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I picked up Tunnels because it was another one of those books being touted as the ‘next Harry Potter.’ Let me start by saying it isn’t. It may have been ‘discovered’ by Barry Cunningham, the same man who saw the potential in Harry Potter and the authors may have a lucrative movie deal, but I’m very confident we won’t be seeing sales anywhere near the Potter level. That’s not to say it’s a bad book. It has a very inventive secret underground society, a nicely detailed world and back story, but for me it was lacking engagement.

Will Burrows is an odd loner who, like his dad, likes to dig. Not just holes in the garden, or even excavating ancient sites, he’s a tunneller, building extensive networks in the earth below a fictitious London borough. His father, a museum curator, is also a big tunneller. His mum is addicted to TV, so much so she barely leaves the sofa and his sister is an anally retentive 12-year-old who runs the house; cooking, cleaning and paying the bills. Will has only one friend, Chester, who Will has slowly introduced to his tunnelling addiction. Will’s dad begins to see some strange characters around town, outsiders who stand out even on London’s streets and then, he suddenly disappears. Will is desperate to find him and believe a secret tunnel leading from their basement holds the key.

Most of the characters, with the possible exception of Chester, Will’s best friend, are so completely odd, with such a strange mix of unbelievable character traits I found it hard to engage with any of them. These are typically anybodies the reader can relate to, they’re all eccentrics of the highest order. So I wasn’t really too bothered what happened to them.

The underground society they stumble into is equally odd, although the detail in what it looks like and how it operates is very interesting, a complete detachment from our world. The problem is it becomes more of a tortuous backdrop than part of the story, and the mood throughout to book is as deep as the tunnels they dig. I don’t mind a bit of darkness in a story, but too much and it feels like you’re wading through treacle, in this case it felt more like drowning it, with never a light at the end (pardon the pun).

This is far from the first book I have read set in an underground realm, probably not the last either, but if you want to read something set underground, I’d recommend Gregor the Overlander above this any day.

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Reviewed: 4th May 2009