In an attempt to slake my excitement over Mockingjay, I brought out all the Suzanne Collins books in my possession (and bought one more) and have been reading voraciously for the past five days. I started with Gregor the Overlander, the first book of the Underland Chronicles last Friday, but I didn’t have book 2 yet so I decided to reread Hunger Games and Catching Fire on Saturday. By Sunday, I was already reaching for the copy of Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane that I’d bought the day before. And then I started reading Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods yesterday, and now I’m out of the Underland Chronicles, so the marathon’s on hold (at least until I can find myself copies of Gregor and the Marks of Secret and Gregor and the Code of the Claw).
Now I very rarely reread books because I have too many books to read and there simply isn’t enough time — I read somewhere that a person can only read 6000 books in his or her lifetime and I intend to beat that (hah!). Even when my book club has discussions of books I’ve already read, I just skim through the book and go back to my reviews to refresh my memory.
But I decided to reread the first two books of the Hunger Games trilogy because I don’t want to drive myself crazy trying to remember certain details when I read Mockingjay, and I was also curious about how I would find the books on my second reading.
The books were every bit as good as they were the first time around. Of course, the adrenaline rush of the first read was out of the way, but I enjoyed being able to savor the characters, ponder upon the story, and of course, relive all my favorite scenes from the two books.
I thought I would be less attached to the story and the characters because I already know what’s going to happen, but I found myself crying even harder this time, and even at random bits that didn’t even make me cry the first time around! Haha, on Saturday morning I was reading Hunger Games over morning coffee and toast, and I had a crying jag. My mom caught me swiping at my tears and blowing my nose into a napkin, and when she asked why I was crying over my breakfast, and I had to tell her it was because *** had died!
I also read the first three books of the Underland Chronicles, which I’ve been meaning to read for a year now. I got books 1 and 3 foraging around the sale bins (book 1 from the Scholastic warehouse sale, book 3 from NBS), and as soon as I finished book 1 I was panicky because I didn’t have book 2! Good thing I found a copy the next day. About thrice as expensive as books 1 and 3 (at the bargain prices I got them) combined, but I just couldn’t wait to read them.
In essence, the Underland Chronicles detail the adventures of an 11-year old New Yorker, Gregor, who accidentally discovers a passage to the Underland in their apartment building’s laundry room. The Underland is a strange subterranean realm, inhabited by humans and giant creatures (cockroaches, rats, bats, spiders, mice, ants, et cetera). The Underland holds certain prophecies sacred;Gregor’s fate is entwined with these prophecies, and this makes up the plot for the five books.
I didn’t expect to enjoy the Underland Chronicles, as I’m really not into talking animals, but I actually enjoyed reading the first three books so far.
I found Gregor to be a bit like Katniss Everdeen, although Katniss is more skilled for combat. Like Katniss, Gregor is protective of his family (especially of his baby sister Boots, who has traveled with him on his Underland Adventures for all three books) and does his best to make ends meet for his poor family, mainly making sure his sisters have enough to eat (to the point that he goes hungry so he can give them his share). Gregor is also thrust in the role of a reluctant hero around which the cooperating races of the Underland rally like Katniss is the mockingjay for the various districts of Panem.
The books are fast-paced and amusing, and I noticed Suzanne Collins really has no qualms about killing off characters. I think over a dozen supporting characters (and scores of unnamed ones) have been killed off in the last three books, which surprised me because this series is meant for younger readers than The Hunger Games. But the deaths do serve their purpose; the Underland Chronicles revolves around the themes of family, war, biological warfare, and the Holocaust, emphasizing the message that war has no victors, only casualties.
I did get a surprise that threw me for a loop — the Underland Chronicles is a dead ringer for the Percy Jackson series!
Let’s see, top of mind: each book features a quest based on a prophecy, and at the end of each book Gregor and Percy get to go back home. Character-wise, Gregor and Percy are both ordinary kids who discover they’re not so ordinary; Luxa does a good Annabeth and Temp a good Grover; Vikus can stand in for Chiron; and Ares the bat is the equivalent of Blackjack. Collins draws largely from Greek mythology, so certain Greek names cross over. Because of the basis in mythology, plot-wise, there are similar twists in both series as well — a traitor in the pack, a living oracle, an inventor trapped inside a labyrinth, and so on.
I have to say that between the Underland Chronicles and Percy Jackson, I’d have to hand the trophy to Gregor and his gang. It’s not just because I like Suzanne Collin’s writing style and humor over Rick Riordan’s, although yes, of course, that’s part of the reason. Gregor’s ragtag team (including two year old Boots and the motley crew of Underlanders) is just a lot more interesting (and more logically motivated) than the half-bloods (although the gods and goddesses were pretty cool), and Gregor doesn’t whine incessantly like Percy does. I also think there’s more depth to Gregor’s character, and while the themes in both series are similar, the Underland Chronicles is more complexly plotted and drives the message a whole lot better.
This means I definitely have to get books 4 and 5 of the Underland Chronicles this weekend!
Oh, and seven more days til Mockingjay! I. Can’t. Wait!!!!
Hunger Games and Catching Fire, both hardcover with dustjacket, both 5/5 stars
Gregor the Overlander, Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane, Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods, all paperback, all 4/5 stars
Books #102-106 for 2010