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Gregor and the Marks of Secret
by Suzanne Collins
In this fourth book of The Underland Chronicles, Gregor and his kid sister Boots return to the underground city of Regalia to visit their mother, still recovering from the plague that had nearly wiped out every warmblooded creature in the Underland. But a birthday party leads to a secret, nighttime trip to answer a distress call from the nibblers (giant, talking mice), friends of the teenage Queen Luxa.
Their discovery of an abandoned nibbler colony, and a solitary mouse corpse, leads the young friends to sneak off on the pretext of a picnic. The picnic turns into a long, heartbreaking trek through the deepest realms of the world beneath New York City. Gregor, Luxa, Boots, and their friends experience narrow escapes, scenes of despair and horror, and a struggle for survival against the dangers of nature and the malice of the gnawers (giant, talking rats). A grim prophecy, long hidden in plain sight, is discovered in the lines of a nursery rhyme, while another prophecy hangs over Gregors head – one so dire that no one dares tell him what it says.
Gregor finds himself pulled in so many directions. He is torn between sheltering his baby sister from the reality of death and teaching her to understand that which increasingly surrounds her. He is torn between chafing against Luxa’s imperiousness and the first stirrings of young love between them. He is torn between his personal conviction that bloodshed and violence are wrong, and his destiny as a rager-warrior who, when he loses himself in the heat of battle, seems to enjoy fighting and killing.
The ending of this book dovetails with the opening of the fifth and last installment, Gregor and the Code of Claw. It leaves Gregor girding himself for a climactic war that he would a thousand times rather avoid, a war into which an unknown yet terrible fate propels him. And though this penultimate book leaves you in suspense as to what happens next, it leaves no illusions of this series being merely the dark, modern version of Alice in Wonderland it at first seemed to be. We do not know, yet, whether Gregor will become a grisly doomsday-machine in sneakers or a heroic voice of peace and healing. We do not know whether the Regalians, Luxa, or even Gregor himself will survive. We only know that a powerfully imagined fantasy world is about to reach its final crisis… and we wouldn’t miss it for anything!