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Literature / The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

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The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a prequel to The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. It takes place 64 years before the first book and focuses on the 10th Hunger Games through the eyes of a teenage Coriolanus Snow, exploring the combination of nature and nurture that led to him becoming the villain of the original trilogy and the evolution of the Hunger Games within the story's universe.

The book was released on May 19, 2020. It is the first book in the series in nearly a decade; before its reveal, many fans speculated that Collins was done with the series after Mockingjay (she did co-write the first film adaptation, and provide some creative input for the sequels).

A film adaptation was announced by Lionsgate shortly after the book was first unveiled. It is currently slated to be released on November 17, 2023.

Character tropes for this book and the original trilogy of books can be found here.

Note: The title event of this book series is a fight to the death. As such, Death Tropes and death-related spoilers are plentiful. Proceed with caution.


Provides examples of:

  • Aerith and Bob: The main characters are called Coriolanus, Sejanus and ... Lucy (Gray). This also applies to the side characters we met at the Academy, who have names ranging from Iphigenia to Felix, all in the same area and social class.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Snow's friends and cousin Tigris call him "Coryo".
  • All for Nothing: Subverted. At first, it seems like Coriolanus' cheating was for nothing, as he doesn't get the scholarship he wanted and ends up being expelled from school and shipped off to become a Peacekeeper. However, it turns out that he was never permanently intended to be a Peacekeeper, despite what he thought, and he gets to achieve his dream after all.
  • All of the Other Reindeer:
    • After Sejanus moves to the Capitol, he is continuously bullied by his classmates because he was born in District 2. And his peers in District 2 rejected him because of his father's connections to the Capitol.
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    • Lucy Gray doesn't fit into District 12 because of her Covey background and is never quite happy living there.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Our main character, Coriolanus Snow, is a perfect example of this trope. He chooses ambition over his best friend, his girlfriend, and his morality, to the detriment of both his personal life (it's implied in the epilogue that he willingly enters a loveless marriage with a woman he can't stand so that he won't be distracted from his goals by love) and society in general. His descent from a relatively normal (although deeply flawed) person to a ruthless, power-hungry villain is largely fuelled by his desire to secure a good job and improve his family's financial situation.
  • Ambiguous Situation: The ending.
    • What really happened to Lucy Gray Baird? Is she dead? If she's not, where did she go? Snow, who has made up his mind to forget about her, simply learns that she disappeared from the faces of the earth. It's heavily implied, that Lucy Gray or one of her relatives ended up marrying into the Everdeen family, due to her knowledge of the songs Katniss' father liked to recite, her relationship with mockingjays, and her love of katnisses/arrowheads, but left unclear whether it was Lucy Gray herself or a relative who did so.
    • It's unclear whether Lucy Gray deliberately left the snake to bite Coriolanus. She has shown that she's able to catch snakes and willing to use them as weapons, but the snake that was underneath her scarf wasn't even venomous, and a doctor tells Coriolanus that those snakes come out on their own when it rains.
  • Arc Words: "Snow lands on top."
  • Asshole Victim: Arachne Crane and Mayfair Lipp. Arachne brings sandwiches to her starving tribute, but teases her by repeatedly pulling the sandwich out of reach just as she's about to take it. Her tribute then explodes in anger and kills Arachne. And Mayfair blames Lucy Gray for Billy Taupe's adultery, (even though Lucy Gray was unaware of his two-timing), arranges to have her sent to the Hunger Games in order to get rid of her, and eventually ends up shot to death by Coriolanus Snow.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Coriolanus is never punished for killing three people and in fact achieves his goals.
  • Bait the Dog: Snow runs away with Lucy Gray to the woods outside of Twelve, and several times in the book he contemplates the possibility of living an honourable life, but he abandons that dream at the end of the book.
  • Ballad of X: 'The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes'.
  • Barefoot Captives: When the tributes for the 10th Games arrive in the Capitol, the outfits they are dressed in seem to take inspiration from ancient Roman slave garb - including a lack of footwear.
