Gregor the Overlander, Book One by Suzanne Collins
I had heard really good things about this series and, after much hesitation, I finally picked up the first book. And it was pretty good. There’s something nagging me about it because it sort of feels like a combination of lots of children’s books all rolled into one: City of Ember + Rats of Nimh + Alice in Wonderland + something else that I can’t quite think of = Gregor the Overlander. Not in a bad way, necessarily – I even picked up the second book today – it’s just, I think I’m going to withhold my final judgement for a little bit longer.
Gregor lives with his mother, grandmother, and toddler sister, Boots, in New York. When Gregor takes Boots down to the laundry room with him to do the laundry, they tumble through a grate into, well, the Underland, I suppose (Alice in Wonderland). They’re rescued by giant cockroaches (who end up being the best part of the whole book – you know it’s something when a giant cockroach makes me cry) and taken to Regalia, an underground city (City of Ember) complete with an arrogant princess and huge, talking bats (it’s the bats that are making me think of something, but I’m not sure what, so for now let’s just say Rats of Nimh…). There are escape attempts and there is, most importantly, a QUEST. Fairly standard stuff, but done well enough.
Gregor is actually pretty likable – and he has to work hard to overcome his name, which I thought would annoy me more than it does. I was also worried about Boots. Cute kid, cuter nickname? But she really is pretty darn cute, after all. The arrogant princes, Luxa, needs some work (she’s closer to two and half dimensions, rather than the full three at the moment), but I’m hoping she’ll have a chance to flush out her character in the next one.
The oddest thing, I think, is the pacing although this may be because the book is suffering from set-up syndrome (aka First Book-itis). The QUEST doesn’t start until about halfway through the book, but once it does, it goes very quickly and before you know it, it’s over! I wasn’t sure about the bats at first, probably because it feels like a rip-off of something, but I was won-over by the end. I haven’t started the second one yet, but the cover assures me that Ares (Gregor’s bat) will be back. Frankly, I’m hoping the cockroaches turn up again.
My rating: B
The Lighting Thief by Rick Riordan
According to Publisher’s Weekly (and they don’t usually lie like this), Percy Jackson IS the next Harry Potter. I think he has a long way to go.
The premise of the book is interesting, I guess, if you like that sort of thing. Basically, the Greek gods are real and still out there having children left and right. Some of these children (*cough*Percy*cough*) are ‘heroes.’ Some (*cough*not Percy*cough*) are not. In this book, Percy (son of Poseidon) has to prove that he didn’t steal Zeus’ thunderbolt and also find out who did in order to avert a massive war between Zeus and Hades (and everybody else, of course). Along for the ride is Annabeth (daughter of Athena) and Grover, a rather inept faun.
I’m not sure why I’m reluctant to like this series (maybe because NO ONE could EVER replace Harry Potter) – Percy is very likable, so is Annabeth…Grover not so much, but you can’t win them all (even Harry has Colin Creevey, you know). There are exciting confrontations between mythical beasts and gods alike, but there just seems to be something missing. Again, it can’t have been too much of something because I did buy the second book just today, so we’ll see how it goes.
My rating: B