Tunnels: Tunnels Series, Book 1

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Tunnels: Tunnels Series, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Slow-starting, dark, violent, exciting adventure.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 17 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn a little bit about caving/exploring, but this is really a fantasy adventure that's intended to entertain rather than educate. Still, it's reading, and fans may want to follow the series into other installments

Positive Messages

Although the story is often grim, with lots of betrayals, suspicion, and painful (physically and emotionally) incidents, the underlying themes are of loyalty, determination, and ultimately trying to do the right thing.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Will is a complex main character who, while always intending to be a good friend and do the right thing, is often distracted by his insatiable curiosity and his desire to impress his father. As a result, he doesn't always succeed in being there right away for the people who need him, though he usually comes through when it counts. The Styx are unrelentingly harsh and cruel, but it's clear that they're meant to be bad guys.


Bloody and at times graphic. There's a brutal bare-knuckle fistfight in which the fighters are chained together until one is incapacitated and possibly killed; a mention of eyelids being torn off. Birds and frogs are impaled on sticks. A boy hits both other boys and a man with a shovel, in both cases causing serious injury. Two boys are tortured by adults with a device that causes pain and sickness. Children are attacked by giant dogs and cats, causing graphically described torn flesh. A fight to the death between men with machetes.


Candy, soda, and cereal brands are mentioned, but not prominently.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults smoke cigarettes and pipes and drink gin, brandy, and beer. Groups of drunks hang out in housing projects and around bars. Children are given alcohol by adults and get tipsy and later hung-over.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this fantasy saga about an underground world has some grim and fairly graphic violence, including serious injuries (stabbings; brutal, bare-knuckle fist-fighting; children mauled by animals; a severed windpipe; etc.) and deaths. Two boys are tortured with a fantasy device. There is also some smoking and drinking, including children given alcohol by adults.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byMalason June 2, 2019

Tunnel Series

This is the best series I have ever read. Not only did I buy each book I also bought the complete collection on CD and listen to it every two years while drivin... Continue reading
Adult Written byJustarose123 October 7, 2018

A great series! Extends reading bed stories ritual a bit longer..

I brought and read from these stories to my 2 grandsons each night.
They loved the story line, action, adventure, and though it could be a bit scary, they stil... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byx_emmyy_x February 27, 2020

somewhat disappointing

I found Tunnels to have a very misleading cover and overlook, mainly because it looks like such an interesting book, but once I started to actually read it, all... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byshadetheflame February 1, 2019


Don't understand how it is violent I have read more violent books and it does not describe the injury to the full extent to give kids nightmares

What's the story?

Will Burrows and his father share an interest in archeological digging underground. When Will's father disappears and Will goes looking for him, the boy discovers the entrance to a vast series of caverns. Venturing with his reluctant friend Chester in search of his father, the boys discover an immense secret civilization ruled by the evil Styx and filled with hate for "topsoilers." Soon Will is on the run, trying to rescue Chester and find his father before the Styx can catch him.

Is it any good?

This first book in the Tunnels series boasts an intriguing premise. There's just something about underground caverns and civilizations that's almost automatically appealing, and this is a particularly rich and nasty one, with cultish overtones and hints of an ancient history. And the authors have a knack for multi-sensory description that gives this tale an unusual grittiness as the characters -- and thus readers -- not only see the wonders and terrors of this underground world, but also smell them and feel the filth and desolation in a way that lets you know why they're often referred to as the bowels of the earth.

But TUNNELS also has some rookie mistakes from the first-time authors and suffers from the lax editorial hand that has become all too common in modern children's fantasy. Clocking in at more than 450 pages, the story meanders and drifts for the first third, often getting mired in exposition that will have English teachers everywhere yelling, "Show, don't tell!" It doesn't really pick up until nearly 200 pages in, which may cause it to lose some young readers. Those who do hang in will be treated to an exciting and suspenseful adventure, though one in which readers won't feel that they've really gotten to know any of the characters well. But there's enough good stuff here to give readers high hopes for the sequel.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the enduring fascination with hidden worlds under the earth, from the Greek Underworld and Dante's Inferno through Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Symme's Hole, and on to Superman and the Mole People and The City of Ember.

  • What is it about caves and underground civilizations that's so intriguing? Why is the underground so often depicted as evil?

  • This book has a lot of violence, but it happens in a fantasy context. Does that make it easier to handle?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasies

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