(This is a long post. Sorry.)
These books gave me a new-found respect of the awesomeness of Suzanne Collins. Sure, she likes to repeat certain characters (Solovet=Coin, Ripred=Haymitch, etc) and many find her books overly depressing, but you have to admire how she isn’t afraid to sugarcoat anything. She’s not afraid to show the true horrors of war or kill off a major character in a terrible, disturbing way. She has balls. Okay, she technically has ovaries, but you get the point.
Since I’m writing this review more for people who have already read The Underland Chronicles so we could discuss it than for people who haven’t read it, I’m not going to write a summary of the series. Also, it should go without saying that there will be a ton of spoilers. So if you haven’t read the books yet, STAY AWAY.
The first book, Gregor the Overlander, is an enjoyable light read. It’s darker than the first Harry Potter book, but not by much. That being said, this book was the worst of the series for me. My main problem was that Collins’ kept showing you the thoughts of Gregor, which seemed way too calm for the situation happening. This particularly bugged me in the second chapter where Gregor is falling down the metal grate which led into the Underland. Any half-way normal person in the world would be thinking something along the lines of “%!@$ ^%$&^ !@%” but Gregor was thinking perfectly calm, rational thoughts. It bugged me. (Pardon the pun.)
I also thought the twist with Henry being in league with the rats made no sense. How on earth did he form an alliance with the rats without anyone noticing? He’s the future queen’s cousin/best friend, for christ’s sake! Someone would notice if he was having any type of unauthorized contact with the rats. It’s completely unrealistic, especially when you consider the fact that Henry had no legitimate reason to want to join the rats in the first place other than the fact that he’s actually a one-dimensional crazy person. The only thing I liked about this twist was how it effected Luxa’s personality and ultimately shaped her to become a better and stronger person.
Speaking of Luxa, her character development in this series was one of the best I’ve ever seen in any young adult fiction. Compare Luxa in book 1, who made fun of the crawlers with Henry and didn’t even know how to make her own food, to Luxa in the final book. She changed. A lot.
Oh, and Tick died. And she died the most heroic death a cockroach could ask for. Most of my respect for Collins comes with her ability to make cockroach, a disgusting creature that I would kill without a second thought, become one of the most lovable characters in the book. Next to Ripred, which I’ll get back to.
The second book of the series was just as good as the first. For me, the series didn’t become great until the third book, where the plot started darker and deadlier than the average children’s book. In this book, the writing improved (they usually do as plot and characters themselves mature), There weren’t any stupid twists, but it was a wee bit anti-climactic with Bane, who, even if you disregard the fact that he has the same name as the villain from the The Dark Knight Rises, was made out to be huge monster. For all that suspense leading up to a final battle, it was disappointing to have him end up being a harmless little pup. Just like the twist with Henry though, this had a whole bunch of repercussions in the later books.
The third book would have been favorite if not for the fact that the whole mission to the jungle was completely pointless. Had the Underlanders United (That’s what I’m calling Gregor’s gang) not gone to the jungle, the cure still would have been found. Gregor’s mother was never in any real danger at all, as it turns out. I was disappointed. I wanted Gregor’s mother to die, not because I hated her character, but because I wanted to see the toll it would take on Gregor. I wanted him to go all Katniss style and kill Solovet with a bow and arrow. But of course that wouldn’t be good storytelling, and besides, Gregor would end up getting enough emotional baggage later on.
This book is the book we get to meet Hamnet and his son Hazard, who are the coolest of the cool. Hamnet reminded me of Finnick for some reason, but I’m not sure why. and Hazard’s the coolest little fictional kid since Danny Torrence.
And was I the only one who felt bad for the doctor lady who accidentally infected Ares and caused the whole outbreak? She was really just doing her job; the job that Solovet ordered her to do! Solovet should be the one being thrown off a cliff (I think that’s how they executed people), not the jumpy Doctor lady! It’s okay though, because Solovet ends up getting ambushed by rats and probably dies a horrible, painful death.
The fourth book I loved because it ended on a huge cliffhanger, and it took a whole bunch of events from real history and incorporated it into her books. It was really dark for a book with the age range of 9 and up, but I’m okay with that.
