Saturday, September 26, 2015

Book Review: The Underland Chronicles (Book 1)

There are five books in this series - I wrote up an entire review of all of it, but this is a blog, not a massive Wikipedia page, so methinks it best to break the reviews up into books.

Book 1: Gregor the Overlander 
Book 2: Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane
Book 3: Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods
Book 4: Gregor and the Marks of Secret
Book 5: Gregor and the Code of Claw

First, a quick intro to the whole series:

Alright, so.  These are children’s/YA books, making them very easy reads for most adults.  It only took me a few hours to finish each of them.  I imagine they wouldn’t be hard for kids who are proficient readers, either.  The reason I only gave the books 4/5 stars is just the writing itself.  It’s good, but it’s simple.  I know some people love this!  My own preference, though, is that it’s a little challenging.  Of course, it’s a children’s book, so I’m not holding this to my own standards of difficulty – but it would have been easy-peasy for my 11 year old sister.  My go-to comparison series is Harry Potter (of course!), and I think even Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets would challenge my little sister a bit more than these did. 

That said, the books were amazing.  The stories are the exact kind of stories I want my siblings to read and that I’d want my own kids to read one day.  They’re about war, morality, oppression, and justice.  (I guess I should also include that while my own favorite part of the books were the themes, I imagine any kids reading this book would love the respect the author gives to children and their feelings/emotions/challenges/abilities.  I expect it’d make them feel a bit empowered.)

The author is Suzanne Collins of Hunger Games fame.  It’s the reason I bought the first book (Gregor the Overlander) to begin with.  I loved the themes Collins explored in the HG trilogy and I wanted more.  The books did not disappoint.

Gregor the Overlander:
(There are no major spoilers in this review.)

Like I said, I picked this book up because I saw “Suzanne Collins.”  I didn’t flip to a random page and read, I just… bought it.  So when I went home and started reading about a world with giant cockroaches, rats, and bats, I may or may not have rolled my eyes and thought I had wasted $7.  I felt certain it was going to be really stupid. 

Well butter my buns and call me a biscuit; I was pleasantly surprised.  I couldn’t put the book down.  While the themes weren’t quite as developed in this book as they were in the following books (fair enough – it really is an introduction), it’s an action-packed adventure.  We get a good idea of some of the characters, and it does a great job of laying the foundation for the rest of the series while still telling an exciting story itself, which is an admirable feat for any first book in a series. 

The climax of the story establishes Gregor, the boy from NYC who falls into the Underland, as a Christ-like figure, something all the best fantasy stories have (Aragorn, Frodo, and Gandalf in LOTR, Harry in HP, etc.).  It was my favorite part of the book and it was an important beginning to the development of Gregor’s character throughout the stories.  My favorite kind of character in fantasy is the one who struggles and is tempted by evil, but who is virtuous.  A lot of the other characters are wonderful, too.

Alternative title: white men with blue eyes. more diversity, please, authors/movie makers*
The next few reviews will be more detailed since the stories are more complex and we learn more about the characters, but I'll say that the first book has stories of sacrifice, tolerance, peace above war, and justice.  

Overall, it was great.  Collins managed to write an exciting and interesting novel while setting the stage for a great series.  Of the five books, it probably was my least favorite, but only because I thoroughly enjoyed the moral questions posed in the next four books, and we don’t get as much of that in the first book.  I’d recommend it to anyone, but especially to my adult friends who question war, oppose ideas of ethnocentrism, and love fantasy.  (In fact, I’ve already badgered a couple of my friends and repeatedly insisted that they must read it, now.)  As for kids – I think most kids will like this, but especially kids who are into riddles, adventure, and folktales.  I’m planning on getting a copy of this for my siblings for Christmas. 

Go read this book!

*As far as I remember, Collins didn't give a ton of physical description for Gregor or his family.  Here's hoping that maybe, if they ever make a movie, they cast poc.  It's important

pssst: Check out my Goodreads profile here.  (It's still a slacker prof, I'm working on it.)

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