Gregor the Overlander is written by Suzanne Collins, of The Hunger Games fame. It was published in 2003 by Scholastic. It is the first book in The Underland Chronicles. Collins’ website can be found here.
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“When eleven-year-old Gregor follows his little sister through a grate in the laundry room of their New York apartment building, he hurtles into the dark Underland beneath the city. There, humans live uneasily beside giant spiders, bats, cockroaches, and rats—but the fragile peace is about to fall apart.
Gregor wants no part of a conflict between these creepy creatures. He just wants to find his way home. But when he discovers that a strange prophecy foretells a role for him in the Underland’s uncertain future, he realizes it might be the only way to solve the biggest mystery of his life. Little does he know his quest will change him and the Underland forever.”
Beware, Underlanders, time hangs by a thread.
The hunters are hunted, white water runs red.
The gnawers will strike to extinguish the rest.
The hope of the hopeless resides in a quest.
An Overland warrior, a son of the sun,
May bring us back light, he may bring us back none.
But gather your neighbors and follow his call
Or rats will most surely devour us all.
Two over, two under, of royal descent,
Two flyers, two crawlers, two spinners assent.
One gnawer beside and one lost up ahead.
And eight will be left when we count up the dead.
The last who will die must decide where he stands.
The fate of the eight is contained in his hands.
So bid him take care, bid him look where he leaps,
As life may be death and death life again reaps.
Boots singled out one roach in particular and patted it between the antennas. “Hi, you! Go ride? We go ride?”
“Knows me, the princess, knows me?” said the roach in awe, and all the other roaches gave little gasps. Even the humans and bats exchanged looks of surprise.
“We go ride? More ride?” said Boots. “Beeg Bug take Boots ride!’ she said, patting him more vigorously on the head.
“Gentle, Boots,” said Gregor, hurrying to catch her hand. He placed it softly on the bug’s head. “Be gentle, like with puppy dogs.”
“Oh, gen-tle, gen-tle,” said Boots, lightly bouncing her palm on the roach. It quivered with joy.
“Knows me, the princess, knows me?” the roach whispered. “Recalls she the ride, does she?”
Recommended Age Range: 12+
What I Liked:
This series is what introduced me to Collins, and how I started reading The Hunger Games (I liked this series, so when The Hunger Games came out I picked it up. That’s right. I read The Hunger Games before it was popular). I loved this series a lot when I read it the first time. It was simple, yet also complex. I loved the way everything had a purpose. I loved the rhyming prophecies (something I picked up from Redwall, which has a lot of riddles). It’s been a few years since I last read these books, so I’m interested to see what has changed about my perception of them.
I love the characters in this book and how each species in the Underland has their own unique characteristic that sets them apart. There are not many characters that I actively dislike. Boots and Ripred are by far my favorites. Boots is just adorable, and Ripred has great snark. I also like Temp, and how steadfast he is. Oh, and Ares. It’s not so evident here, but Ares is great in the next books, when certain things happen.
I think I enjoyed this book more because I knew what was coming, rather than because of its own merit. This is definitely a series with an overarching plot line, so characters develop more slowly, over the course of a few books, rather than all at once in one. It’s evident that this is the first in a series, but Collins does a great job of worldbuilding and setting things up for the next books. This book could be a standalone, almost; the other books cannot.
One of the things I like best about this series is the prophecies, and how they are fulfilled. The rhyming is a little cheesy, sure, but they’re never what they first appear. It’s the complexity to them that I like, even if they seem simple at first.
What I Didn’t Like:
This is the type of plot where everything is convenient. Everything that Gregor picks up at the beginning of his journey saves the day at the exact right time. It gets to the point where you know that everything that Gregor has on him in each book will be used, eventually, and usually in some sort of important way. The root beer in this book, for instance. It’s interesting how creative Collins can get, but it is still really, really convenient.
One of the main problems I have with the series is Gregor’s age. He’s only eleven, but he acts and sounds more like thirteen or fourteen. And, yeah, maybe that has to do with his dad disappearing and so he had to grow up quickly and so is more mature than the average eleven-year-old. Okay, sure. But his voice is still off. Also, Luxa is only eleven, too, but she acts and sounds more like fifteen. The point is, neither of these characters act or even sound like they’re eleven, so why make them eleven? Because it’s a middle grade novel? There’s also another reason why I have a problem with their age, but I won’t get into that until the last two books when it shows up.
I had a few issues with the writing style here and there, but it’s a middle grade novel so I was expecting that.
Gregor the Overlander is probably the weakest book in the series, mainly because it’s mostly set-up and worldbuilding for the next four books. However, I always love books centered on quests and these quests come complete with a prophecy to follow, which is great fun to read and try to decipher. Some interesting characters are introduced that will be sure to draw the reader into the next book to see what happens to them.
Coming Up Next: Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane