So I'm still not over how Mockingjay turned out to be one huge disappointment, and that's why I'm holding off on reviewing it. But it's a good thing that Collins actually wrote an earlier series for younger children that I can sink myself into. I have no expectations whatsoever when I bought the first book of The Underland Chronicles, Gregor the Overlander, and read it in just a few hours. And guess what, the series blew me away!
The Underland Chronicles, the 5-part series by Collins, is an easy, entertaining, and delightful read. Fans of Riordan's Percy Jackson series would surely gobble up these books. I think I even found The Underland Chronicles better than Riordan's, which can get cheesy and contrived at some points. Collins's 5 books are just pure storytelling joy. I can't even recall the last time I read all the books in a series one after the other.
In book 1, Gregor the Overlander, we get to meet Gregor who accidentally discovers a city in peril several miles below the surface called Regalia. Gregor meets interesting characters in Regalia: humans called underlanders who have pale skin and violet irises, and giant rats, bats, spiders, and cockroaches. The founder of Regalia, one named Bartholomew of Sandwich, has written several prophecies, which have Gregor figuring prominently in some of them. In fact, the fate of Regalia somehow rests on Gregor, who has been called the warrior that will save the underlanders' magnificent city.
So in all the books of The Underland Chronicles, Gregor sets off in different adventures that climaxes in a war between the underlanders and the giant rats. And in each book, Collins has introduced more and more fascinating characters that would eventually figure in her elegant storyline. We're introduced to giant cantankerous fireflies who seem to eat for a living, a 12-foot albino rat called the Bane who becomes the ruthless leader of the rats, and Gregor's other family members who take on more active roles in the later books, among others.
There's a whole cinematic feel to the five books in the series. The writing is tight and the pace is really appropriate for younger readers. Adult readers would still find a lot of elements that can be quite refreshing: the simple dialogue, the taxi-meter pace, and the uncomplicated characterizations and revelations in each book.
Yes, you can ignore the sequence of the books and read the books in your chosen sequence. Books 1 to 3 have stand-alone narratives. Book 4 (Gregor and the Marks of Secret), however, ends with a cliffhanger, effectively setting the tone for the full-on battle that will happen in book 5, Gregor and the Code of Claw. And the last book was really satisfying. Collins has written a beautiful yarn, which, despite appearing cluttered in some parts, she masterfully weaves together in one central conclusion.
Oh, and Suzanne Collins has come up with another witty one liner much like the "May the odds be ever in your favor!" in The Hunger Games trilogy. In The Underland Chronicles, every time they wish someone luck especially when that person is going to a battle, they would say, "Fly you high!" I wish I can come up with something like that if ever I would write my first novel. Hehe.
I'm wondering why these series isn't as popular as the other YA chapter books out there. The Underland Chronicles has something for everyone. (It even has a love angle, which doesn't feel forced, thank goodness.) Is it because Collins chose to populate this series with animals that we think of as disgusting? After all, it can be a stretch to think of a 6-foot, mangy, violent rat as a warrior defending the underlanders. Or that a huge cockroach can be fond of giving piggyback rides to a 3-year-old toddler. For me, those are some of the things that endeared me to the series.
Read these books if:
- You like chapter books.
- You're somehow drawn to rats, cockroaches, and spiders.
- You love Suzanne Collins (despite that Mockingjay disappointment).