Suzanne Collins returns to the world of 'The Hunger Games' to tell the story of young Coriolanus Snow. For those who don't remember, that's Donald Sutherland. The original trilogy captivated me when I first read it, but I had my doubts about a prequel after all these years. This is partly because these books don't continue to resonate with me the way some other YA powerhouses have. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, however, so expect this one to be on the bestseller list for some time.
This was a fast read, even at 500+ pages, and there was some pleasure in seeing the world that had only been viewed through Katniss' limited gaze with greater clarity. The problem I ultimately had with this is the problem that hits a lot of prequels: this story had a foregone conclusion. The story has to have an interesting journey on top of the plot. Was the goal to humanize Snow? To reinforce the message of the original trilogy? To provide an alternative to the increasingly lampooned Katniss model of YA heroine in Lucy Gray? Having finished this...I still can't give you those answers.
I'm rating this as only OK because we didn't see any transformation of Snow. Cunning sociopathic person wins the day may be realistic, but it wasn't riveting as presented here. Lucy Gray is only a cypher because we never hear her perspective, and what we do see is from Snow's eyes, so.... Most importantly, I didn't buy the moral complications presented to the reader. Right and wrong were pretty clear and there was little or no real internal struggle on the part of the characters. That was a defining highlight of the original books. 'Ballad' succeeds only in being a return to a familiar world and by filling in gaps in the timeline of the series. If you liked the original trilogy, you'll find something in this book. Just don't expect the moon.
On the plus side, many bookstores got Mockingjay/Snake iron-on patches so if you pre-ordered a copy with them you get one for free. Check with your local - they may have extra patches that are first come/first served if you didn't preorder!
The Hunger Games