And Bane’s back, and better than ever. This time, instead of being a tiny little innocent pup, he’s a twisted psychopath whose hobbies include losing his tail, hogging all the food, and causing mass genocide.
Luxa and her Scooby Doo gang go on a deadly mission to find out what happened to the mice, and as it turns out,
Hitler Bane is having them all rounded up and suffocated to death by a volcano that leaks poisonous gas. Jinkies!
A few key events happen in this book.
Luxa sort of just declares war on the rats, because she can.
Gregor and Luxa finally start to develop feelings for each other. It’s painfully awkward, but it’s one of the most realistic love interest subplot I’ve read. And the fact that you know they probably can’t be together in the end just makes it better.
Once again, they take Boots, a toddler, and Hazard, a seven year old and his even younger bat Thalia, on a deadly mission that could easily have them all killed. Very irresponsible! But I’m okay with it because without Boots this book would be way too depressing.
The final book is the best because unlike the others, it starts off in the Underland, so we don’t have to deal with three or four chapters of exposition before the real story begins.
What I love about this book is how intense everything gets. There’s parts in this book that would fit in a horror movie. Because I can, I made a list of the most haunting moments.
When Gregor, Boots, and a couple other members of Underlanders United are hiding in a cupboard while rats invade the whole city. They even invade the hospital wing and kill a bunch of the doctors and patients, which is just cruel.
The moment where they realize that Solovet is going to get ambushed and there’s nothing anyone can do about it because it would reveal that they’ve broken the code. This type of plot line was also used in Sherlock, and there’s so many conspiracies that this happened in real life, such as the Coventry Myth and the attack on Pearl Harbor. This was by far the cleverest move Collins pulled off in this book.
Gregor calls Luxa out and gets her locked in the cellar for a while against her will, and her being super pissed off at him. Oh, Luxa, why are you so intent on getting yourself killed?
Where Bane, in a strange hysterical rage, bites off Twirltoungues head. I clapped at this part. Is that bad?
After Bane is killed, Ares’ claw is still sticking to Gregor’s hand due to the dried blood. That’s a disturbing image right there.
That being said, I was surprised by the lack of good characters killed. There was Solovet, who wasn’t much of a good person to begin with, and Ares.
As if the whole anti-war message wasn’t present enough, Collins kills off Ares, who is literally named after the Greek god of war. Some of the anti-war messages, particularly the mental conflict Gregor was having after the diggers attacked the city, seemed forced, and the book could have done well without it.
This time, instead of Boots, the relationship between Ripred and Lizzie was the heart of the novel. Although I love Ripred as a sarcastic mentor who yells a lot, it’s even better to see him be extremely nice to Lizzie. Apparently he used to have pups, one of which reminded him of Lizzie, and they died in a flood caused by Hamnet, which is why he went half-insane and fled Regalia. Everything’s connected. Sorta.
I’m not sure how I feel about Gregor’s change from someone who only fights if absolutely necessary, to someone who actually enjoys battle. I know, he didn’t want to enjoy battle, but he did. It helps that he’s a complete badass who is better than just about every other fictional kid his age. While Harry Potter had only learned like two useful spells by the time he turned twelve, Gregor had killed hundreds of gigantic animals and almost died a bunch of times, and still lived to tell the tale.
The ending was sad and wasn’t that satisfying, but it was the most realistic route Suzanne Collins could have taken. And personally I hate when readers make the endings way too long trying to tie up every little plot detail. Plus, compared to the warnings I got saying the last book would be a total bloodbath (which it totally was), the book was a lot happier than I thought it would be. Unlike in Mockingjay, each death had a purpose and helped serve the plot. And I like how his family gets to live happily ever after, either in the Overland (I think they’ll end up moving to Virginia, since no mother in the world would be okay with leaving her entire life behind to live with giant animals in an underground city), or the Underland, which will hopefully be war-free for at least a couple years.
In the end, I think these books were great, just as good as the Hunger Games trilogy. It had some flaws, but mostly it was a perfectly paced light read that should be a lot more popular than it is right now.
Overall rating: 9/10