As a child, Curse of the Warmbloods was always my favorite entry in the Underland Chronicles. And as a child, I never really understood why. I always thought it was my fascination with an area of the Underland that stuck out compared to the rest: a humid, isolated jungle of vines and carnivorous plants in a world where trees do not grow. However, on a more simplistic, child-like mindset, I always really enjoyed the cover art for the third edition to the series. Look at that menacing reptile. Look at those skulls littering the path in front of it. Look at how these shades of green correspond with one another to create a bleak, yet serene landscape of an undisturbed wasteland. I find it so enveloping, even now, that I can’t help but give it a stark advantage for presentation alone.
Leaping into Curse of the Warmbloods for a third time, I can now acknowledge what makes this novel superior to the two prior entries.
After the events of Prophecy of Bane, Gregor is conflicted with a new prophecy given to him by Nerissa, the cousin of Luxa and a member of the Regalian royal line. The prophecy is written backwards, only able to be interpreted when shown in a mirror. One day, Gregor receives an urgent message from Regalia that a plague has set itself upon the Underland that kills any warm-blooded creature, and they require his assistance to go on a quest to find a cure. This plague described in the message is eerily similar to the one written in the prophecy Gregor has in his possession. With no other choice, Gregor is again dragged back to the Underland in order to fulfill a prophecy he never cared to participate in.
A common complaint of mine for the Underland Chronicles up to this point was that it was too simplistic in mind and didn’t offer very much in terms of critical thinking. This is more apparent in the first book, but the second book doesn’t delve much into the concept of graying the lines of the text either. It is not until Curse of the Warmbloods that the series begins to not only tell, but show the instability between good and evil, and that the stance of those in power doesn’t necessarily correlate with everyone with whom they rule over. This is one of few key elements present that make the third edition of the Underland Chronicles the gateway to a deeper and more involved story.
While the subjects involved become more multi-dimensional, the way the story is written changes very little, if at all. The story still relies on the bare necessities of description to inch the story forward. Writing that cuts to the chase, without any sort of unnecessary information that may dwindle along from the main path. As a result, Gregor, as the observer in the whole of the story, doesn’t dwell on various issues as much as perhaps he should. I’ll admit that the amount of insight or inner monologues that Gregor has to himself is somewhere between the first and the second novel; I feel it’s more balanced, but still somewhat scarce. Nevertheless, it doesn’t leave much for Gregor’s own self as a character in the story, and rather someone who serves as the eyes of the reader with a blanket cover of basic morality and righteousness.
Up to this point, the humans were shown to be the force of good will and the rats were the mindless monsters of brutality and hostility. The involvement of characters such as Ripred and Twitchtip, two rats that join the mostly human and bat cast as allies during quests, gives a little leeway into showing the “humanity” present within the Underland rat colony, but they could just as easily be perceived as outliers. Present within Curse of the Warmbloods is motivation to believe that the alignments assigned to creatures in the Underland aren’t established without bias. Put more bluntly, humans are just as capable of committing immoral acts than that of their “gnawer” counterparts. All they need is the proper motivation to do so.
Another welcome addition to the story is the concept of discord within the ranks of the Regalian empire. As is typical when dealing with politics and war procedures, not everyone will agree with one overall tactic or ideology. With the arrival of new characters comes the roots of history that plague certain members of the Regalian council, giving more insight to individual character’s beliefs, and the promise of justifiable injustice for the perceived safety or stability of the race. This may all sound standard for any story involving a world constantly at war with another country, civilization, or race, but with a series written as simplistically and as inclined as the Underland Chronicles has been up to this point, it feels like the world of Regalia and the Underland as a whole has finally been opened up to a more logical and realistic state of awareness.
As overjoyed as I am to finally see this series expand upon its potential, there are still a lot of leaps taken in terms of story and character development. For those who have read my review on The Prophecy of Bane, one would be aware of the criticism I have of every story being entirely too similar. This is not something that changes in Curse of the Warmbloods, as anything that takes place throughout the course of the quest in the previous two books is relatively unchanged in the third. Gregor goes on a quest. Something bad happens that slows the quest. Characters interact and Gregor makes a new friend(s) in the most unlikely of places. The quests hits its climax and another bad thing happens. The questers are left hopeless until they achieve hope somewhere else. The end presents a successful, yet unfulfilling foreshadowing of the future. Lather, rinse, buy a new sink.
I’ve also noticed a continuing trend among the selection of deaths present in the series. As violent a premise as the Underland Chronicles has and the ever-waging war between races, death is a common occurrence within these novels. However, one has to wonder the coincidence of the deaths occurring to characters introduced in the book they perish in. The mere mention of this may present spoilers, but it’s not guaranteed that characters introduced in a certain story will die within the same book, only that their chances of death skyrocket compared to others. I only bring this up because I feel it leaves out more impact the reader could have if the characters were present more throughout the series, as opposed to dying within the first hundred or so pages of when they were introduced. It becomes more of a game of “Who’s next?” and less about the impact of the loss of those involved.
The repetition present in the way the story is told is alarming, but I feel Gregor acts more his age in here than in other books. He’s more demanding of people and less inclined to think about what he says before he says things. Not to mention, he allows the prejudice he has built towards rats and other races aside from those constantly aligned with the humans to give a sense of distrust a child would have towards things taught to them by others to distrust. He’s still morally good and prioritizes others upon himself, but at least he has more of a self-centered snarl to him this time around. Other characters present are also given a little more depth to them in terms of how their history affects their motivations. Sadly, a lot of the potential is used towards new characters that may or may not survive until the next book, but characters such as Ripred, Vikus, and Solovet, three characters present since the first novel, have a lot more attention garnered towards their personal history, whether good or bad. Curse of the Warmbloods is more guilty of using characters as tools to further display the history and instability of the Underland and its inhabitants than as individuals, but it’s not entirely that way. To be frank, I think Suzanne Collins holds a clear favoritism towards Ripred.
While the second novel overindulges in description to some degree, I feel Curse of the Warmbloods goes back to barely describing anything at all. I believe Collins favors dialogue between characters and progressing the story over accurately depicting a scene, as sometimes I can’t quite tell what’s even going on in a particular scene. Most of the time, vague clues are the only indicator of the general make-up of Gregor or any other character’s location, whether it be “Hospital,” “Throne room,” “Jungle,” or “Vineyard.” I’m struck with trying to identify the location based on what I already know of these places to generally look like, rather than have the book describe to me what makes these locations different to set apart the Underland from the real world. For those uninterested in spending paragraph after paragraph being told what everything looks like, the Underland Chronicles certainly won’t bore you with its attention to detail. However, when the setting is an entirely new world with a vast array of locations and interesting possibilities, I feel the description should be on par with the magnitude of the location. At least the darkness present is a
lazy handy tool to vaguely discard any fine detail.
In terms of structure and detail, Curse of the Warmbloods doesn’t do much to separate itself from the books prior. However, where it lacks in description, it more than makes up for in world-building and adding to the suspense of discord among the human species in Regalia, along with showcasing most species in a more multi-dimensional viewpoint. It gives a lot of potential to future editions and presents a sense of corruption that isn’t normally embodied in a series presented for older children. I enjoyed this book immensely and unless the last two books in the series dethrone it, it is still considered my favorite book of the series. If the series started here, I feel I could more confidently recommend it to people of any age, rather than its target demographic, but the repetition in story progression and the pragmatic sense of writing leaves a lot to be desired. Curse of the Warmbloods is still victim to these issues that have been incorporated since book one, but it’s the best direction the story could take with these issues in mind.