Sunday, July 24, 2016

Book Review | The Underland Chronicles (Book 4)

Whoa. It has been nine months since I posted the review of the third book in this series. Nine months! I could have gestated a child in the time it took me to get my act together enough to post this review. A HUMAN CHILD. That's how long I've procrastinated. 

And unlike a child, which would have grown stronger and more defined over time, the nine month break means my memory of the book is fainter, the impression it left lighter. Which makes for a lackluster review. Lackluster, my middle name.

Despite all that, my overwhelming feeling toward this book is that it was fantastic. I don't remember as many details as I did two minutes after reading it, obviously (and my computer did me a solid and deleted my general review of the whole series). But I remember the plot well enough (and was smart enough to dog-ear pages with quotes that struck me) and I definitely remember the themes Suzanne Collins explores and I know that I finished this book feeling like I absolutely needed to get my hands on the fifth book. I appreciated Collins even more than I already did after reading this book. I still am awed by her ability to talk about war and politics in ways that are appropriate for kids (and still interesting for adults). Somewhere between reading the third book in this series and the fourth book, it occurred to me that I might like The Underland Chronicles more than I like The Hunger Games.

The fourth book, Gregor and the Marks of Secret, is a bit different from its predecessors in that we don't have a direct prophecy or end point this time. The plot is a bit more mysterious and open ended. Basically, Luxa (I gave some character descriptions here), the future queen, is sent a message of distress and she and Gregor go searching for an answer. They find out that the mice of the Underland are once again being driven out of their homes by a more powerful species. (Sound familiar? Collins' stories are political ones.) But when she and Gregor explore, they realize that (spoiler alert - though this isn't a huge reveal and won't ruin the series for anyone, probably...) this time, the mice aren't just being driven out of their homes; they're being murdered. It's a genocide orchestrated by the Bane and the rats. We see some more character development in this one, especially with Luxa as she begins to truly come into her role. Ultimately, she declares war on the rats.

Needless to say, this book is dark. It's the darkest in the series, in my opinion. If I had kids, I'd want to read it with/to them. I wouldn't want them to read it alone. That said, I still think it's an age-appropriate exploration of war and politics and hatred and fear.

And if you happen to be reading it now, be prepared for some scary real-life parallels:

"He will find followers, because he’s the Bane. He’s got the white coat, and the size, and enough hatred brewing inside him to wipe out the Underland as we know it. Most rats will overlook the fact that he’s unbalanced, because he’ll be telling them exactly what they want to hear. They’ve been starved too long, and then so many died from the plague... especially the pups. No, the gnawers won’t care who he is or what he does if he brings them revenge."

Familiar, right?

While it's a not as conclusive as the previous books, it's still pretty excellent. It's sad, of course. But we get to watch as our characters consider whether there are things worth going to war over, if there are things that justify killing. (And as the series goes on, I tend to think that most of the "good" characters make the right decisions, which is why I think this series is so good for kids. Like it or not, we're currently living in a war-obsessed country and I think it's great for kids to question such values. This book will prompt those questions.) It's also nice to see the characters face trials bravely. Obviously courage and bravery and sacrifice are good things in books and in real life.

Neville knows. He would like The Underland Chronicles.
So basically, loved this book. I didn't love it as much as the third book, but it's an important step in the series and sets us up for the fifth and final book. It doesn't work as a stand alone novel, though, so you'll have to start from the beginning. A very good place to start.

You won't regret it. Go pick up this book/series, pronto.

Since Liz and I now have a book review blog (Filthy Casket Book Reviews!), this can be found over there, too. 

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