  • Bathos: As the body count rises and Lucy Gray finds herself in increasing danger, the situation throughout the book remains quite serious. However, Coriolanus's ego and lack of self-awareness provide some humor during it. Towards the end, we get this gem, where Coriolanus and Lucy Gray find themselves running away into the unknown out of fear for their lives, but Coriolanus just can't stop thinking about how superior he thinks he is to everyone else:
    Heavy, dark clouds rolled in, providing some relief from the beating sun but adding to his oppression. This was his life now. Digging for worms and being at the mercy of the weather. Elemental. Like an animal. He knew this would be easier if he wasn’t such an exceptional person. The best and the brightest humanity had to offer. The youngest to pass the officer candidate test. If he’d been useless and stupid, the loss of civilization would not have hollowed out his insides in this manner. He’d have taken it in stride.
  • Beautiful Singing Voice: Lucy Gray is notably good at singing, unsurprisingly, as she's a professional singer by trade. Downplayed with Coriolanus, who doesn't sing often, but is apparently quite good at it.
  • Big Damn Kiss: Coriolanus and Lucy Gray share one of these before she's sent into the arena.
  • Birds of a Feather: One of the things that Coriolanus and Lucy Gray bond over is the fact that both lost their parents during the Dark Days and its aftermath.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Coriolanus feigns niceness in order to manipulate others. Only Casca Highbottom can see him for who he really is, and it's not even because Coriolanus is actually showing his true personality, but rather because Highbottom hated Coriolanus's father and therefore hates Coriolanus by extension.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Volumnia Gaul and President Ravinstill are definitely evil, with the two of them being responsible for putting the Hunger Games into practice (Gaul is particularly evil, as she also performs human experiments and plays mind games with Coriolanus to sway his mind towards thinking that the oppression of the Districts is necessary for the Capitol to thrive). Coriolanus himself starts off morally gray; he's not strictly on the side of good like Sejanus, and is self-centered and haughty even in the beginning, but he has a moral code and he finds the Hunger Games to be in poor taste. He has opportunities via his relationships with Tigris, Sejanus, and Lucy Gray, to turn out good, but their influence eventually stops being enough to counteract his evil traits, and he ends up taking the dark path that leads to him becoming the President Evil of Panem.
  • Blue Blood: The main character attends the most prestigious secondary school in the Capitol, where all of the upper class people send their kids.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: Coriolanus is getting tired of music in his life:
    It seemed to be everywhere: birdsong, Covey song, bird-and-Covey song.
  • Caged Bird Metaphor: What with the litany of bird metaphors employed throughout the book, this pops up a few times.
    • When Coriolanus is trying to get out of the arena, he compares himself to a caged bird:
      Only a few weak layers of moonlight penetrated the layers of the barricade, and Coriolanus found himself crashing into wood and fencing like a wild bird in a cage[.]
    • Later, Coriolanus spearheads an effort to exterminate District 12's mockingjays and jabberjays, which have come to symbolize unruly people of the districts, particularly Lucy Gray's people, the Covey. Many of them are captured in cages, facilitating this trope.
      Lucy Gray: I hate to think of them caged up, when they've had a taste of freedom. [...] Sounds like torture, having someone controlling your voice like that. [Reaches up to touch her throat]
      Coriolanus: I don't think there's a human equivalent.
      Lucy Gray: Really? Do you always feel free to speak your mind, Coriolanus Snow?
  • Career Versus Man: A rare male example, in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Coriolanus Snow is eventually forced to make a decision: go back to the Capitol and return to his life of decadence or run away with a District girl to god-knows-where? Of course, it's a Foregone Conclusion, since Snow ends up becoming a President of Panem in the original trilogy.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Coriolanus Snow saves a handkerchief that Lucy Gray uses so he can have a token of her while she's in the Arena. It comes in handy when he discovers that Dr Gaul's genetically engineered snakes will be sent into the Arena, as he can drop the handkerchief with Lucy Gray's DNA into their tank, thereby making them accustomed to her scent and unwilling to harm her. This is one of the ways he helps Lucy Gray cheat her way to victory.
