Tunnels, by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, has certainly garnered a lot of attention across the pond. Touted as “the next Harry Potter” (a phrase that sets off alarm bells for me), the writers purportedly pocketed a wack of cash for this book, and there is a movie in the works. Two strikes. Also, I must admit to looking askance at just about any book that is co-authored. Probably unfair, I know, but just tell me exactly how do you write a book with someone else? OK, maybe you can manage to write a book with a partner, but in my experience, they are never as remarkable as solo efforts.
So it was with more than a little trepidation that I started into this one, and sure enough, there’s good, and there’s bland to be found in these pages. I’ll start with the good:
1) The cover: It is awesome, in a dazzling, blockbuster-ish, sort of way. The shiny green orb at the mouth of the tunnel really does appear to glow (heck, it even seems to glow on the screen, doesn’t it?). This is most eye-catching. I also love the terrible spookiness of the man with his curvy knives and his puppy with the glowing eyes. Creeeeeepy! The cover will sell this book to many, many eager kiddies.
2) The Underground World: First, the basic premise… Will Burrows likes to dig. His dad is an eccentric archaeologist who has spent many hours with his son digging under London, looking for tunnels and caverns and odd artifacts. One day, daddy disappears and Will suspects he’s gone underground. So Will and his trusty sidekick Chester head down after Will’s father and what they find is a strange and oppressive society that is no friend to “Topsoilers” (people from the world above). What drew me along in this story was the vividness, and awful creepiness of the underground universe. Gordon and Williams describe the place – its smells, its dankness, its rough-hewn construction – in careful detail. I could really see it.
3) The Plot-Twists: It was a bit of a slow start, I must say. For the first 100 pages or so, I appreciated how suspense was building and tone was being established, but I think that it took too long for the story to snap into proper action. Once it did, things chugged along in a satisfying way, with some surprises along the way. There is one fantastic (and for me, completely unforeseen) twist, close to the end of the book. It’s a zinger.
And now, the bland:
1) Character: Will, the main character, lacked roundness. Big time. When I really think about it, I didn’t care much about his fate (meaning, I didn’t care much about him). I just wanted to find out what happened next. This is unfortunate, since there is a lot about the imagined world, and the suspense of this story that makes it memorable. Will just seemed like a not-very-interesting excuse for the action. Some of the secondary characters were better drawn, but in general, much could be improved in the area of characterization.
2) The Ending: I won’t give any spoilers here, but let’s just say that the end of the book (minus the Epilogue – which was a sharp little treat) left me indifferent. There is an obvious “To be continued…” feeling about it that is annoying and just seemed like a cop out.
So, overall a satisfying read, with some significant flaws. It is fun while you’re reading, but not wholly memorable. Tunnels is a solid adventure story, with a strong fear factor, so I can imagine many kids jumping into it happily. By the way, it reminded me hugely of City of Ember (though not with the same spark – he he – or payoff). Fans of that series will likely want to take a look at Tunnels.
Philip Ardagh quite liked it. Read his review in the Guardian.