Tunnels is the first book in a new YA series that has gotten a lot of hype recently. How does it live up to the hype? In mixed fashion.
The book focuses on Will Burrows, son of amateur archaeologist and local museum curator Dr. Burrows. The two go on amateur digs together and a reference is made to a large discovery Dr. Burrows made that was “stolen” by a more famous archaeologist.
We learn all this relatively early and are further introduced to Chester, Will’s new friend and fellow outcast at school; his TV- obsessed mother who stays zombie-like in the living room; his precocious 12-year-old sister who runs the family’s finances and shopping; and a group of mysterious men who wander the streets clad in dark overcoats, hats, and sunglasses.
The set-up is relatively slow and some parts are more successful than others. His mother and sister never seem fully realized, and some of their actions seem somewhat arbitrary. His father, on the other hand, is handled much better and it is when Dr. Burrows vanishes that the book starts to perk up a bit, though only gradually.
Will and Chester begin to investigate and while it takes some time, and one wonders at the strangely lackadaisical response of many involved, eventually they re-discover a mysterious tunnel Dr. Burrows had been exploring and decide to enter it themselves.
Here the energy and ingenuity of the book begins to finally come into play as they land eventually in The Colony, an underground city whose secrets are intensely and at times violently guarded, a city who
seems to be only the topmost site of many underground lands. The
book takes a darker turn into adventure — involving capture, chases, family secrets, shocking plot twists, questions of society and politics, strange creatures, and death (some violently). The potential here is strong, but it only sometimes achieves it fully.
The pacing is not particularly smooth at the start of the underground adventure; as with Dr. Burrow’s disappearance, the amount of time that passes and the characters’ actions seem a bit disjointed. The same happens toward the end a bit. And some of the characters’
decisions seem to rely overly much on the bad guys not doing some common sense things. The settings pique the reader’s interest, but we never really get a strong sense of place and the same is true of the workings of the colony itself. It’s interesting and sinister and mysterious, and the underlying tension is clearly implied, but it’s all a bit thin, lacking a true sense of history and substance. One wishes for about 100 fewer pages of plot and maybe another 40 or so of detail.
The book ends on a cliffhanger leading clearly and directly into book two. And clearly, or maybe I should say one hopes, that some of the thin background will be filled in via the sequel. Though Will is heading into new territory after his father, so perhaps not. At this point, I’d say hold off on Tunnels until we see what book two brings.
It isn’t bad; it just doesn’t stand out as particularly good. There’s better YA fantasy/sci-fi out there (Gregor the Underlander, to name one that also takes place underground), though Tunnels has potential.
The Circle in the Spiral (Tunnels) — (2005-2008) Ages 9-12. Tunnels was previously published in the UK under the name The Highfield Mole. Publisher: 14-year-old Will Burrows has little in common with his strange, dysfunctional family. In fact, the only bond he shares with his eccentric father is a passion for archaeological excavation. So when his dad mysteriously vanishes, Will is compelled to dig up the truth behind his disappearance. He unearths the unbelievable: a subterranean society that time forgot. “The Colony” has existed unchanged for a century, but it’s no benign time capsule of a bygone era. Because the Colony is ruled by a merciless overclass, the Styx. Will must free his father — is he also about to ignite a revolution?