    • The rose compact belonging to his mother also counts, for similar reasons. It's introduced early on as a memento Coriolanus keeps of his mother and uses as a source of comfort. Later on, he uses it to help Lucy Gray sneak poison into the arena.
  • Chick Magnet: Coriolanus, who apparently attracted a lot of girls, but never pursued relationships with any of them out of fear that they might discover his family's financial situation. He did have a one night stand in an alleyway, though.
  • Combat Pragmatism: Coriolanus and Lucy Gray use some dubious tactics to get her through the Games, with an understanding that she probably couldn't survive playing fairly. Coriolanus gives Dr. Gaul's killer snakes an article with Lucy Gray's scent, preventing them from attacking her and giving her an unfair advantage once they're used in the arena, and Lucy Gray uses Snow's mother's compact, her tribute token, to smuggle poison powder and kill some competitors without the knowledge of the other tributes or the foresight/approval of the Gamemakers.
  • Corrupt Politician: District 12's Mayor Lipp, Mayfair's father. He uses his power to try and get the innocent Lucy Gray killed, all because she was the ex-girlfriend of his daughter's boyfriend.
  • Death by Childbirth: Coriolanus' mother dies while giving birth to his little sister, who also does not survive.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Coriolanus Snow and Lucy Gray Baird ultimately do not stay together, mainly because of their differing views of the world. Lucy Gray ends up going missing, and Snow returns to the Capitol, where he decides that Love Is a Weakness and resolves to never let himself fall in love again.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Dr. Gaul's reaction to a student lying about contributing to a group project? Having the student be bitten by deadly mutated snakes, forcing her to spend days in the hospital, live with a long-term condition said to last about a year, and almost die.
  • Distant Sequel: In this case, a prequel explicitly 64 years before the events of the original trilogy, i.e., Katniss' era.
  • Dr. Genericius: A notable aversion. A lot of characters have names ending in "us", for example: Festus, Hilarius, Sejanus, Gaius, Crassus, Lucretius, Pluribus, and of course, the main character himself, Coriolanus. However, the Mad Scientist character does not have such a name, and is instead named "Dr. Volumnia Gaul." (Of course, "-ia" is also a common suffix for many Western female names, let alone Latin-based ones like those of most Capitolites.)
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The 10th Hunger Games themselves are a total mess in-universe. Elements of the Games that would become standard by The Hunger Games are either missing entirely or very different:
    • The tributes are held in a rabies-ridden zoo rather than in a Gilded Cage the way they would be in later years, and are given no food, provisions, or training to make them more fit to put on a good show in the arena.
    • There is no emphasis on talents. It's generally expected that fighting ability is the only skill that matters in the Games, whereas later years would see appealing to an audience recognized as a valuable ability. Lucy Gray gets much of the edge she does by appealing to the audience, which is a novel approach at this time.
    • Even the Games' arena is a more typical sporting stadium/coliseum that's been used each year, rather than the one-time elaborate simulated environments that would be the arenas in later Games. Bombing destruction to the arena before the Games start, (which changes the layout from a more open field) seems to inspire the trend of arenas being designed as survival hide-and-seek spaces in the future.
    • Tribute gifts are sent in on remote-controlled drones, which was likely changed to parachutes later on because the drones proved awkward to manipulate at times and the District 3 tributes managed to hack and weaponize them against other tributes, which the Capitol was likely keen to prevent in the future given how the earlier books have demonstrated their hatred of the Games being subverted or potentially used against them.
    • The seeds of some future elements are seen, but in a different form than the Hunger Games in the years covered by the main trilogy. A big part of the book focuses around the establishment of the Mentor program, although the mentors are top-performing students of the Academy, rather than past victors. (Logically, there would have been only nine victors at this point anyway, not enough for every district, and that's assuming they're all still alive by the 10th Games. It's also hinted that Districts 1 and 2 have already produced at least two victors each, which would further reduce the number of districts with victors to act as mentors.)
