Underland Reviews: Gregor the Overlander (chapters 11-12)

Chapter 11

This chapter starts a few hours after Gregor has been told by Vikus that he’s most likely the warrior mentioned in an ancient prophecy.

He didn’t in any way resemble a warrior. First of all, they were grown up and they usually had a lot of special weaponry. Gregor was eleven and, unless you counted a two-year-old sister as special weaponry, he’d come empty-handed.

To be fair, swinging a toddler at someone would probably hurt them alot. But it would probably also hurt the toddler.

Gregor is having a hard time believing that he’s actually the warrior, and unsurprisingly Luxa doesn’t believe it either. Vikus is certain that it’s Gregor, though, and there’s supposed to be a council meeting to determine whether Gregor is the one. If he is, they’ll aid Gregor on a quest to rescue his dad.

So, this is all seeming like a typical “chosen one” narrative. The main character finds out that they’re the subject of an ancient prophecy and at first they don’t believe but they rise to the occasion blah blah blah. It’s not exactly new and exciting, so if you’re going to do the chosen one thing you’d better have a way of making it feel unique or subverting it. I actually really like what Suzanne Collins does with this whole prophecy thing in the end, there’s a great twist to it that basically underminds everything you thought you understood about the series in the best way possible. Unfortunately, that pretty awesome twist only happens in the last book, and up until then it mostly seems like a standard chosen one narrative. Luckily the characters and settings and the overall themes of the series help to make it a lot more interesting.

Anyway, Gregor goes to council meeting, where apparently all he’s meant to do is stand there while they bombard him with questions.

The council began to ask him questions. All kinds of things, like when he was born and did he know how to swim and what he did in the Overland. He couldn’t figure out why a lot of the stuff was important. Did it really matter that his favorite color was green? But a couple of Underlanders were scribbling down every word he said like it was golden.

I’m imagining Gregor as Kevin the sea cucumber from SpongeBob and the Regalian council as the fish attending Jelly Con and Gregor says  “Next question!” and they all excitedly write that down..

“Excuse me,” he finally broke in. “I guess Vikus didn’t tell you, but I’m not the warrior. Look, please, what I really need is for you guys to help me bring my dad home.”

Everyone at the table stared at him for a moment and then began to talk with greater excitement. Now he kept hearing the words “follow his call.”

Oops.

The council vote on it and ten of the twelve think he’s the warrior, so they agree to help him get his father back if that’s what he wants. With this in mind, Gregor is pretty content to let them think whatever they want.

Before they can leave for the quest, however, another issue has to be discussed: Boots.
Gregor wants to take her with him on the quest, but the council is unsure whether this is a good idea. The prophecy calls for two Overlanders, two Underlanders of royal descent, two crawlers, two fliers, and two spinners (spiders). It also mentions “one gnawer beside and one lost up ahead” (gnawers are rats, fyi). One of those Overlanders obviously has to be Gregor, but there’s some debate over who the second Overlander is. Is it Boots or is it Gregor’s dad? One lost up ahead could also be Gregor’s dad, which would make Boots the second Overlander.

Oh, and another thing. The prophecy says that of the people on the quest, four will die. One of those four could easily be Boots if she’s brought along.

Gregor has no idea what to do. He feels responsible for Boots and doesn’t like the idea of leaving her behind in Regalia, even if she would be cared for well. He also mentions that if he and his dad die on the quest, Boots will never make it back home. I’m not sure I understand that logic because A) I’m sure the Underlanders could figure out a way to get Boots home without Gregor and his dad and B) THERE’S STILL THE RISK OF BOOTS DYING ON THE QUEST, GREGOR. Wouldn’t it be better for her to live in Regalia than die on the quest??

Then he noticed Luxa was avoiding his gaze. She had intertwined her fingers on the stone table before her and was staring at them tensely. “What would you do if it were your sister, Luxa?” he asked. The room got very quiet. He could tell the council didn’t want to hear her opinion.

“I have no sister, Overlander,” said Luxa.

Gregor felt disappointed. He heard a murmur of approval from some of the council members. Luxa’s eyes flashed around the table and she scowled. “But if I did, and I were you,” she said passionately, “I would never take my eyes off her!”

No offense, Luxa, but you’re known for being reckless so I don’t know if you’re the best person to take advice from.

Gregor then says that if he can’t take Boots he won’t go at all, which doesn’t leave the council much choice but to let him take Boots.

In the midst of all this arguing, a messenger flies in and reports that rats have swarmed Regalia. They found Shed and Fangor’s bodies and have launched an attack of their own on the city.

Chapter 12

Everything is thrown into chaos and the quest has to begin ASAP. Gregor is taken to a room the Underlanders refer to as the museum. It’s a room where they keep all of the items that have fallen from the Overland, and Gregor is allowed to take anything he wants in preparation for the quest. He takes as many flashlights and batteries as he can find. And a can of root beer that somehow found its way to the Underland. Then he grabs Boots from the daycare and finds that Dulcet has also packed some diapers, toys and cookies for Boots.

