Quick-take: Welcomed new edition to Hunger Games.
I came into this book with low expectations. What more is there to tell about Hunger Games? Why a prequel, and why President Snow as the protagonist? My expectations were thoroughly exceeded. I enjoyed this book. For one, it was nice to get a complete story in a single volume. The book was broken into several parts. Before the games, during the games, and after the games. I won't go into any details about them.
Coriolanus Snow is a young man with high ambitions. Even at just 18, he still has thoughts about what he will do when he is president one day. He is very concerned about how others perceive him and how various associations will affect his long-term career. Everything is an internal debate to him, starting with the very first chapter where he is deciding what shirt to wear. The Snow family is going through a rough patch, and he has nothing worthy of his stature.
I'm not entirely sure making Coriolanus the protagonist worked. I'm sure Collins had some pushback, but I appreciate authors trying something different, so no point deductions here. However, I think trying the "is Coriolanus good at heart, actually evil, or perhaps too ambitious?" The angle throughout the book did not quite work. Something I thought was problematic was Coriolanus' age. He is supposedly 18 or 19. However, he frequently talks like he is a highly experienced war veteran. The war was over 10 years ago. He would've been a child. I could pick up experience through osmosis, but not at that level.
If this book was to be made into a movie (and we all know it will eventually), Lucy Gray Baird will be the undisputed star. She is a free spirit singer and songwriter that simply exudes charisma in everything she does. However, don't underestimate her. She can be clever when it comes to her own survival. She is the lead in her traveling music group and always has a song at the ready. Collins basically made a new Katniss Everdeen, but she traded the bow for a guitar.
The last part of the book (post-games) was surprising. I did not see that happening, and I am not sure it is believable. The Hunger Games is the biggest annual event, and the contestants are big time celebrities. The book explained this plot hole, but I did not buy it.
One hanging problem with prequels is that the end is already known. Coriolanus Snow eventually becomes president of Panem, so we know any event that has his life in and career in danger will be resolved in his favor. Despite this, there is plenty of tension to make the book enjoyable. Score: 5/5. I anxiously await the movie.