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The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes: Suzanne Collins pulls off a clever trick with Hunger Games prequel

Fiction: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Suzanne Collins

Scholastic, 624 pages, hardback €18.99; e-book £8.99

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Anger games: Suzanne Collins' decision to focus the prequel on Snow met with criticism from some fans

Anger games: Suzanne Collins' decision to focus the prequel on Snow met with criticism from some fans

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

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Anger games: Suzanne Collins' decision to focus the prequel on Snow met with criticism from some fans

In the Academy, the top school for the Capitol's elite, 24 bright young things compete for a scholarship to the University. The ambitious Coriolanus Snow can't afford to lose this one. His family, one of the oldest in the Capitol, has fallen on hard times since the death of his parents, and with property taxes rising, this is his only chance for an expensive university education.

All he has to do is excel at Dr Gaul's internship, which involves mentoring a participant in this year's Hunger Games - the gladiatorial-esque contest in which two children from each of the 12 districts of Panem fight to the death until there is one victor.

Young Coriolanus is, of course, a familiar character. He grows up to become President Snow, the psychotic, megalomaniac villain of the original Hunger Games series. Here, he's presented as a conscientious, talented student (or maybe just a goody two-shoes) determined to win the university prize at all costs. His task is made more difficult when he is assigned to mentor Lucy Gray Baird, the female tribute from District 12: in other words, a certain loser. With her bright personality and musical talent, however, Lucy Gray strikes a chord with viewers, and Coriolanus begins to see her potential to win - but he is also starting to fall for her.