    • Here, sponsorship has a less complicated system. A tribute's ability to get sponsors is based solely on how they are doing in the arena and how they directly appeal to the audience instead of on training scores (as they have not yet been implemented), and items they can receive are limited to select food items (ie. apples, cheese, and bread) and water, whereas in the main trilogy they can receive any food item and most weapons. The items are also sent to a tribute via drones with facial recognition, instead of via parachute.
    • Snow comes up with the idea for betting on the tributes, which is featured in a crude form in the 10th Hunger Games. He also secretly gives Lucy Gray a tribute token, which, even though it allows Lucy Gray to kill, would later establish tribute tokens (and tributes attempting to weaponize them) as a tradition later on. At the end of the book, he establishes the Victors' Villages as a small motivator to make tributes and Districts more engaged in the games. This also adds more interest for the Capitol, and we know that this will eventually turn the Games into a twisted spectacle for them in time.
    • It's quite presumable that the landmines that go off during the pre-Games tour of the Capitol arena—in this period there's just the one, and no one knows who rigged the arena with mines—will become the inspiration for the later system of rigging tributes' starting platforms to explode if they step off before the Games timer starts.
  • Evil Former Friend: Crassus Snow is this to Casca Highbottom. Highbottom considers Crassus' actions (presenting Highbottom's idea of the Hunger Games to Dr Gaul despite reassuring Highbottom he would keep the idea private) unforgivable and continues to hate Crassus because of this even after he dies.
  • Evil Is Petty:
    • Dr. Gaul lets Clemensia get bitten near death by mutated snakes simply because she lies about her part in a group project she was doing with Snow.
    • Mayfair Lipp has her father, the mayor, call out Lucy Gray's name during the reaping just so she could have the latter's boyfriend to herself.
  • Family Theme Naming: The Covey families have a system for naming their family members. They have two first names, one of which is a name mentioned in a poem or ballad, and the other is the name of a colour, which is followed by their family name.
  • Fantastic Racism: Capitol citizens believe the people from the districts to be almost sub-human, and aren't shy about voicing these opinions.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Covey seem to be inspired by the Romani, being a group of itinerants who feel that they don't belong to any single regional border and provide musical entertainment to make a living, and being associated with colorful clothing.
  • Foil: From his introduction, fellow Academy student Sejanus Plinth is positioned as a contrasting character to Coriolanus. Where Coriolanus is a broke orphan from Capitol Old Money, Sejanus is the reluctant child of two loving, Nouveau Riche parents from the Districts, representing everything Coriolanus fears and envies. Their moral constitutions are also complementary—Sejanus's sympathy for the citizenry outside the Capitol highlights Coriolanus's own brutal unconcern, and ultimately Sejanus pays the price for taking a stand, while Coriolanus assimilates into the hierarchy and, chillingly, Sejanus's own family.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Since this is a prequel, readers know that Coriolanus Snow will become President of Panem and he will not die until a good sixty years later. We also know that Tigris will ascend as a Games stylist before falling out of fashion and that she will turn completely against her cousin by Mockingjay.
  • For the Evulz: This seems to be the motivation behind some of Volumnia Gaul's actions; there is absolutely no need for her to punish a student for lying about her participation in a group project by attacking her with mutated snakes which almost kill her, but yet she does it anyway.
  • Freudian Excuse: We learn that Coriolanus Snow's need for power and control is partially the result of his poverty and loss of status as a child.
  • Generation Xerox: Lucky Flickerman, implied to be some ancestor of Caesar from the original trilogy, is also a flamboyant Capitol showman tapped to host the new interview night with the tributes and mentors, and then the Games themselves, although by trade he's a professional weather reporter (and an amateur stage magician). He also comes off as less professional (in attitude) and more bumbling than his descendant.
