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In this prequel to The Hunger Games, readers follow Coriolanus Snow during a formative summer in his life. The once-powerful Snow family lost everything when District 13 was obliterated but they’re still trying to keep up appearances. Corio needs a scholarship to the University if he’s going to have any hope of bettering his family’s circumstances. He sees his chance to stand out when he’s offered the opportunity to be a mentor for a tribute in the annual Hunger Games. His heart sinks when he’s assigned Lucy Gray Baird, the girl from District 12, but he quickly realizes that she’s a natural performer and concocts scheme after scheme to capitalize on her talents. The founder of the Hunger Games, Dr. Gaul, begins to view Corio as something of a protege and asks him and his classmates for ideas to make the Hunger Games “better,” i.e. more widely watched. Corio finds that he’s a natural at this kind of thing, even as he finds himself growing attached to Lucy.
So. I haven’t re-read any of the original novels since they were first published and I haven’t re-watched any of the movies since their respective releases. So I’m fuzzy on those plot points.
But this didn’t do much to further the broader story. Snow is a manipulative prick. We know that. All I learned in this book is that he was even able to manipulate himself into believing he was a good person when he was a teenager. But he’s constantly looking out for his own interests and playing the angles that give him the biggest advantages. He’s a major kiss-ass and backstabber but he doesn’t really acknowledge that, even to himself. His conscience tweaks him every now and then but he easily shuts it up by twisting other characters’ motives to justify his own actions. It was interesting to see how the Snow of the later books was shaped so much by this one summer. Dr. Gaul has some pretty brutal theories about warfare and the nature of humanity and she plants her seeds in very fertile soil when she decides to start mentoring Corio.
I would say that his devotion to his grandmother “The Grandma’am,” and his cousin, Tigris, are slightly redeeming, but now that I think about it, why was Tigris the one who worked herself to death to support him? He used her too. (I wish I remembered more about Tigris. She shows up in Mockingjay, right? That’s all I recall).
While I liked Lucy, I didn’t quite understand her actions either. Was she someone who could murder in cold blood? Or was she someone who bought Corio’s BS about how much he cared for her? She seemed too street-smart for the latter and too honorable for the former, even when she explained why she did it.
The Hunger Games in this early version are almost unrecognizable as Katniss’s Hunger Games. The kids are just thrown into an arena to kill each other or starve to death and no one watches it. That all starts to change the year that Corio and his classmates start mentoring the tributes, which brings up more questions. Why would Dr. Gaul, the force behind the whole idea, ask her students for ideas to make the games more entertaining rather than her Gamemakers? That aside, the introduction of recognizable elements felt a bit clunky. “Oh, I know! We can let the Capitol bet on the outcome.” “Oh, wait! It’s boring to watch them starve, so why don’t we let viewers buy food and supplies? Then the tributes will be in better condition to fight!” That’s really how “subtle” it was. And there was a constant reference to “the odds” being in someone’s favor or not in regular conversation. That isn’t something that’s said at the Reaping, so it felt a bit forced.
And the ending was…ambiguous and lackluster.
Maybe I would have enjoyed this more if it had been the true origin of the series, but as a prequel, I never felt any doubt about Corio’s path and that robbed the book of a lot of its dramatic tension. By all means, fans should read the book, just don’t expect it to add much depth to the series.
Read my book reviews of the original trilogy in the series:
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