Recently finished the Underland Chronicles, by Suzanne Collins (yes, the same Suzanne Collins of Hunger Games fame).
When 11-year-old Gregor follows his little sister through a grate in the laundry room of his New York City apartment building, he hurtles into a dark Underland beneath the city. There, humans live uneasily beside giant spiders, bats, cockroaches, and rats, but the fragile peace is about to fall apart.
4.5 out of 5 stars.
I was not actually a huge fan of the Hunger Games books, so if I hadn’t been handed this entire box set by a friend (which is, by the way, a great way to ensure I actually read a book) I probably wouldn’t have picked it up or finished it.
I’m SO glad I did.
The first book is the weakest of them, and that’s only because it feels the most like a YA/MG series, with some predictable stuff and a reasonably simple plot. By the end of the series, the plot is so complex and the stakes so high that I honestly consider the last two books to be a SINGLE book. They read wonderfully together, and the fourth book doesn’t have a tidy wrap-up at the end the way the first three do.
They’re quick to read, full of adventure and excitement, and I really, REALLY enjoyed them.
The very very ending was not … 100% up to my personal standards, so I mentally tacked a fanfic chapter to the end in order to satisfy myself. The author left it very open for the reader to do this. I’m not going to explain that for fear of spoilers, which I’m going to ask folks to keep out of the comments as well.
Writing quality is very high, with pretty great pacing and story structure throughout (excepting the last two books, which I consider 100% forgivable Sometimes you need more space to really let a story unfold).
I love love love these characters. Gregor is of course very likeable, but everyone (including the big villain at the end) are understandable and relateable.
Collins is not shy about killing off characters, but almost never did I feel like it was done just to jerk our chains. It was done to make the story feel like it mattered and that there were consequences for decisions. I cried during every book, for various reasons, but often because someone I cared about died or was in danger.
It was a good cry, though. Cathartic.
There were some shaky bits of worldbuilding, but overall I’d say it holds up better than I expected it to. The various giant animals in the Underland all have unique names for themselves, but they call THEMSELVES those names, which makes it better for me than if the humans arbitrarily renamed them. Gnawers, Crawlers, Nibblers, etc. I LOVED the scene where the human’s alternate name is revealed.
I wanted to SEE this world, even with all its dangers. That’s my real yardstick. Collins made me care.
The biggest issue I really had through the first three books was actually turned into a plot point for the last two, which is fantastic.
Prophecies. The kind that people follow and believe in and always turn out to be true, even if the full understanding isn’t reached until after the events have passed.
Sometimes, that alone is enough to kill a book. If you’re “the chosen one” who will “lift the land from darkness” or something, then it becomes difficult to really get a sense of urgency for your plot.
This series, as a whole, dealt with that matter VERY neatly, in my opinion.
Children-at-heart of all ages. There’s some pretty heavy stuff towards the end of the series, so parents of very young children might want to pre-read before offering them.
Fans of fantasy worlds (even if there is almost no “magic” involved), people who love stories with animal characters, and those who like high adventure, adrenaline, and danger in their stories.