  • Hair-Contrast Duo: An unusual example. Coriolanus is blond and Lucy Gray is dark-haired. As in many such duos, the lighter-haired one, Coriolanus, values rules and generally abides by them (although he's not above breaking them, especially when Lucy Gray is involved), and the darker-haired one, Lucy Gray, prefers freedom and likes rebelling. Lucy Gray is implied to also have a somewhat darker past than Coriolanus, having had to become a breadwinner as a child and being betrayed by a former lover. However, unlike most examples of this trope, the darker-haired Lucy Gray is the more hopeful and kindhearted of the two, while the fairer-haired Coriolanus is more cynical and ruthless.
  • Hereditary Republic: Many of the same prominent Capitol family names in the original novel trilogy and films are already prominent this far back in the Capitol's history; the Snows themselves are one (the father was a prominent general, the son later becomes President).
  • Hobbes Was Right: Dr. Gaul takes the particularly blunt stance that harsh and hardline Capitol rule is the only viable means to prevent society from spiralling into senseless and relentless violence and anarchy; she decides to teach Coriolanus this the hard way when she sends him into the Capitol arena in an ad hoc mission to extract Sejanus, who had broken into the arena to pay respects to Marcus, his fallen tribute and district-mate. Several tributes, wary of anyone Capitol, attack them, and Coriolanus beats one to death in his panic. Dr. Gaul tells Coriolanus that this incident is proof supporting her belief. Prior to this, Coriolanus also writes in one essay that one of the more "positive" things to come out of war is the appreciation of having a sense of control when watching the defeat of the Capitol's enemies at its end—especially if anarchy is the default option without.
  • How the Mighty Have Fallen: We learn that this trope applied to several upper class Capitol families during the Dark Days, including the Snow family itself. The Snows lost their fortune, struggled with food insecurity, and Tigris is implied to have turned to prostitution in order to put food on the table. And before the events of the book, the Prices turned to cannibalism to avoid starvation. Although by the time of the novel, prospects seem to be improving for many of the upper class families in the Capitol.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Nero Price cannibalised a dead maid in front of Tigris and Snow, and may have fed human meat to his unwitting daughter Persephone.
  • Impoverished Patrician: At the start of the book, the Snow family have their name and their apartment, but little else, having lost their money during the Dark Days. Coriolanus' determination to restore his family's fortunes forms a big part of his motivations.
  • Inter-Class Romance: There are two examples of this:
    • The main romance is composed of the Old Money, Blue Blood, Capitol-born Coriolanus Snow, and Lucy Gray, a girl from the Seam, a poor neighbourhood in District 12.
    • Billy Taupe, who's also from the Seam and is most likely jobless since his expulsion from the Covey, is in a relationship with Mayfair Lipp, the Mayor's daughter and District 12's resident Rich Bitch.
  • In-Series Nickname: Some of which are combined with Affectionate Nickname:
    • Coriolanus Snow's family and friends call him "Coryo."
    • Clemensia Dovecote has the nickname "Clemmie."
    • Coriolanus Snow briefly refers to Lysistrata Vickers as "Lyssie," which he used to call her when they were very young.
    • And Casca Highbottom has the unflattering nickname "Dean High-as-a-Kite Bottom."
  • I Want My Mommy!: Sejanus Plinth calls out for his Ma Plinth before being hung for treason. His cry is picked up by the jabberjays, resounding through the woods.
  • Kill the Cutie: Sejanus, who is sweet and adorable, gets murdered.
  • Liberty Over Prosperity: In contrast to Coriolanus, Lucy Gray and the Covey prefer a free-spirited, nomadic lifestyle over a more stable but tightly-controlled life under the Capitol's rule.
  • Love Cannot Overcome:
    • Snow's initial excitement at running away and starting a life with Lucy Gray is quickly dampened by the realization that he would have to live a primitive life fighting for survival, having lived a life of comfort back in the Capitol. He decides that even the idea of settling down with Lucy Gray cannot make up for this potential dreaded life, and plans to leave her behind in District 12 so he can begin his Peacekeeping studies.
