A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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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?
For kids who love fantasies
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