Suzanne Collins revisits Panem in this very successful prequel set 64 years before The Hunger Games. Coriolanus Snow is a senior at the prestigious Academy, but is only there because of his family’s name – they are dirt poor in reality though do their very best to keep up appearances. The Hunger Games were set up 10 years ago at the conclusion of the Capitol’s victory over the rebellious Districts and they are very different in style, if not in purpose, to the ones that Katniss Everdeen participates in: the Tributes (a boy and girl from each District) are just slung into an arena with some weapons. But for the 10th anniversary, it has been decided to give each Tribute a mentor from the students at the Academy and Coriolanus feels the slight of being awarded the girl from District 12, particularly as the mentors are to be rewarded for the performance of their Tributes. But it turns out that Lucy Gray Baird is special and may well be able to beat the odds.
As well as the basic Hunger Games plot, there is also some clues about how the Games developed into the spectacle that we know from the original trilogy. And, of course, we see the beginning of the evolution of Coriolanus Snow from proud and conflicted teen into what he later becomes.
I enjoyed this book as much as The Hunger Games as it goes back to the personal and individual (while there is a plethora of characters with 24 Tributes and 24 mentors, most are little more than a name), though it does lack the visceral shock I felt when I first read a book in which children kill other children. Of course, Coriolanus is a much more ambivalent character than Katniss, but the author captures his charisma and opportunistic intelligence while keeping him mostly sympathetic.