Y'all probably already know that The Hunger Games is one of my favorite series. (The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes comes out next week—NEXT WEEK!!!—and I'm so excited.) So for awhile, my sister had been onto me to read Suzanne Collins's other series, The Underland Chronicles. Finally, after I finished Darth Plagueis, I decided to make that my next audiobook. And then I only got one disc into book 2 before I stopped having places to drive. Luckily, one of my library apps had eaudio, and I had sewing to do. So once I started working on sewing (and Carrie Mouse photoshopping) I pretty much listened to the rest of the series as fast as I could. And now it's over and I'm so sad there's no more.
In case you're unfamiliar with the premise, basically it's this: 11-year-old Gregor and his 2-year-old sister Boots fall down a shaft in the laundry room of their New York City apartment building and end up in the Underland, where Gregor is declared the Warrior of Bartholemew of Sandwich's prophecies and he is sent on a dangerous quest that may lead to finding his father who disappeared shortly before Boots was born. And then there's more prophecies, and more dangerous quests, and war, and lots of gory deaths, but hey, this is Suzanne Collins, so you have to expect a high body count.
To be honest, I wasn't sure about the worldbuilding at first. (Neither was Gregor, if you think about it.) I mean, the first creatures you meet in the Underland are giant talking cockroaches, and then you find out that there are giant bats, rats, mice, spiders, lizards, fireflies, moles, and I feel like I'm forgetting some, but anyway. And even beyond that there are lots of things that could kill you. The people even look strange—after all, they've been living underground for hundreds of years, so their skin is so pale and translucent you can see their veins, their hair is extremely light, and they usually have violet eyes. Gregor's not really comfortable with it all, in the beginning. But by the end, I loved the Underland just as much as Gregor did, and it's a place that feels like home.
Suzanne Collins really did a good job with the worldbuilding. The cultures are very well developed, very distinct from the Overland. The different species of Underlanders have distinct patterns of speech, and it all just feels very real. You might not think giant talking creatures living underneath NYC, humans and bats that swear lifelong bonds to each other (basically best friends who will defend each other to the death, and the humans ride the bats), and all of everything would feel real, but it just works.
Regalia is pretty cool. It's a city that's a huge stone fortress with a palace and...okay, not all the history behind it is great, but the particulars are spoilers. They have a museum of things that fell from the Overland, and, well, Regalia is where Luxa and Vikus live.
There's also a super dangerous jungle, and the waterway (with an island full of death mites *shudders*), a volcano, a labyrinth...honestly, most places in the Underland have dangers of some kind, and there are lots of hostile rats. Except Ripred. Well, that's debatable.
I love these characters so much. Gregor is a good kid. He's had a hard time since his dad disappeared, but he's very responsible for his age, he's very devoted to his family, and he wants to do what's right. But he's still a kid and he's still human, so sometimes he does still make stupid mistakes and selfish decisions. Yet his heart is in the right place, and he comes to love the Underlanders—especially Luxa. He always tries to apologize when he's in the wrong, and I love that about him.
Boots is a fun kid. She's not afraid of anything. She makes friends with the cockroaches, or crawlers, right away. She love riding bats. She loves singing songs, and teaching songs to Temp, her crawler friend. But she's also a realistically written toddler. And I love that. It seems rare that authors get little kids right. Either they're written to be way more mature than they should be, or way more babyish. Boots hit it just right, and you can see her grow up throughout the series. (Well, sort of grow up, since she's only three at the end, but she's talking better and she's potty trained by the end, so she does go through some developmental milestones.)
I'll mention Lizzie, Gregor's middle sister, even though she isn't much of a factor until the last book. She's nervous and has panic attacks, but she's brilliant, and Gregor is both incredibly proud of her and very protective of her. And she has a very important role to play. Besides being the one person Ripred actually is affectionate towards.
Luxa. She's an interesting character for sure. She's roughly Gregor's age, but since her parents are dead, she's the queen of Regalia (though she won't technically be crowned until she's 16). She has non-royal grandparents looking after her...Vikus and Solovet. Though I'm not sure Solovet (grandmother) does much to look after her. Vikus is awesome. I don't like Solovet. She's in charge of the soldiers, and reminds me a lot of President Coin. Anyway. Luxa's very stubborn and determined, a good fighter, a survivor, and...it's hard for me to sum her up. But I really like her.
Ripred is the sober rat version of Haymitch. 😆 Kinda crusty and cynical, a fighter (a rager, actually), an interesting type of mentor character, doesn't show a soft side if he can help it, but he has a good heart. Basically Haymitch, but he's a rat and he doesn't drink. He's good for Gregor. He pushes him to be a better warrior, and a better person, teaches him echolocation and how to handle being a rager (I'm...not quite sure how to explain ragers, but they're fighters who...fight good and if they don't know how to control it they...kill without realizing it?), and...he can manipulate to get things to go the way he wants, but he's a good soul when it really comes down to it. And I think I agree with him about the prophecies, but he doesn't tell Gregor about that until close to the end of the last book, so I won't tell you the particulars.
I want to talk about Ares, the bat, but I feel like it'll be spoilery in multiple ways, so I'll just say that I love Ares. Despite some rocky moments in his friendship with Gregor.
I don't know how much I should say about the plots. Because spoilers. But I like them. Obviously. In one, Gregor has to kill a giant white rat called the Bane who supposedly will destroy the humans. In another, Gregor's searching for a cure to a plague that's threatening the lives of those he cares about. In another, they're in all out war against the rats. And I probably shouldn't say more or I'll give spoilers.
One thing I really love about the series is that Gregor's whole family ends up knowing about the Underland and, while his mom isn't really all that thrilled about the whole thing, his dad truly understands why it's important to Gregor to help his friends in Regalia.
My only real problem with the series is that the ending kind of...well, it doesn't have an epilogue and I wish it did. I mean, we got an epilogue in Mockingjay. Why couldn't we get an epilogue in Gregor that at least tells us if he ever saw Luxa again? But I have headcanons, and there's fanfiction, so at least I have that.
In short, if you're not afraid of gore and high body counts, read The Underland Chronicles now. They're deep stories, which I love, the characters are great, and while none of it hurts quite as much as Finnick, it's still a really moving series with lots of action, lots of things that make you think, and lots of heart. Suzanne Collins is a good writer. Oh, and the audiobook narrator was good too.
"Fly you high, Gregor the Overlander!"
"Run like the river, Ripred!"