Deeper by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, 656 pp RL MIDDLE GRADE
When I started reviewing books, and inevitably reviewing books that were the first in a series, I decided not to post reviews of the subsequent book(s) in the series for a couple of reasons. Most of all, I figured that the reader of the first book in the series was, at the end of the book, pretty well equipped to decide whether or not to continue on with the series and thus did not require my two cents. Also, with over one hundred books on my shelf waiting to be read, or re-read and reviewed, I felt like my time was better spent elsewhere. However, Deeper, by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, which is the sequel to Tunnels, caused me to rethink a few things, as well as give up a significant chunk of my life and my personal sense of well being as I powered through it.
Released in the US in February of 2009, and several months earlier than that in the UK, Deeper, based on the jacket flap, did not grab me enough to make me set aside all other responsibilities in order to read it as I had hoped it might. I loved Tunnels and found it to be one of the most inventive, unparalleled young adult books written in recent years. In my review of the book I couldn't stop myself from telling the whole story - with spoiler warnings. And, despite initial impressions, once I started in on Deeper I was hooked - even harder than with Tunnels. As if they had been reading my mind, authors Brian Williams and Roderick Gordon satisfied the two small issues/hopes I was left with at the end of Tunnels. The lack of sympathetic female characters and the fate of Sarah Jerome have both been addressed, and how, in Deeper.
Rather than unravel the whole plot as I did last time, I am going to restrain myself and mention a few highlights only and assume that most people reading this review have read the first book. There are more twists and turns in Deeper than there are tunnels underground. In Tunnels the only significant female characters are Rebecca, Will's younger sister, and Mrs Burrows, who remains a pathetic couch potato from start to finish and finds herself institutionalized by the end of the book. In Deeper, Mrs Burrows comes to life after an encounter with a woman posing as a social worker whom she suspects if Will's birth mother. Indeed, the infamous Sarah Jerome, mother of Will and Cal and only person ever to escape the Colony and the Styx (the secret police, rulers of the Colony and heads of the cult-like religion that keeps the Colonists under their constant rule and frequent persecution) gets lots of page time in Deeper. The survival skills she has learned as well as the tough exterior she has developed in an effort to stay alive topsoil make for fascinating reading. While I am not big on violence, Sarah Jerome does some serious, believable, welcomed butt-kicking in this book. But, she is also a complex character who balances her need to survive with her longing for the sons she left behind.
The other awesome female character in Deeper, one who almost makes their absence in the first book worth the wait, is Elliott. A renegade Colonist, the teenaged Elliott has learned to survive in the deeps with the help of Drake, a topsoiler slave who managed to escape the Styx who had been utilizing his knowledge of cyberoptics for their own nefarious purposes. She is a super survivalist, light on her feet, always out ahead of the group scouting for dangers. And, she is somewhat of a munitions expert, much to the delight of Will and Chester, fourteen year old boys, who sometimes jealously vie for her attentions but always, even when they are distrusting of her, are grateful for and in adolescent awe of her skills.
Much of the book is taken up with Will, Chester and Cal's plight as they travel deeper underground. Unaware of the natural dangers that are all around them, they come to realize that an unnatural danger, the Styx and their elite crew of Limiters, agents who roam the deeps neutralizing renegades and Coprolights as they see fit, are in the Deeps and hunting them. The Coprolights, mentioned in the first book, are more fully realized in this one. Once the slaves of the Colonists, they are now allowed to carry on their hardscrabble existence, exchanging the minerals that they mine for fresh food and light orbs from the colonists by way of the mine train. The brutality of the Styx, as well as their plan for the topsoilers is also more fully realized in this book. In an eerie coincidence with the spread of Swine Flu that paralyzed parts of the world recently, the Styx have been engineering a virus that will cause a pandemic, wiping out the topsoilers completely and allowing the return of the Colonists to the surface. This is all preordained in the Book of Catastrophes, the bible by which the Styx live and, in the course of Deeper, they launch a test run of a less virulent strain of the virus on the streets of Londoon by way of carrier pigeons.
As with the first book, Gordon and Williams' writing is so vivid, immediate and descriptive that I almost felt like I was watching a movie in my head as I read the book. My sense of claustrophobia was alleviated a bit by the fact that much of the action in this book takes place in the open plains of the Depths and there isn't so much crawling through small spaces. However, there were other disturbing, horrific scenes to keep the reader from breathing. These involved a laboratory where the Styx conduct experiments on renegade Colonists and Coprolights that is reminiscent of the experiments that Nazi doctors performed on concentration camp victims. Because of this, as well as a few other acts of violence in the book, I have upped the reading level. I think that it just isn't right to expose kids under a certain age to this kind of human wrought horror, despite the fact that they are probably already exposed to horrible images of this nature in the video games and R rated movies they might watch. I certainly could live without these aspects of the book, and I avoid movies that portray acts of this nature. I think the book could still be as suspenseful even if the Styx aren't as vicious and inhuman as they are portrayed by Williams and Gordon, but, that is their choice, not mine. And, the rest of the plot line is so compelling that I choose to compromise my life choices in order to enjoy the rest of the story.
That said, I have pre-ordered my copy of Free Fall, the third book in the series, from amazon.uk (and paid the EXORBITANT shipping fees, which equal the cost of the book) and hope that it will arrive on my doorstep shortly after the May 18, 2009 release date - IN ENGLAND. That's right, there is NO RELEASE DATE for Book 3 in the US!!! This is a Scholastic title - didn't they learn anything from Harry Potter??? (For those of you non-Potter-geeks, The Prisoner of Azkaban, Book Three, was released six weeks earlier in the UK. Americans were outraged and Scholastic never did that again...)