Tunnels is a Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy novel by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, and is the first of the Tunnels series. The cover proudly proclaims that it is an "international bestseller!" and that it will soon be a "major motion picture!" The blurbs on the back are highly complimentary, enticing, and from reasonably credible sources. The series appears to be popular with kids, despite the books being nearly 500 pages long and being a bit more weighty than the Twilight saga. All of this brings into question whether I should be the first to review it here, as I did not particularly like it, and do not plan on reading the rest of the series. But no one else has reviewed it yet, so I will attempt to be fair and balanced...
Reviewing the book without giving too much away is difficult; this is an epic adventure, with layers of new discoveries and hidden worlds. It is not a secret that the book is about finding a secret world underground, but the adventures therein are widespread and complex. So in lieu of a rundown of a plot, I'll simply tell you that this is a story of dystopias and suffering, torment and sickness, struggle and adversity, lost cities and strange peoples, and worlds lost even to the lost worlds. It brings to mind Harry Harrison and Alan Dean Foster, although I suspect that there are much better comparisons in the world of fantasy than there are in science fiction. The story constantly borders on being depressing, but the expectation that everything will turn out alright in the end is just barely preserved through all the turmoil.
So... the downside. The book suffers from a host of ills, all minor, but all distracting. In some places the story drags a bit, in some places the phrasing is odd, in some places there is too little elaboration, in other places too much. Any of these alone would not be too bad, but put them together and it becomes a constant drag on the reading experience. The first chapter almost convinced me that this book was going to be one of the few I didn't bother finishing, but it turns out that the exceptionally low quality of the first few pages was simply an oddity -- I assume that they were tacked on at the last moment as an intro. The saving grace of this book is that it builds well -- there is always another hook to pull you on to the next chapter, and considering that the whole point of the book is the discovery of an amazing new world, it is impressive that the authors hold off for a over 150 pages before they actually show you this world, and still manage to keep things interesting.
I rather suspect that most reviewers have low expectations when it comes to children's and YA books, and that the young'uns themselves have been so brainwashed by movies that they confuse action with quality. That's the only explanation I have for how this book could be so popular. I do have to admit, as an action-adventure, this isn't a bad book. The underground world is fun to explore, the villains are quite villainous, the plot twists are quite twisty, and there is plenty of the rugged survivor theme that is so popular in movies and so rarely is done up right in YA novels. It's a good mix of Neverwhere and Journey to the Center of the Earth, and it deserves to be a good book... if only it had had a better editor. (It will, however, make a good movie).
The story of the publication of Tunnels is worth mentioning; the authors originally self-published a run of 2,500 copies under the title The Highfield Mole. This drew the attention of Chicken House Publishing, which published a revised version as the current Tunnels. This just goes to show that perseverance is just as important as talent -- and may also help explain the lack of professional editing.