Book Review: Tunnels by Roderick Gordon & Brian Williams

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Will Burrows is an aptly-named youngster. He loves to dig. It comes naturally to him. Lacking pigment in his skin, hair, and eyes, he is sensitive to light and a bit of a loner. So why shouldn’t he while away his spare time tunneling into the soil bordering the town dump? Why shouldn’t he build elaborate workings and excavate long-buried artifacts? Nothing makes Will feel better than sharing his discoveries with his father, Dr. Burrows, who runs the town museum and fantasizes about making a huge archaeological discovery.

Just as Will decides to share his secret passion with a friend – his only friend, a tough burly lad named Chester – his father starts keeping his own secrets from Will. While Dr. Burrows pursues a series of strange discoveries, their dysfunctional family begins to fall apart. Finally Will’s father disappears altogether, and with a sister he hardly understands and a mother who isn’t all there, he has no one to turn to except Chester.

Together they follow their only lead to Dr. Burrows’ disappearance — straight into the ground. It leads them to an underground colony that has survived for centuries, deep beneath London. And the adventure they have there isn’t one of those charming romps through a land time forgot. It’s a savage struggle for survival against an evil elite called the Styx, who rule the Colony with an iron fist. While Chester rots in a hideous jail, Will makes the astounding discovery that he has a family underground: an adoring grandma, a troublemaking uncle, a younger brother, and a real father he never knew – and who would rather not know him.

But Will can’t forget about Dr. Burrows, whom he still thinks of as Dad, and who has been banished to the Deeps far beneath the Colony. Nor can he forget about Chester, who is in deep trouble simply because he trusted Will. Determined to save Chester and reunite with his Dad, Will embarks on a perilous adventure. And if the words “perilous adventure” have become pale and limp through overuse in these reviews, let me emphasize the incredibly serious, deadly awful danger Will and his colonial friends go through.

They run a gauntlet of Styx nasties, ferocious creatures, deadly plagues, bitter betrayals, and crushing losses, while an enemy of I-kid-you-not diabolical cruelty looms always a step behind, if not a step ahead of them. Good people die. Will and the people he cares about really suffer. And by the end Will, his brother, his friend, and his father face an uncertain fate as outcasts in a harsh underworld, knowing they are hunted by a resourceful and merciless enemy. So when I call it a “perilous adventure,” I mean it is one of the deepest, darkest places children’s fantasy literature is likely to take you. Ever.

Which is also to say, you may enjoy it. You may even love it. I did. I’m utterly hooked. And I’m looking forward to the sequel, Deeper, due to be released in February 2009.