© Suzanne Collins.
This is the first book of a series, “The Underland Chronicles,” and also the first novel for children by the author, who previously wrote for children’s television. Not surprisingly, it’s written with skill, though occasionally having the somewhat tentative feel of a first book. Collins says she was inspired by “Alice in Wonderland,” having her protagonists, a teenage boy and his baby sister, fall through a hole in their New York City tenement laundry room that leads down to a fantasy/horror underground kingdom. I thought a stronger influence was probably C.S. Lewis’ “The Silver Chair.”
Gregor and his sister Boots are well-developed and appealing kids who miss their father. He disappeared mysteriously months earlier. They tumble down to The Underland and soon find themselves in the middle of an embattled underground kingdom of humans who came there from our world long ago, and could not get back. The Underlanders have a centuries-old history of fighting for their own survival, with giant bats for allies, which some of them ride, and giant rats for enemies. Giant cockroaches and spiders are also involved in ever-shfting alliances. The arrival of the two overlanders triggers a new war with the rats because of an ancient prophecy it seems to fulfill, and the children agree to go on a quest to rescue another recent arrival–their own father!–from the rats. The quest is perilous, and exciting, and we learn much about the Underlanders and their allies and enemies along the way.
Well done, I’ll probably be looking for the rest of this series. Recommended.