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Thursday, December 18, 2014 03:39 PM
Book Report - The Underland Chronicles
 by Fëanor

Most folks know Suzanne Collins from the Hunger Games books, but she also wrote a series of YA fantasy novels called The Underland Chronicles. I finished "reading" it (I actually listened to the audio books) quite a while ago, but I never got around to writing about it until now.

The main character of the books is a poor kid named Gregor whose father has mysteriously disappeared. One day, he and his baby sister tumble down a hole into a strange land under the Earth inhabited not only by a race of pale humans who haven't seen the sun in generations, but also by multiple species of gigantic, intelligent animals - rats, spiders, cockroaches, bats, ants. At first Gregor is focused on getting himself and his sister home as quickly as possible, but he quickly discovers that will not be as easy as he hopes. The Underland, it turns out, is a dangerous place with some pretty complex politics. The various creatures that live there are extremely dangerous and live in an almost constant state of war with each other. Plus, the founder of the human community in the Underland was a visionary who wrote a whole room full of prophecies, and Gregor seems to fit the characteristics of a person called The Warrior who looms large in said prophecies. And finally - and most tantalizing of all for Gregor - this place might just be where his father disappeared to.

A nobody from nowhere stumbling into a magic land and finding out he's a famous warrior out of prophecy might sound pretty darn familiar. But Collins doesn't stick to the well-trodden paths. The humans present themselves as the good guys and the rats as the bad guys, but Gregor quickly realizes things are more complicated than that, and spends most of the series wrestling with those complexities. When he's offered the sword of legend, he refuses it. When he's sent off to vanquish the most evil rat of all, he finds he cannot do it. He falls in love with the beautiful princess, but realizes he can't stay with her. And those prophecies that seem to guide everyone's lives in the Underland may just be a bunch of nonsense.

The Underland Chronicles gets into some pretty deep territory - loss, fear of death, the horrors of war. It even includes an allegory of the Holocaust. But at the heart of it all is the realization that all living things are worthy of respect; that there's almost always a solution that does not involve violence if we work hard enough to find it; and that it's possible that maybe, some day, our children or our children's children will live in a world without war.

On one level, The Underland Chronicles are a fun and engaging fantasy adventure, but on a deeper level, they are a tough, unflinching examination of the worst and the best of humanity; a reminder that life is hard, that nothing is black and white, but there are things worth hanging around for. It's quite lovely.
Tagged (?): Book Report (Not), Books (Not), Suzanne Collins (Not), Underland Chronicles (Not)
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