many of his ideas into future Hunger Games as a Gamemaker. Lucy Gray is never seen or heard about again, having either died or possibly escaped the country of Panem.


Critics had a mixed overall reception to the novel, some stating it would "[be] sure to appease fans with answers about who came up with the idea of the Hunger Games in the first place" and calling it "pleasing and thrilling," while others criticized the length, philosophical undertones and its use of Coriolanus Snow as the protagonist.[3]

The Guardian praised the novel: "Collins’s themes of friendship, betrayal, authority and oppression, as well as the extra layers of lore about mockingjays and Capitol’s history, will please and thrill."[4] Similarly, Time stated that Collins shines most "as she weaves in tantalising details that lend depth to the gruesome world she created in the original series."[5] Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review, saying the novel is "both a tense, character-driven piece and a cautionary tale."[6]

Meanwhile, The Telegraph criticized it as "not the most promising opening [fans expected]" and that Collins should "stick to plucky heroes and dazzling plot-twists. When it comes to writing the murkiest backwaters of the human psyche, Collins is fathoms out of her depth."[7] Entertainment Weekly said of the storytelling: "The storytelling itself trends desperate at times. Chapters close on violent cliffhangers that edge into parody" and that "there are too many folk music interludes [and] some ludicrous franchise callbacks" but overall it "is a major work with major flaws, but it sure gives you a lot to chew on," ultimately giving it a grade of B-.[8]

The songs from the book spurred several original covers on YouTube.[9][10]

Film adaptationEdit

In August 2017, Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer expressed interest in spin-offs of The Hunger Games, with intentions to create a writers' room to explore the concept.[11]

In June 2019, Joe Drake, Chairman of the Lionsgate Motion Picture Group, announced that the company is working with Collins with regards to an adaptation of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.[12] By April 2020, Collins and Lionsgate confirmed that plans were underway for the movie's development. Casting has not yet begun, but director Francis Lawrence has been confirmed to return after his success with The Hunger Games trilogy. The scriptwriter will be Michael Arndt, with Nina Jacobson and author Suzanne Collins as producers.[13]


  1. ^ 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 2020-04-23.
  2. ^ Italie, Hillel (May 17, 2020). "'Hunger Games' prequel 'Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes' to receive virtual launch". Spokesman-Review. Retrieved May 19, 2020.
  3. ^ McCreesh, Louise (2020-05-19). "Hunger Games prequel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes gets a mixed response from critics". Digital Spy. Retrieved 2020-05-20.
  4. ^ Womack, Philip (2020-05-19). "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes review – a sleek Hunger Games prequel". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-05-20.
  5. ^ "The 'Hunger Games' Prequel Adds New Dimensions to President Snow". Time. Retrieved 2020-05-20.
  6. ^ The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes | Kirkus Reviews.
  7. ^ Goldsbrough, Susannah (2020-05-19). "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins, review: less Hunger Games, more sixth-form philosophy". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2020-05-20.
  8. ^ "Your highly-anticipated review of the 'Hunger Games' prequel book". Retrieved 2020-05-20.
  9. ^ "Ballad of Lucy Gray Baird" from "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes", retrieved 2021-05-05
  10. ^ The Ballad of Lucy Gray Baird | from The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, retrieved 2021-05-05
  11. ^ Lang, Brent (2017-08-08). "Lionsgate Chief Says 'Hunger Games,' 'Twilight' Have 'More Stories to Tell'". Variety. Retrieved 2018-01-30.
  12. ^ "'Hunger Games' Prequel Novel From Suzanne Collins Coming in 2020, Lionsgate in Talks For Movie". Deadline. June 17, 2019. Retrieved August 15, 2019.
  13. ^ "Hunger Games Prequel Movie The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Officially Set by Lionsgate". DenofGeek. April 21, 2020. Retrieved May 18, 2020.