Tunnels: Tunnels Series, Book 1

Common Sense Media says

Slow-starting, dark, violent, exciting adventure.





What parents need to know

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

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.

Not applicable
Not applicable

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.

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.

Parents say

Kids say

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.

Families can talk 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

Authors:Brian Williams, Roderick Gordon
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Scholastic Inc.
Publication date:December 1, 2007
Number of pages:472
Publisher's recommended age(s):9 - 12
Read aloud:12
Read alone:12

This review of Tunnels: Tunnels Series, Book 1 was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Kid, 10 years old May 6, 2011

Eleven and up

Pretty Good book
What other families should know
Too much violence
Kid, 12 years old July 24, 2009

tunnels is the best

This book is AWESOME! A little violent, slow, and depressing at times, though. Overall, this is a great book full of adventure, suspense, and mystery. Brian Williams and Roderick Gordon; you are geniuses!
What other families should know
Too much violence
Teen, 13 years old Written byJason Parker July 11, 2013

It became one of my favorite series.

I really love the tunnels series! THE BEST!
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Too much violence


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