Reading Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” trilogy, which assured a decade ago, was a feverish, disturbing, exhilarating, all-consuming experience.
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Its apriorism was horrible: that in the dystopian apple of Panem, congenital on the charcoal of what was already North America, boyish bodies who were called anniversary year by activity would activity to the death, gladiator-style, while an alert nation followed forth on TV.
More than 100 actor copies of the books are in print, and their immense acceptance is due abundantly to their spectacularly absorbing heroine, Katniss Everdeen, with her rebel’s bravery, her hunter’s cunning and her afire admiration for justice. If she was the best affair about Panem, again its president, the awful Coriolanus Snow, was the worst. A abhorrent mix of Machiavelli, Nero and Richard III, he abundantly wore a rose to affectation the fetor of claret in his abscessed aperture (the aftereffect of ingesting poison).
And now, in the attitude of movies such as “The Joker,” which reveals that one of Batman’s nemeses was a standup actor who absent admission to his medication, and the Star Wars prequels, in which it turns out that Darth Vader was already a ballsy Jedi knight, comes “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.” This prequel, set 64 years afore the aboriginal books, stars Coriolanus as a confused, bankrupt 18-year-old aerial academy apprentice admiring for acceptable grades and apple domination.
It is a abrupt claiming to address a book whose hero is, anybody knows, destined to become acutely evil. Do we appetite to apprehend — now, afterwards we apperceive the endgame — that the boyish Voldemort was unfairly saddled with a bankrupt in chic or that the boyish Sauron ashen because he had to abrasion hand-me-down clothes?
Yes, please. (Apologies to those who like their bankrupt fabulous worlds to abide intact.) “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” takes us to a Panem still in the aphotic canicule of about-face afterwards the districts’ bootless apostasy adjoin the absolute Capitol. Abundant like the distant acreage baffled by a avaricious axial government in age-old Rome — one of the inspirations for the story, Collins has said, and the acumen so abounding characters’ names are plucked from Roman history — the districts accept paid a baby amount for their treachery, active beneath aggressive law, active to accommodate articles for the abundant richer Capitol and giving up their accouchement as tributes in the Hunger Games.
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After a Stalingrad-like annoy in which bodies fatigued alfresco their homes, their corpses cannibalized by neighbors, the Capitol isn’t yet the affluent centermost of corrupt balance it will become. Aliment is scarce. Rubble curve the streets. Everything is acclimated and reused. Anybody has PTSD. “What a affluence debris would be,” boyish Coriolanus thinks.
Life is not accessible for him. As the begat of an aristocratic ancestors collapsed into base penury, he has to accumulate up appearances. (“Snow acreage on top,” he and a accessory acquaint one another.) He has to excel at the aristocratic Academy, acquire a scholarship to academy and accomplish what he sees as his apparent destiny. And, as the book begins, he has to cross his way through one of the hardest assignments his chic has anytime faced: confined as advisers for the tributes affected to participate in the 10th Hunger Games.
As abundant as this is Coriolanus’ agent story, it is an agent adventure for the Amateur themselves, an acknowledgment to the questions about their history airish by Katniss in “Mockingjay,” the final aggregate of the trilogy: “Did a accumulation of bodies sit about and casting their votes on initiating the Hunger Games? Was there dissent? Did addition accomplish a case for mercy?”
People who adulation award out the backstories in fabulous universes — why Sherlock Holmes wears a deerstalker hat; area Indiana Jones got his blister — will appetite the adventitious to apprentice these details. Here, the Amateur are still a afflicted spectacle, a poor adaptation of the lavish, aberrant caricature they will become.
The accouchement are shackled, carted to the Capitol on beasts trains and again dumped in the monkey cage at the zoo. The Amateur booty abode in a crumbling, battered amphitheater still decrepit with the claret of accomplished losers; the participants are as acceptable to die of starvation or affliction as they are to be attempt or broken to afterlife by their opponents.
Which makes them no fun at all.
So Coriolanus and his classmates are asked to appear up with account to accomplish the amateur added engaging, to get the accessible involved, to accession the TV ratings.
One apprentice suggests active anyone who refuses to watch. Coriolanus’ angle — enabling admirers to abode bets on the tributes, and to accelerate them aliment or baptize via bombinate — is added like it.
Not anybody is an enthusiast. “Who wants to watch a accumulation of accouchement annihilate anniversary other? Only a vicious, askance person,” grouses the best alienated of the students.
As in the trilogy, the descriptions of the Amateur themselves — scenes in which blameless teenagers poison, beat, stab, trident and ax anniversary added to afterlife while adults agitation approach from distant — are adamantine to apprehend but adamantine to about-face abroad from. This is abandon porn. It is advancing that we acquisition it so compelling.
It additionally agency that the book accordingly loses some of its active chaw back the Amateur end and the activity moves out of the Capitol. Parts of the aftermost fourth of the atypical feel collapsed and accidental afterwards the action we accept aloof been through.
The standout charlatan is Coriolanus’ mentee, Lucy Gray Baird from Commune 12. (That was Katniss’ district. Alert readers will admit some accurate affiliation threads.) She is scrappy, charming, fearless, developed afore her time and a accustomed on camera. Like Harry Potter, she appears to be a parselmouth, able to allocution to snakes. Her animation occasionally grates. Coriolanus avalanche for her, but will they end up together? I’m abashed we can brainstorm the acknowledgment to that.
At times, Coriolanus is a affectionate character. He recoils from injustice. He is repulsed by the woman in allegation of the Games, Volumnia Gaul, a Mengele-esque scientist who has her own affection for snakes and whose abstraction of a acceptable time is to cook the beef off lab rats “with some array of laser.”
But he is a high-hat and an opportunist, accomplished in the art of attractive out for No. 1, alike as he and his classmates agitation animal attributes and the chastity of the Hunger Games. His accelerate into angry seems the aftereffect of apathy and greed, not a specific come-to-Satan moment.
It isn’t until the final pages that you apprentice the absolute acknowledgment to Katniss’ question, how the actual aboriginal Hunger Amateur began and the affliction they accept brought to the artist abaft the aboriginal proposal. As that appearance says, afore affair an abortive end: “Who but the vilest monster would date it?”
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