Gregor and the Code of Claw is the fifth and final book in Suzanne Collins' Underland Chronicles series, and a worthy conclusion. The series is about 12-year-old Gregor, a boy from a struggling New York City family who discovers a hidden world deep below ground. In this world, the Underland, humans coexist with giant, intelligent species of insects and rodents: spiders, cockroaches, ants, fireflies, mice, bats, and rats. Gregor learns in the first book that he his coming has been predicted, and that he has a major role to play in the survival of the below-ground humans. He also, gradually, comes to care deeply for many of the beings that he interacts with in the Underland.
In this final installment, the rats have been attempting a genocide of the mice (conveyed with very clear World War II imagery). In defense of the mice, the humans have declared war on the rats. As the story begins, war looms outside the gates of Regalia, the human city. Another prophecy calls for action by Gregor and his sister. This particular prophecy is more disturbing than usual for Gregor, because it also appears to call for his death, with the line: "When the Warrior has been killed". It's a testament to how far he has progressed throughout the series that dodging the responsibility of this prophecy is not an option for Gregor. Instead, he works to the limits of his ability, to save the people he has come to consider his extended family. Several members of his own family are involved, too, ratcheting up the stakes even further. And an enemy within Regalia makes things even more difficult for Gregor.
As in Book 4 of the series, Gregor and the Code of Claw is a dark story, with war and death and evil. It's a bit of a paradox, actually, because the writing itself is quite accessible, and younger kids should have no problem with physically reading the book. They may, however, have trouble with the dark content, in which war is portrayed in all it's ugliness. It's a perfect read for reluctant middle school readers, who can handle the details and need a strong plot to keep them going. For younger kids, I would recommend that parents read the book, too, to be ready to discuss some of the issues. (As I would also recommend for the later Harry Potter books.). I think that they're important issues, and it's good to see them tackled in a children's book. It just might be a bit mature for, say, an eight-year-old to read alone.
I found Gregor and the Code of Claw to be a highly enjoyable, compelling read. I especially enjoyed the blossoming relationship between Gregor and Regalian Queen-in-Waiting Luxa. I was also pleased to see Gregor's middle sister, Lizzie, play a more overt part in this book than in previous titles, a part that had clearly been waiting for her for the entire series. Gregor's youngest sister, Boots, maintains her charming insouciance, though she has a bit less of a major role in this installment (as you might expect - it's tough to have a three-year-old playing a major part in a war). Ripred, battle-scarred rat who is a mentor to Gregor, evolves as a character, showing surprising tenderness towards Lizzie. The code-cracking part is fun, too. Some notes between Gregor and Luxa are left encoded, for kids to translate themselves. Overall, the book is a roller-coaster of action and suspense, laced throughout with moments of humanity and levity.
Gregor and the Code of Claw is a must-read for fans of the Underland Chronicles. If you haven't read the series, you should start at the beginning, rather than with this book. I highly recommended the series for reluctant readers, especially boys, for kids looking for a slightly easier to read adventure story than the Harry Potter books, and for anyone who is fascinated by insects, mice, bats, or underground cities.
Publication Date: April, 2007
Source of Book: Santa Clara City Library
Other Blog Reviews: Eryn, InfoDad.com, and 3LivingstonesHomeSchool. See also my reviews of Books 1 and 2, and Book 4
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.