The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes: Three Notes on Hunger Games Prequel

I have written a great deal here about the work of Suzanne Collins, from her much neglected Gregor the Underlander novels and When Charlie McButton Lost Power, to her Hunger Games trilogy and even the children’s picture book she wrote post fame and fortune, Year of the Jungle. My exegesis of the Katniss Everdeen books in various HogwartsProfessor posts ran to close to 60,000 words and I regret never turning the three principle Mockingjay posts — The Spiritual Allegory, The Literary Alchemy, and Katniss’ Apotheosis — into a proper book. I think so much about her that this week last year I wrote about ‘Whatever Happened to Suzanne Collins?’

No surprise, then, that I read The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes on the day of release. You may be surprised that I have not shared my thoughts on the subject until now, in great contrast with the weeks following publication of Mockingjay, the trilogy finale. I plead “full-time job in ‘essential business,’ being overdue on a thesis chapter, and, most important, perhaps, that I have not reviewed the Hunger Games series and re-read Songbirds and Snakes in light of that review.” I have scandalized Potter fans in the past by saying that I think Collins’ achievement with Mockingjay was at least on par and perhaps greater than Deathly Hallows; her work deserves better than a flip newspaper review.

Having said all that, I do want to share three spoiler-free points about the prequel just released to encourage those on the fence about reading it to purchase a copy immediately. Elizabeth Baird (!) Hardy has already posted her first thoughts and I hope point by point discussion of the book and its relationship to Collins’ oeuvre can begin here, if not next week then next month. I’m hoping that Elizabeth and Prof Lana Whited, editor of Critical Insights: The Hunger Games Trilogy, will join Katy McDaniel and myself for a podcast discussion, too, at Reading, Writing, Rowling.

My three points are (1) the most important paragraph to read is the opening of Collins’ acknowledgements at the back of the book, (2) the departure from Collins’ heretofore locked in story structure in this novel, and (3) some thoughts about the title and Collins’ signature presentation of front-and-back.

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How to Get Ready for ‘Troubled Blood’

What is the best way to get ready for the publication of Strike5, Troubled Blood?

I think, based on my experience with previous Rowling releases, at least three efforts will yield the best results.

First and most obvious: re-read the books that precede the new entry. Rowling is a maestro of narrative slow release, one who plants clues and foreshadowings of coming attractions in the first books of a series. I enjoy listening to the Robert Glenister audio-books of the Strike novels for a fun review (and I keep a notepad with me while I listen if something catches my attention).

Second: review the HogwartsProfessor posts and MuggleNet podcasts on the books in question. You won’t find discussion of subjects from mythology and alchemy to the links with parallel numbers in the Harry Potter series and the ring composition of each book and the series as whole anywhere else. Get yourself up to speed with the conversation that has been happening here at Serious Reader Central about Cormoran, Robin, and Company.

Third: Join that conversation! There are the comment threads here, of course, and now the #StrikeReadAlong for you to jump in and share your questions, insights, and critique. The more the merrier — and it’s never too late!

How are you preparing for Troubled Blood? Has anyone tackled Faerie Queen or a prolonged listen to Marilyn Manson albums?