Goodreads: Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods
Series: Underland Chronicles #3
Summary: Plague has struck the Underland and an ancient prophecy calls for Gregor once more to set out on a quest if he wants to save his friends. Tensions in the Underland are high, however, as the humans withhold necessary supplies from the rats even as they recognize the need to work together if they want to find a cure. Along with a crew that can barely keep from killing each other, Gregor enters the mysterious Underland jungle in an attempt to locate the plant that may hold their salvation.
Review: Even though the plot summaries for the series might start to sound repetitious—each one, for example, features a prophecy calling for Gregor to right some wrong in the Underland—Collins keeps things fresh by focusing on different aspects of war and what it means to be human in each book. This one focuses on an enemy the humans and their allies cannot simply attack with their swords—a highly contagious sickness that inevitably ends up killing the victims. The sense of helplessness experienced by the community in the face of this new threat shows just how much they tend to rely on violence to solve their problems. Although just about every Underlander would feel comfortable not only going to war but also dying in one, most of them recognize their inadequacy both to address a problem with learning and to accept a death that strips them of their dignity. Their only chance at survival lies in their willingness to set aside past injuries, yet most of them would rather die out of pride by sticking to their prejudices than admit their lifestyle needs changes. The question of how far the Underlanders are willing to go to preserve their comfortable worldview runs silently below the surface of the story.
That central question raises Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods above the average middle-grade fantasy adventure. Collins is playing with themes that have baffled and annoyed generations of scholars, poets, and philosophers. The major problem of human pride and its consequences branches out into dozens of directions, facing readers with terrible dilemmas such as when violence is justified (if ever), when attacks on civilians or other innocents are justified (if ever), and when extraordinary means such as biological warfare are justified (if ever). Collins makes readers face simultaneously the best and the worst of themselves, while asking them which side they have chosen and why.
Such issues can make Gregor, at times, a difficult read. Readers see many characters make good decisions many times over, and yet nothing ever seems to change. The Underland remains ever on the brink of war, species against species, everyone suspicious and hating each other. It is a world not unfamiliar. And yet, at the most surprising moments, Collins gives her readers just a little hope. Good may not have triumphed entirely—not yet, not now—but neither has evil won. And Collins makes it clear that good achieves its subtle victories often through the smallest and most unlikely of heroes.
The book, of course, contains a generous share of action and is populated with a cast of characters always interesting, if not equally lovable. Villains and heroes merge into each other, so no character is entirely unsympathetic—the ones who have little else to recommend them usually at least prove humorous. Still, the book is notable for more than its intriguing concept or its deft execution. It stays with the reader because it is, above all else, thoughtful.