I just finished reading the Underland Chronicles series by Suzanne Collins – in two and a half days – and, needless to say, I’m feeling a little drained right now. The series is SO good and SO huge in scope (especially by the last book) and SO heartbreaking in places that it’s hard not to get swept up in all the emotions, the characters, and the endlessly fascinating stories. As in ‘so swept away by the story that you resurface hours later to find that, yes, life is still going on’. Honestly, I don’t know why the series isn’t better known. I mean, it’s written by Suzanne Collins, for goodness’ sake. And the books are jam-packed with edge-of-your-seat action, amazing characters, stunning settings…everything everyone loves about The Hunger Games and so much more. EVERYONE NEEDS TO READ THIS SERIES.
There are tons and tons of things I want to say about each book, so I figured the easiest way to go about that was to do a mini-review of each one (though I’m not sure how ‘mini’ they’ll turn out to be). And I know I’ve reviewed Curse of the Warmbloods before, but I’m sure I can find more to say about it. Expect lots of gushing and possibly some spoilers. And lots of all-caps because I love this series so much. (Though I’m kind of glad that it’s not more popular because it’s like my family has this tiny fandom – the discussions and debates we get into are endless.) Anyway, here are the reviews!
// Book 1: Gregor the Overlander //
When Gregor falls through a grate in the laundry room of his apartment building, he hurtles into the dark Underland, where spiders, rats, cockroaches coexist uneasily with humans. This world is on the brink of war, and Gregor’s arrival is no accident. A prophecy foretells that Gregor has a role to play in the Underland’s uncertain future. Gregor wants no part of it — until he realizes it’s the only way to solve the mystery of his father’s disappearance. Reluctantly, Gregor embarks on a dangerous adventure that will change both him and the Underland forever.
The one that started it all, which makes the first book special. But it’s probably my least favorite in the series simply because everyone’s getting to know each other and Gregor isn’t really on top of things and it’s quite disconcerting at times. I prefer books (books in a series, that is) where everyone’s comfortable with everyone else. However. There are still several good things about this one. For one, it is the first book and you can’t have all the sequels without the first one. Suzanne Collins already had everyone’s characters pretty well fixed, so there isn’t much first installment weirdness (always a draw-back). You see hints of Ripred’s sadder, more serious side in the first book, which is great. Though the first book is hardly as emotional as some of the later ones, it still marked the first time that I cried over a bug’s death. HOW, SUZANNE COLLINS? There’s lots of good set-up for the other books, though I think the overall story is a little weaker than the others.
There’s also lots of great world-building – I can’t decide if I like the world-building better in this series or The Hunger Games. I also like how Gregor’s seeing all the characters for the first time, as is the reader; thinking about how they change and grow throughout the series – especially Luxa – is both interesting and heartbreaking. Henry’s betrayal still kind of catches me by surprise, although I wish he had been more likeable so that we, the readers, could identify with Luxa’s anguish in this book and the next four. Ares saving Gregor is one of my favorite moments in the series. Overall, the characters are GREAT in this one. And the other books, of course.
// Book 2: Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane //
Gregor swears he will never return to the Underland, that strange world below New York City. But he is a key player in another prophecy, this one about an ominous white rat called the Bane. The Underlanders know there is only one way to lure Gregor back to their world: by kidnapping his little sister, Boots. Now Gregor’s quest reunites him with his bat, Ares, and the rebellious princess Luxa. They descend into the dangerous Waterway in search of the Bane. If Gregor does not fulfill the prophecy, his life, and the Underland, will never be the same.
Prophecy of Bane used to be my second least-favorite book in the series, but after reading it again, I’ve developed a new appreciation for it. (I now don’t have a second least-favorite – I love all the books, even the first one.) The plot is one of the most interesting, I think, and we start to forge deeper emotional waters with Pandora’s death (and, more heartbreakingly, Howard’s reaction). Also, can we talk about Howard? He’s the BEST. I never noticed him much in my other read-throughs of the series, but I paid more attention to him this time and he’s Rather Awesome. Mareth is cool, too, and Gregor is pretty amazing in this one (as usual), especially when he rescues Twitchtip. Loved that part. And even though I don’t like everyone’s focus on the prophecies, kudos to Suzanne Collins for making them all up in the first place AND making them all have double meanings.
Anyway. Howard deserves ALL the hugs in this one, just like almost all the other characters in this series do, at one point or another. (Haven’t talked about Ares much yet, but…yeah. He’s pretty great. Ditto for all the other bats.) By the way, I think it’s awesome that Gregor doesn’t kill the Bane. Although he comes to regret it in later, he’s incredibly courageous with taking the Bane to Ripred and then admitting what he did (or, rather, what he didn’t do) to the Council AND defending Henry. Go Gregor! In my ranking of favorite to not-so-favorite, I’d probably put this one at number two, after Curse of the Warmbloods.
// Book 3: Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods //
With two prophecies fulfilled, Gregor is now focused on the Prophecy of Blood, which calls for Gregor and Boots to return to the Underland to help ward off a plague. But this time, his mother refuses to let him go . . . unless she is allowed to travel with them. When they arrive in the subterranean city, the plague is spreading — and it claims one of Gregor’s closest companions. Only then does Gregor start to understand how the illness plays with the fate of all warm-blooded creatures. But how can he help combat it?
