A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Spiral continues the Tunnels series' mix of adventure and frequent peril and violence. This installment takes the story in unexpected new directions; secrets involving the evil Styx race's latest plans for humanity are rather gruesomely revealed, and Will Burrows and his friends are -- as always -- constantly in danger as they fight to stop the horror known as the Phase. Once again, characters who readers have come to care about are killed, often in abrupt, shocking ways. There are tons of explosions (including human bombs), deaths, dead/dismembered bodies, shootings, betrayals, and more, and some characters prove willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to help their cause. But despite all of the terrible things that happen to the protagonists, overall their story is still one of loyalty, bravery, and doing the right thing.
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What's the story?
As SPIRAL opens, Will Burrows and his friends -- including loyal Chester, resourceful Elliott, wily Drake, and newly empowered Mrs. Burrows -- are holed up at a mysterious estate owned by Drake's military veteran father, trying to figure out what to do next in their ongoing war against the evil Styx. The killer Dominion virus is no longer No. 1 on the threat list, but it turns out the Styx have something even deadlier on deck. It's called the Phase, and if it's carried out to completion, all of humanity could be washed away in a bloody genocide. As usual, it's up to Will and the gang to eliminate the threat ... if they can.
Is it any good?
The Tunnels series was originally planned to be a trilogy; now that it's expanded, it feels as if the authors are scrambling to come up with new obstacles and plot twists to keep things going. What started out as a compelling (if often grim) adventure about a mysterious underground world and the many secrets hidden in its depths has taken so many out-of-left-field turns that it's hard not to roll your eyes. That's especially true this time around; the details of the Phase feel as if they were yanked out of a completely different series with a more sci-fi bent, and new details "revealed" in Spiral seem to completely discount important character traits and actions established in the first four books.
That's not to say that Spiral isn't readable; it is, and fans of the characters and their adventures probably will want to keep plugging along to find out what comes next. But between the constant peril and violence, the plot curveballs, and the fact that there's still no clear resolution in sight to the Styx menace, Spiral isn't nearly as capable of standing on its own merits as the previous books were.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the characters are developing as the series continues. How is Will changing? What is he learning? Do you consider him a role model?
Is all of the violence necessary to the story? How does it compare with what you've read in other fantasy novels? Does the book's overall tone affect how the violence comes across?
What do you think of the new twists the story takes in this book? How does the plot in this installment compare with where the story began? Do you like where it's going?
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