    • Also an Implied Trope with Lucy Gray's decision to leave Snow. Likewise, Lucy Gray made it clear that she values trust above all else, including love. While she may have still loved Snow, her trust in him had shattered when he accidentally revealed he was responsible for a death he was keeping secret from her, and so she tried to escape him.
  • Mad Scientist: Dr Gaul certainly qualifies as one, what with all the animal experimentation and torture, the willingness to experiment even on humans—Avoxes (Capitol slaves), of course, but even including Capitol elites like Clemensia—and the absolute lack of moral qualms about any of what she's doing, although she does justify much of it as part of her Hobbesian worldviews. It doesn't help that, as concurrent Head Gamemaker and ill-defined, high-ranking, de facto Capitol official, there are no institutional restraints on her work either.
  • Meaningful Name: Lucy Gray's musical troupe is called the Covey. A covey is a group of quails, tying in with her avian theme.
  • Musical Theme Naming: All members of the Covey are named after real-life ballads and poems. The most prominent, of course, is Lucy Gray (named after the poem by William Wordsworth; this is even pointed out in-universe). Another is Barb Azure (named after Barbara Allen).
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Heavily implied to be the reason behind Dean Highbottom's morphling addiction. Highbottom never intended for his Hunger Games proposal to actually be implemented. When they were schoolboys, Coriolanus's father got Highbottom drunk and had him write out his idea for punishing the districts as part of an assignment, then turned it in because he didn't want a zero. Gaul loved the proposal, and the rest was history.
  • New Parent Nomenclature Problem: Snow isn't sure what to call Strabo Plinth at the end of the book. "Father" doesn't feel right since Plinth couldn't legally adopt him because he's 18 and therefore made him his heir instead. He ends up calling him "sir" a lot.
  • Noodle Incident: Iphigenia Moss, a classmate of Coriolanus', is very thin, and doesn't eat her school meals. It's never specified exactly why she starves herself, but according to Lysistrata Vickers, it's a form of revenge for something that Iphigenia's father (the Head of the Agriculture Department of Panem) did.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: During the war, the Capitol was cut off from food deliveries they usually depended on, which drove some people to cannibalism to avoid starvation.
  • Nouveau Riche: After the Dark Days, families from the Districts who loyally supported the Capitol were able to buy their way into the Capitol, preventing them from having to participate in the Hunger Games. Strabo Plinth from District 2 funded the reconstruction of Panem, and as a result his family were allowed to settle in the Capitol. Nevertheless, they were despised by the particularly elitist Capitol citizens, who never let it slide that they came from the Districts. It didn't help that Strabo's wife and son felt that they were misfits within the Capitol, and the latter even came around to support the rebels, which cost him dearly.
  • Numerological Motif: Three. Lucy Gray kills three other tributes, Arlo Chance kills three people in the mines, and Snow is responsible for the deaths of three people before the epilogue.
  • People Zoo: Capitol Zoo functions as one in the weeks prior to the Hunger Games. In a time before the Tribute Training Centre was introduced, the tributes were housed in a zoo, where citizens of the Capitol could visit and get the tributes to perform for food.
  • Perspective Flip: The book shows the Capitol-districts conflict from the Capitol's side. While the Capitol still comes out looking like the bad guys, the book gives you a better sense of just why they the came to hate the districts enough to impose the Hunger Games on them, and that a lot of them are just living by the rules they were born into.
  • Pet the Dog: Dean Highbottom hates Coriolanus and goes out of his way to show it, so it comes as a surprise to the latter when Lucy Gray reveals the dean gave her some money after the Games to compensate for all she's been through. Coriolanus has difficulty reconciling this show of compassion with Highbottom's usual nastiness.
  • Philosophical Novel: The book is a prequel exploring the origins of the dictator who serves as the villain of the Hunger Games series, and a recurring theme is the nature of humanity and of evil. Over the course of the book, Coriolanus comes to believe in a Hobbesian worldview that posits that humans are naturally evil and require a strict totalitarian government to control them.
