© Suzanne Collins, illustration by August Hall.
This is the second book in the Underland series by popular writer Suzanne Collins. The first one seemed to me the work of a new writer. She wanted to create a fantasy world and chose to place it deep underground beneath New York City, and populate it with animals and insects one might find in the cellars and sewers of the city: rats, cockroaches, bats, spiders, fish and so on, but all grown to immense size. There are people there as well, descended from humans who once lived on the surface but retreated to this underground landscape of caves and oceans and rivers and rocks (but little plant life). It’s the perfect fantasy setting for a novice writer: anything can be in her underground world that she wants, but there are enough familiar elements for readers to easily relate to.
The main protagonists are a New York boy, Gregor, and his baby sister Boots. Their long lost father fell into the underground world in the first book. Gregor’s quest and mission there was to find his father and bring him home, and that was accomplished, but now that they’re all back on the surface, life is still difficult. Dad is chronically ill from his ordeals below, and perhaps mentally unstable. Mom works hard to keep the family going, but their resources are stretched thin.
So, when Boots is suddenly stolen back to the Underworld, Gregor knows he has to go back. Fortunately he made some friends and allies the first time, especially with a giant bat, Ares, which Gregor rides, the two of them bonded into a battle team. Then there’s the royal family of the city of Regalia, friends from before, and others Gregor knows well. When he gets to the Underworld city, he finds Boots already there, and soon a new mission is laid out for him, one that he can’t refuse. It’s all written in prophecy, just like the last mission. Only problem is, the prophecy is cryptic and unclear. Despite that, Gregor and a team set out into the land of the Rats to find a special white rat that may be the key to continued survival for the people in the underground world.
I found Collins’ writing to be even better in this second book. The characters are strong and believable, but flawed as well, and Gregor has to do lots of negotiating to get everyone in the disparate quest group to do the right things. Gregor’s own abilities are changing, and he doesn’t understand that, either. The quest is exciting and at times deadly. The stakes are high, and the book has few dull moments. A good read with a good resolution, but one with some dangling questions that clearly will lead to more books. In fact, there are three more out already. I’ll be reading them one day.