Thursday, October 22, 2015

Book Review | The Underland Chronicles (Book 3)

Since Liz and I started a blog devoted to book reviews after I started reviewing this series, I'm going to post this over there, too. Check the page out! 

This is a review of the third book of the series. You can read the review for the first book here and the second one here

In the third book, Gregor is called to the Underland once again, this time to help find a cure for a plague that is spreading and killing the world's mammals. Our familiar main characters set out on this journey - the cure is said to exist, but only in the cradle where it was created - and we're introduced to new characters as well. There's death and destruction. But this book might be my favorite in the series, because it does a great job asking moral questions and it emerges as a sort of allegory of American military policy. (Granted, I'm not sure if Collins meant to mirror America, but I'd be surprised to learn she didn't.)

Basic review: It's a riveting tale, it's well written, and Collins, as always, plays with excellent themes and moral questions. I'd recommend it to a friend. I have recommended it to a friend. That friend is Liz and she still hasn't read Harry Potter but I'm convinced there is still hope for her.  

*Major spoilers ahead.*

Alright, so. Bats, humans, and rats are catching the plague. Beyond the obvious problem - sick people - it threatens to literally eradicate all mammals in the Underland. Of course, there's a prophecy that warns of the plague but suggests there is a chance of hope. Gregor, the prophesied warrior, must travel with several companions to the place where the plague was made.

I haven't gone into much detail about the characters, but let me attempt to give a rough idea real quick of the characters that are important in this review:

Gregor (often referred to as "Overlander"): a boy from NYC, falls into the Underland after his baby sister, Boots (they miraculously both survive, and it's determined that he is the warrior mentioned in several prophecies), Christ-figure, struggles with questions of when/if to fight

Luxa: the future queen of Regalia (the main human city in the Underland), her parents were killed by rats, her cousin died after he betrayed her and all of Regalia by secretly working with rats, granddaughter of Vikus and Solovet (who are powerful members of the council), extremely stubborn, highly trained fighter

Ripred: an old-ish and extremely tough rat, never loses fights, scruffy, harsh, sarcastic, has some followers, is attempting to lead the rats to a new way, wants humans and rats to achieve peace

Hamnet: son of Solovet and Vikus, unknown by younger characters until third book, left Regalia because his mother wanted him to fight and to commit violent atrocities against other creatures

Vikus: an old and wise council member of Regalia, very powerful, grandfather to Luxa, husband to Solovet, wants peace among all Underland creatures if possible, believes violence and war should be last resort, doesn't generally adhere to an "end justifies the means" philosophy, caring

Solovet: harsh, believes the end justifies the means, severe, mother to Hamnet, grandmother to Luxa, not very loving, values humans above other Underland creatures

Phew. There are other important characters in the book, but these are the ones that are important to major plot points.

Also essential to know: all of the Underland creatures are intelligent and sentient. In our real world, of course we value humans above rats. In the Underland, rats are 5+ feet tall, they think, they feel, they are capable of love and of all things humans are capable of (except things that require thumbs. Rats don't have thumbs..). This is also true of bats, cockroaches, spiders, mice, etc. They are human-like in their abilities and their capacities to think and feel.

So like I said, Gregor and some of the characters set out to find the cure, which comes in the form of a plant that only grows in one place. They find it and begin collecting it when a bunch of ants come and destroy every last bit of it. But it's okay, because............

The plague was actually created in Regalia.

Solovet The Vicious assigned a scientist to create a "plague" that she planned to use as biological warfare against the other creatures of the Underland. The plan went awry, obviously, but they still tried to keep it a secret. They already had the cure, they just couldn't tell anyone about it, because then everyone would know that humans were responsible for all of the destruction.

Of course, this caused huge problems. Distrust of humans became stronger, and even humans themselves were embarrassed. Naturally, the scientist was punished, but Solovet, if I remember correctly, just had to stay in her nice home. (Such is always the case, even in the real world. The rich and powerful face no consequences.) She was put on trial, but nothing happened.

This was the first really meaty book in the series. They're all short - nothing on LOTR or HP, but this dealt with complicated issues that we see in the real world. Things like:

preemptive tactics
biological warfare
rules of war
and more

This book called to mind some of the things we learned about in history class as kids. It also made me think of some things our own country still does. Insisting an entire race or region is guilty of something or lesser than you? Attacking innocent people so that they can never even think of becoming threats? Familiar themes, sadly.

It's these things that lead me to believe my friends would enjoy the series. Also, it's what makes me think it's a great series for kids. When I have kids, I want them to think about these things. I want them to question what they've been told about military might and exceptionalism. It's one thing to be proud of who you are, it's another to think everyone else is lesser than you and unworthy of life. This book, and this series, talks about those things in an age-appropriate way for kids. And for adults, it's an engrossing but easy-to-read book to fly through. Win-win.

Stay tuned for the next review in this series!

No comments:

Post a Comment