  • Police State: Already a given for Panem in this early period, with the Capitol already having won the war against the Districts and now in the process of consolidating and refining its authoritarian rule. Readers trace Coriolanus' journey as he becomes a cog in the Capitol's repression machine, first as a mentor to a Games tribute, and later as an actual Peacekeeper (and still later, of course, as President).
  • Prophetic Name: Lucy Gray ends up just like the character she was named after; she disappears off the face of the Earth without leaving a trace.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: Downplayed. Coriolanus starts off this prequel selfish and haughty to begin with, but still above murder and the kinds of horrible crimes he commits in the original trilogy. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes covers his descent into the kind of villainy that defines him as President Snow.
  • Protagonist Title: Subverted. Sort of. Who is the songbird and who is the snake? Both Lucy and Snow are associated with both animals throughout the book. Snow sings towards the start of the book. Lucy sings throughout. Lucy also uses snakes. And Snow has been associated with snakes since the Hunger Games trilogy.
  • Racist Grandma: Sort of. While Panem is a post-racial dystopia, Grandma'am sees District people as barbaric and inferior to Capitol culture.
  • "Ray of Hope" Ending: The story ends on this. Snow finally chooses his destiny as a future leader of Panem and kills anyone who stands in his way, including his best friend. However, he is unable to snuff out the last link to his old life: Lucy Gray Baird, who presumably still hangs out in District 12 and becomes a precursor (either literally or metaphorically) to a future rebellious girl from the same district who will take away everything he holds dear some sixty-four years later.
  • Ret-Canon: "The Hanging Tree" is an extremely small part of The Hunger Games, but it is a large part of the film adaptation, and the content of the song becomes a huge plot point, with the events that inspired it being shown.
  • Rousseau Was Right: In contrast to Dr. Gaul and Coriolanus, Lucy Gray believes that people are born good and only do bad things because of their experiences. She herself experienced terrible trauma throughout her life, the Hunger Games only being part of it, and still is generally good-natured. Ditto for other members of the Covey, Tigris, Lysistrata, and Sejanus.
  • Ruins of the Modern Age: The (sole) Capitol arena—a literal arena, in this case a sports stadium—is a dilapidated relic from the prewar days, when it hosted various sporting, military and national events. It's easy to imagine the arena being a long-disused version of something like Yankee Stadium.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Bird symbolism is used pretty blatantly in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Coriolanus, a Capitol born-and-bred who favors order and resents chaos, loves the jabberjays (through which the Capitol tried to impose order on the Districts) and hates the mockingjays (who represent "mistakes" that the Capitol accidentally created because they couldn't impose order), dreading whenever they start to mimic voices and at one point suggesting for hunting trips to eradicate them. He uses a jabberjay to rat out Sejanus to the Capitol, but mockingjays prevent him from washing his hands clean of the rebel plot completely, since they protect the last known witness of his involvement: Lucy Gray Baird.
  • Rule of Three:
    • There are three characters who can be said to have murdered three each by the time of the epilogue. Lucy Gray kills three other tributes in the Arena, Arlo Chance is hung for killing three people in the mines, and Snow is responsible for the deaths of Bobbin, Mayfair, and Sejanus.
    • The book is divided into three parts: "The Mentor," "The Prize," and "The Peacekeeper."
  • School Forced Us Together: Coriolanus and Sejanus originally don't know each other very well outside of being classmates. But becoming Mentors in the Hunger Games on an assignment brings them close to each other, and Coriolanus does eventually seem to develop some degree of affection for Sejanus despite initially resenting him, even being happy when Sejanus turns up at District 12 later on in the novel, while Sejanus comes to regard Coriolanus as his best friend during the course of their Hunger Games mentorship.
