“Tunnels” – Steampunk Goes Mainstream

Book Review : Tunnels by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams

Spoiler Alert!

Will Burrows, as an albino teenager, has not found his niche with his peers. He has discovered a passion for archaeological digs with his father, Dr. Roger Burrows. Will allows his new friend and fellow outcast, Chester Rawls, to join him on a personal dig where they make a fascinating discovery. Perhaps it is a tomb, it is like nothing Will has ever seen. Even more interesting than the chamber, is the cave-in of their discovery that suspiciously looks like it was filled intentionally.

Dr. Burrows disappears leaving his children, Rebecca and Will, to fend for themselves with their mentally ill mother. The police believe he just needs some time to cool down, but Will knows his father has been keeping secrets. Will and Chester search for clues to Dr. Burrow’s disappearance, and in so doing, uncover an entire civilization beneath London.

This unknown world resembles the Victorian age of England, however, with some major differences. The people Will and Chester meet are ruthless and self-serving in their obsessions. Upon their capture by large albino police officers, they are placed in jail and tortured by the Styx for information. The Styx controls the lives of all those under ground through a fanatic religion and fear.

There are a few exceptions where kindness and humanity are extended. Sarah Macaulay, Will’s birth mother, had escaped from the Colony bringing him top soil in her flight. He is shocked to discover that he is originally from the Colony and the family he has lived with is his adopted family. Released from jail into his birth father’s custody, Will is accepted by most of the members of his birth family and is surprised to find he feels a deep connection to his Grandma Macaulay and Uncle Tam. Caleb is Will’s younger brother and very curious about life above ground.

Determined to escape with Chester back to London, Will’s plans go astray when Caleb decides to tag along at the last minute. The two boys escape the Styx, but Will cannot abandon Chester causing him to plunge into more trouble by returning to the Colony. Even more surprising than the discovery of this Colony is fact that there is even more to discover deeper within the earth. That which is deeper frightens the people of the Colony, but Will must move deeper to escape the Colonists and to follow the hope of finding his father, Dr. Burrows.

Adult Point of View

Steampunk is science fiction based in Victorian times when machines were primarily powered by steam. The steampunk motif is full of imaginary machinery and a grungy, pieced together look projecting how the Victorians might have seen the world. Older books in the sub-genre would include, “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley and “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” by Jules Verne, who was from the 19th Century. A new novel in the steampunk sub-genre that has been well received is “The Anubis Gate” by Tim Powers. I would consider “Tunnels” to be a mainstream novel and will bring a new readership to this fun sub-genre of steampunk.

“Tunnels” is not based in the 19th Century, but transports the Victorian Era to a new place and time under London named the Colony. The Colony is a stagnant culture which is repressed by the hierarchy. Many feel that the Victorian times were very repressive and this could be considered an extension of that time if it had not been allowed to develop as a closed society. Modern London in “Tunnels” could also be considered to be a natural course that our society is headed towards without a moral correction. The relationships of the children and their families is timeless.

The fascination that Dr. Burrows and Will has for the Victorian Era brings the reader the feeling that we are in a future that does not value or even know the past. The museum Dr. Burrows works in is infrequently visited. He is like a relic from another era with his passion for the past.

The characters are quite compelling and interesting. Dr. Burrows’ character is the perfect absent-minded professor who somewhat bumbles into his discovery of the Colony. The machines described within the Colony sound remarkable as well as the descriptions of specie selection. It would be a dream for any archeologist to discover. Will is equally mesmerized by his surroundings, though he is atypical of the majority of teenagers being interested in artifacts from the past. Chester works as a good foil for Will, being sensible and pragmatic in his approach. Will later sees himself in his brother Caleb and finds the wisdom in being more reticent and cautious. Rebecca is a child who takes on the role of the care-giver when the parents are unable to care for the children. Later, Rebecca’s character goes through an unexpected development as she becomes cruel and vindictive.

The first 180 pages are setting the scene and seemed laborious to read. Once Will and Chester find an entrance to the Colony the action is non-stop with twists and turns.

There is some language and torture scenes of children making this book for slightly older readers than would have been able to read it otherwise. I have also begun the second book to see if it lags at the beginning, but it begins at breakneck speed picking up where “Tunnels” left off and adds insight from Sarah Macaulay, Will’s birth mother. “Tunnels” has a dark tone and yet, I found I enjoyed the book because of the characters and the complex social structure. 3 stars out of 5
– the Mother

Now that I have read the rest of the series, which is published to date, I would rate it 3.5 out of 5 stars. I would also reiterate that there are disturbing torture scenes and would caution against letting younger kids read this series. It is probably best for kids over 14, and boys will love the series, especially when the characters start using more weaponry.

Teen Point of View

I thought this book was good once you got into it. It seemed agonizingly slow to begin with. It seemed a little dark at times but I still enjoyed it. I recommend it to teen age readers. I rate it 3 out of 5 stars

– the Daughter

I would rate the series a lot higher. 4 out of 5 stars

About Tales Untangled

I am a mother of four children and have a passion for reading. I love sharing my treasury of books with my kids. I also do experiments in cooking which includes such things as Indian Tandoori Chicken slow-cooked in a tagine. I write stories and illustrate in ink.
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