My favorite in the series, and a big part of the reason for that is Hamnet, I’m sure. HE’S SUCH A TRAGIC CHARACTER. I can’t. Also, Suzanne Collins must have had a thing for couples who are torn apart and then reunited but things Are Not The Same, as evidenced by Peeta’s hijacking in Mockingjay and Luxa’s reappearance in the jungle. It makes the relationships deeper, I think, but still very, very sad. BUT HAMNET. (Speaking of sad.) His whole, tragic history is laid bare in this book and the subsequent ones (Solovet locked him up in a pitch-black dungeon for a month – HOW CAN A MOM DO THAT TO HER OWN SON) and it’s gut-wrenching. And of course he ends up dying. Like all my other favorite characters – add Hamnet to the loooooong list of fictional characters that I’m inconsolable about. (I also dig that he seems to have a higher moral code than about ninety-eight percent of the Under/Overlanders.) Moving on…
Mrs Cormaci is wonderful, what with her loading Gregor down with food and money and clothes every chance she gets. I find the jungle setting intriguing, compared to the all the stony tunnels and fields in the other books – it seems like the Underland expands with each book and that’s so neat. I also kinda love Ripred for not tearing Hamnet apart when they first meet up because it shows his strength of character, especially considering everything Hamnet did to Ripred and the rats in general. (However, you don’t really find out about Ripred’s self-control and just how stunning his respect/liking for Hamnet is until Code of Claw.) I guess, in the end, if you asked me who my favorite character in the series was, I’d say “Yes”.
// Book 4: Gregor and the Marks of Secret //
In Book 4 of the bestselling Underland Chronicles, Gregor is drawn ever deeper into a brewing crisis. For generations, rats have run the mice out of whatever lands they’ve claimed, keeping them constantly on the move. But now the mice are disappearing and the young queen Luxa is determined to find out why. Gregor and Boots join Luxa on a simple fact-finding mission. But when the true fate of the mice is revealed, it is something far more sinister than they had imagined — and it points the way to the final prophecy Gregor has yet to fulfill. His abilities are put to the test in this suspenseful, action-packed penultimate installment of Suzanne Collins’s thrilling Underland Chronicles.
Again, I didn’t really like this book until my last re-read. But, goodness, this is the one that makes me ask “Is this series really marketed for ten-year-olds?” Besides all the deep themes and subtle character development, there are quite a few dark, disturbing happenstances in this series. Curse of the Warmbloods was bad enough, with Hamnet’s gruesome death, but it just gets worse, with more characters dying bloody deaths in Marks of Secret and Code of Claw. AND the mouse genocide in this book which always makes me think of the Holocaust. It’s that bad. I spend the second half of this book alternating between sniffles and actual tears, especially when Thalia dies and Howard and Hazard have the conversation about Pandora and Hazard’s crowded heart. I always, ALWAYS lose it there.
The cliffhanger ending makes me so thankful that I didn’t have to wait a year between books. And I’d like to give a shout-out to some of the characters I haven’t mentioned yet: Lapblood, Vikus, Nerissa, Aurora, Frill, Temp, Boots, Nike, and Dulcet. Also, York, Lizzie, and Perdita, though they don’t really come in until the fifth book. They’re all great.
// Book 5: Gregor and the Code of Claw //
Everyone in the Underland has been taking great pains to keep The Prophecy of Time from Gregor. Gregor suspected it says something awful but he never imagined just how awful: It calls for the warrior’s death. Now, with an army of rats approaching and his mom and sister still in Regalia, Gregor the warrior must gather up his courage to help defend Regalia and get his family home safely. The entire existence of the Underland is in Gregor’s hands, and time is running out. There is a code to be cracked, a mysterious new princess, Gregor’s burgeoning dark side, and a war to end all wars.
The last, longest, and most emotionally harrowing book. Between a major character death, a major character death that almost happened, and Gregor under the constant threat of a prophecy that foretells his death, there’s plenty to wrench the emotions in here. Plus Ripred’s backstory. (My siblings and I are still trying to figure out who’s the most tragic character – Ripred, Ares, or Hamnet. I say Hamnet, but everyone else says Ripred. Although one of my brothers voted for Ares.) I find the descriptions of the Regalian war, the battle scenes, and the code-breaking scenes the most fascinating (so, basically the whole book) and whatever people might say, I believe Code of Claw was an excellent ending to the series. Sure, there are some questions I’d like answered, but I can mostly imagine the answers for myself.
And I SO ship Gregor and Luxa.
*sigh* I still don’t feel as though I properly expressed my love for this series and its characters. I adore all the books and all the characters (well, most of the characters) so much. So, so much. Major favorites are Gregor, Luxa, Ripred, Mareth, Howard, Hamnet, Lizzie, Nerissa, Ares, Vikus…and more. I could write an entire blog post about each of them, to be honest. And even with the deaths and the war and all that, I’d say that these books are age-appropriate for ten years and up (though I think that the maturity – or lack thereof – of a potential young reader should be taken into account as well). Suzanne Collins is the master of a good, clean story (zero swearing or other inappropriate content in The Hunger Games, for one) and the fantasy/talking animal aspects of this series don’t irritate me as they do in other books (maybe the fact that there’s no magic has something to do with that).
READ. THESE. BOOKS. If you’re a fan of Suzanne Collins, you owe it to yourself. And even if you’re not, these books literally have something for everyone: themes of family, loyalty, courage, and love. There’s romance and adventure, action and emotion, bravery and betrayal. Plus, I dare you not to like cockroaches and rats and bats by the end of the Underland Chronicles. Just saying.
Have you read this series? If so, what’s your opinion of it?