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5 things to know about ‘Hunger Games’ new prequel ‘Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’

Scholastic released the new novel Tuesday. It’s set long before Katniss was around and explains a lot about the world of the huge-selling young-adult fiction trilogy.

“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” by “The Hunger Games” author Suzanne Collins (right) was released Tuesday, with a world-record printing for the prequel to Collins’ huge-selling young-adult fiction trilogy.
“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” by “The Hunger Games” author Suzanne Collins (right) was released Tuesday, with a world-record printing for the prequel to Collins’ huge-selling young-adult fiction trilogy.
Scholastic

If you read “The Hunger Games” books, you know the character Coriolanus Snow as the dictatorial president of the dystopian land of Panem who wears roses on his lapels and antagonizes Katniss Everdeen.

But what was the slick Snow (played by Donald Sutherland in the movies) like as an 18-year-old student? Sure, he was a clever and high-achieving student, but he also had a soft side that author Suzanne Collins explores in her 500-plus page “Hunger Games” prequel novel “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” (Scholastic, $27.99), out Tuesday.

Here’s what else you need to know about the book, which has gotten lackluster reviews:

Katniss is mentioned only in reference to a plant

Katniss (played by Jennifer Lawrence in the movies) doesn’t exist in this book, which is set 64 years before the events of the original “Hunger Games” novel released in 2008. The word “katniss” is used only in referring to a flowering plant that grows potatoes.

But there are some names in the prequel readers will recognize. Among them: Lucretius Flickerman, who shares a last name with the Hunger Games host from the original trilogy, Caesar Flickerman (played by Stanley Tucci).

The origin of the annual Hunger Games is explained

How did the child-killing competition start? “Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” explains the origin of the Hunger Games — though the real answer doesn’t come till the final pages — and depicts an early contest in which Snow serves as student mentor for a tribute.

The book explores early additions of customs that went on to be expected at the Games, including the broadcasting of tribute interviews, gambling over victors and the unleashing of mutated animals into the arena

Snow disdained the mockingjay long ago

Even before Katniss became the symbolic Mockingjay, a rebel of the Capitol, Snow disliked the hybrid bird for reasons that had nothing to do with the skilled archer. We also learn how the mockingjay — and the mimicking, spying jabberjays — came to be.

The ‘Hanging Tree’ song is born

Are you, are you, coming to the tree? ... Wear a necklace of rope, side by side with me.

The song Katniss wasn’t supposed to sing (and that climbed the Billboard charts after Lawrence sang it in the movie) is performed in the prequel. Those haunting lyrics? They get an explanation.

There’s romance, duh

It’s a “Hunger Games” book, so you know there’ll be a high-stakes romance. The love story here involves a curly-haired young Snow and a tribute whose charming singing voice earns plenty of favor in the Capitol.

There’s also plenty of murder, political unrest and underdogs, of course.

Read more at USA Today.