Synopsis: Will, a teenage boy and the story’s protagonist, is a digger of tunnels, taught and lead initially by his father, Dr. Burrows, who is an anthropologist with a supporting academic background. Their joint endeavours in trying to unearth artifacts uncovers mysterious tunnels that lead them both to an subterranean world of Atlantean proportions, a world and culture that is controlled by a merciless, barbaric and religiously legalistic people, the Styx.
For the Writer: This book is a wild roller-coaster ride where one catches one’s breath after a vertical drop only to be thrown a stomach churning curve. The book delivers a mystery and an adventure on the same ride. The style of the writing has a playful spontaneous ease to it that seems to belie its careful construction. It has the ‘feeling’, as well as some of the characteristics of a wild, over-written, in-need-of-pruning first draft. In fact, I found that the authors initially self-published the novel before it was picked up, edited, re-titled and marketed under its current title.
Nevertheless, the book works. It is over 500 pages long, but leaves you wanting more. Indeed, the end of the book is like a chapter-end cliff-hanger leading into the second book, The Deep. The authors published, I think, six in all to complete the story.
Will rummaged in a satchel, found the stubby blue crowbar and handed it to his father, whose gaze was fixed on the area of wood before him. Forcing the flat edge of the tool between tow of the planks, Dr. Burrows grunted as he put his weight behind it to give it some purchase. He began levering from side to side. The planks creaked and moaned against their rusted fixings until, finally, they bellied out, breaking free with a resounding crack. Will recoiled slightly as a clammy breeze bled from the ominous gap Dr. Burrows had created.
The creative verbs of action and the pulp fiction style of delivery, as underlined above, characterize the entire book. There are more than a few scenes, however, of a more serious nature, situations that strain this stylistic choice of the author. In my opinion, the scenes of violence and intense emotional drama propel the book out of middle-grade fiction straight into YA. In addition, a few words seem out of place. For example, they “traversed”, rather than “crossed” a bridge, choice of vocabulary that made me stop and think of the authors rather than the story. However, there are other instances where the authors had done their homework and used vocabulary that seemed fitting to the characters and theme, using words such as, bioluminescence.
My only criticism of the book, lies in its antagonists. The authors needed an enemy, a creepy counter-culture for their heroes, so they copped out, in my opinion, and fashioned the protagonist’s enemies, like Kathryn Laskey did in the the Guardians of Ga’hoole, after a religious sect, albeit a viciously legalistic one. Actually, to be more specific, the evil subterranean world is controlled by an evil, thinly veiled form of the Amish, right down to the horse drawn carriages, a priestly class of colonists called the Styx. For Laskey, it seemed to be Catholicsm.
As a reader, I am annoyed with this populist and overused casting of the church at its worst as the main antagonist. Don’t get me wrong. In some respects the church deserves it. I mean, I did come away from the book not wanting to be associated with a church that behaved in the manner of the Styx, which is a good thing, similar in not wanting to become a Pharisee. However, to the uninitiated, the whole church, at least organized religion, gets smeared with the same sooty brush. Will, and other characters on the ‘good side’, in fact, eschew religion, or maybe just ‘organized’ religion, for the reason that they claim to want to do their own thinking. Blah, blah, blah. I’ve heard it before. Becoming a Christian and undergoing a lobotomy are synonymous acts to so-called freethinkers. Most of our universities were founded by Christians. Two of the best writers of children’s fantasy, Tolkien and Lewis, were Christian. The notion is absurd, but it amazes me how many authors, authors of varying degrees of skill across a spectrum of genres, have an axe to grind with the church.