He returns to the High Hall to find everyone getting ready to take off. Henry is hugging a “painfully thin” girl good-bye. The girl is his sister, Nerissa. She’s crying uncontrollably and trying to warn Henry of some terrible fate that awaits him, but Henry brushes these warnings off and assures her he’ll be fine.

Hm.

Nerissa also gives Gregor a copy of the Prophecy of Gray, which surprises him because he had just been thinking about how he wishes he had more time to study it.

“Nerissa knows many things. She has the gift,” said a boy mounting a golden bat beside him. On second glance, Gregor realized it was Luxa, but her hair had been cropped off close to her head.

“What happened to your hair?” asked Gregor, stuffig the prophecy in his pocket.

“Long locks are dangerous in battle,” said Luxa carelessly.

“That’s too bad, I mean – it looks good short, too, “said Gregor quickly.

Luxa burst out laughing. “Gregor the Overlander, think you my beauty is of any matter in such times?”

Gregor’s face felt hot with embarrassment. “That’s not what I meant.”

I really like this whole exchange. I like how matter of fact Luxa is about cutting her hair. Short hair is better suited for battle and that’s that, who cares how it looks? It’s also refreshing for a female character to acknowledge how awful long hair would be for combat.

Gregor (carrying Boots in a special backpack Dulcet gave him), Luxa, Henry, Vikus, Solovet and Mareth take off on their bats, Gregor riding with Vikus. As they pass over the city of Regalia, Gregor can see Underlanders preparing for the oncoming fight with the rats. Torches are still lit all over the city, and Gregor wonders why they don’t put them out if there’s going to be an attack. Vikus explains that it wouldn’t help, the rats can see just as well in the dark, but humans need light. That puts them at a huge disadvantage in a place like the Underland.

They fly over farmland and Gregor notices that they have rows of lamps in the field to grow food. They run on gas from the earth, but they don’t have enough power to light the whole city, so they have to save it for food.

“Did an Overlander show you how to do that?” asked Gregor.

“Gregor, we did not leave our minds in the Overland when we fell. We have inventors just as you do, and light is most precious to us. Think you we poor Underlanders might not have stumbled upon some manner of harnessing it ourselves?” said Vikus good-naturedly.

Gregor felt sheepish. He had sort of thought of the Underlanders as backward. They still used swords and wore funny clothes. But they weren’t stupid. His dad said even the cavemen had geniuses among them. Somebody had thought up the wheel.

I  like how Vikus is politely like “Yeah we’re not totally incompetent dude??” It’s not only a good way of putting Gregor in his place and it’s also a good way of putting us in our place. I never exactly thought of the Underlanders as unintelligent, but it’s true that up until this point I thought of them as sort of backward.

As they’re flying, other bats keep joining the party briefly to speak with Solovet. Vikus tells Gregor that Solovet leads Regalia’s army, and we also learn a bit more about how Regalia is run.

“Luxa will ascend the throne when she turns sixteen. Until then Regalia is ruled by the council. I am but a humble diplomat who spends his spare time trying to teach prudence to the royal youth. You see how well I succeed,” Vikus said wryly. He glanced at Henry and Luxa, who were flipping wildly in the sky trying to knock each other off their bats. “Do not let Solovet’s gentle demeanor fool you. In the planning of battles, she is more cunning and wily than a rat.”

That explains why Luxa is a queen but not quite all-powerful yet. I figured it had something to do with her age but it’s nice to have that confirmation.

And then there’s that revelation about Solovet. We’ll get to Solovet.

Gregor unfurls the scroll with the Prophecy of Gray on it and asks Vikus to explain it a bit more to him. Gregor finds out that the moment he tried to escape was what supposedly instigated the whole prophecy and he immediately feels guilty. Vikus assures him that it wasn’t his fault, that the prophecy trapped him and there was nothing to be done. I’m not sure that’s true, since he probably could have been stopped from running away if people had told him why he couldn’t leave to begin with.

The Prophecy of Gray is also very vague about whether Gregor will succeed or fail.

“Well, that’s not too inspiring,” said Gregor. But for the first time Sandwich had struck a chord with him. The possibility that Gregor might fail made the whole prophecy more plausible.

This is really sad and really funny to me at the same time.

Finally they reach the bats’ colony. They need to ask Queen Athena, the bats’ leader, for official permission to bring Ares and Aurora on the quest. Now that it’s time to actually get the fliers, crawlers, and spinners to agree to the quest, Gregor has to be able to convince them that he is the warrior. Which is complicated, because he doesn’t even believe that he’s the warrior, but he has to pretend he does.

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