  • Secret Test of Character: During the 10th Hunger Games, Volumnia Gaul discreetly puts Coriolanus Snow in a series of loyalty tests to see if he is fit to become a future Gamemaker and Capitol leader, culminating in him destroying the would-be rebel cell in District 12 and ratting out his friend Sejanus Plinth as a rebel sympathizer and letting him get executed. She subsequently promotes him to become her understudy, allowing him to entry to the Capitol University.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Since many of the more competitive tributes die even before the Games officially start, by the time it does start, most of the survivors are weaker and more reluctant to proactively hunt and kill, and so the Games' first day is largely anticlimactic and slow, with the tributes all hiding from each other in the depths of the bombed-out arena the first chance they get; of those who even survived the opening day, several more die of starvation, exhaustion or illness. It doesn't stop a few of the surviving tributes from quickly adapting and learning to attack later on, though.
  • Take That!: There are several, some of which are combined with Does This Remind You of Anything?
    • The "outsider" children from the Districts are kept in cages when they're brought to the Capitol. This is actually happening in real life in the US, with immigrant children being reported as being kept in cages in detention centres.
    • Coriolanus feels that he's in danger while he's a Peacekeeper, which makes him willing to readily shoot at protesters. This parallels with the police brutality in the USA and the Black Lives Matters protests.
    • The date of the Reaping is July 4th, which in real life is the United States' Independence Day, which celebrates the country becoming independent from England at a time when Americans found the British rule, which did not allow Americans to have a voice in government, oppressive. Having the society of Panem use it as a day of oppression of the districts by the Capitol, which does not allow most of its citizens to have a voice in government, seems very deliberate, especially given the presence of apple pie (a food traditionally eaten on Independence Day in the United States).
  • Too Dumb to Live: Arachne Crane. Her tribute is a desperate, mistreated, starving girl, and she still decides to withhold food for her and taunt her, without considering that this might have bad consequences.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Sejanus. He wanted to be a medic, and believes in the inherent good in people … and gets executed anyway.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Coriolanus Snow. While he's not exactly nice at the beginning, he's also not completely awful. By the end of the book he's an irredeemable monster.
  • Unequal Pairing: Coriolanus Snow is always in a position of power over Lucy Gray Baird during their relationship. He starts off as her mentor in the Hunger Games, and later on becomes a Peacekeeper in her District.
  • Unbalanced by Rival's Kid: This is why Casca Highbottom hates Coriolanus; him and Coriolanus' father were best friends in school, but then had a falling out, and after Coriolanus' father died, Highbottom transferred his hatred onto his son.
  • Unperson: The entire 10th Hunger Games, due to them being a huge mess from start to finish: A mentor was killed by her tribute before the Games started, and several further tributes and mentors alike were killed in a bombing raid when they were sent to scope out the arena. Then once the games began, another mentor tried to kill himself by entering the Arena and letting the tributes kill him; when he was extracted, his saviour had to kill a tribute to escape; the victor only won because her mentor cheated outrageously; and the victor eventually goes AWOL after being falsely accused of murder.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The story is, after all, told from Coriolanus' point of view, who is not exactly the most honest of people.
  • Unusual Pets for Unusual People: Lucy Gray comes from an unusual background, has an unusual occupation, and appears to keep snakes as pets, describing the one she puts down Mayfair's dress as a "particular friend of hers."
  • Villainous Breakdown: Snow has one towards the end of the novel; he completely loses his temper when Lucy Gray abandons him and starts shooting randomly in the foliage, trying to kill her.
  • Villain Protagonist: Coriolanus, the man who would be President of Panem, is very ambitious and determined to seek that goal and that kind of power even this early in his life; and if it means supporting the Games and the Capitol's authoritarian rule, or snitching on rebel sympathisers like his own best friend Sejanus, is what it takes … he'll take it.
  • The War Just Before: The novel takes place a few years after the Dark Days ended. The Capitol is recovering from the hardships suffered during the Dark Days, but many people, including the protagonist, are still struggling.
  • The X of Y: The title of the book follows this formula; it is called The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
  • You Remind Me of X: Casca Highbottom emphasises how much Coriolanus Snow reminds him of Coriolanus' father, Crassus Snow. Highbottom does not view this as a good thing.