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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tunnels Offers Intriguing Premise, Poor Execution

Fourteen-year-old Will Burrows is not your average London teenager. For one thing, he's pale as milk, from his skin to the hair on his head. For another, he's a friendless soul, who prefers tunneling under the earth to hanging out "Topsoil." His family life doesn't exactly scream normal, either. His father spends his days manning a dusty museum, filling it with items from his unofficial archaeological digs. In his free time, the eccentric tunneler hides out in his home's cellar, a place where the rest of the family is not allowed to come. Will's mom gets through the day by zoning out on tv, ignoring her family obligations in favor of sitcoms and police procedurals. His sister keeps the house running with obsessive precision, offering the slovenly Will little affection. No, Will is definitely not your average Joe.

In Tunnels, the first book in a new series by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, we find Will performing his own clandestine tunneling. He's got a sidekick, a misfit named Chester, who is also his only friend. The two boys spend their time digging under the city, hoping to find pieces of London's past. It's a (relatively) harmless diversion, until the boys stumble upon something they can't explain. Before they know it, Will's dad is missing, they are being chased by strange, sinister creatures, and the only answers seem to lie far, far under the earth. Will knows his father was working on something big before he vanished, but he also knows the police will never believe his crazy theories - it's plain to see that Will is the only one who can find his father.

Will and Chester set out on the biggest adventure of their lives. Descending into the labryinth of tunnels beneath London, they discover a whole other world, a land where humans live, work and breathe - under the city. Most of the underground dwellers don't take kindly to "Topsoilers," so Will's search for his father leads him into trouble of all sorts. He finds himself racing through tunnels trying to outrun the dreaded Styx; being mauled by bloodthirsty animals; having his mind pilfered; and much, much more. As dangerous as it is, Will can't shake his fascination for the underground world - there's something so familiar about it all. Far beneath the city, Will's search for his father will lead to answers about his own identity.

Tunnels, which starts out a little slow, picks up once the boys are underground. By the middle of the book, you'll have trouble setting the story aside. It still drags in places, but overall, it's an action-packed adventure that will keep you turning pages. The novel suffers from clunky writing - an over-reliance on adverbs plus some flow issues kept me from really sinking into the story. My biggest beef with Tunnels, however, is all the questions it leaves unanswered. I realize the authors had sequels on the brain, but I still think the story needs enough resolution to leave the reader satisfied. The debut book in a series also must leave the reader thirsty for more, and this one just ... didn't. Although I'm curious about what will happen to Will, I doubt I'll pick up the next book. I love the premise of the series, but its execution leaves a lot to be desired.

The authors have a cool website dedicated to the series - check it out here.

Grade: C

(Book image from Barnes & Noble)


  1. I started reading this book because I liked the cover and the description sounded intriguing, but I didn't get very far. I agree with you, the story dragged in parts.

  2. I agree with you. The premise was really intriguing, but it just didn't click. I actually read the second one and liked it even less. I don't think I will continue - there will definately be a third, probably more.

  3. Now that Deeper, the sequel, is out, what do you think of this series?

  4. Hmmm, I've got this on my TBR pile. That's disappointing to hear that it didn't do much for you.


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