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Tunnels

Tunnels is a Middle Grade / Young Adult subterranean fiction series by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams. The series consists of six books. A manga based off the books was released in Japan, and film rights have been given to Vincenzo Natali, though production has never started.

Will Burrows is a fourteen-year-old boy whose major passion is digging. He often helps his archaeologist father perform excavations in the rural British town of Highfield. However, he gets more than he bargained for when his father's latest investigation leads to the discovery of an underground civilization called the Colony. The Colony has long existed hidden from the "Topsoilers" on the surface. However, the tyrannical Styx ruling class of the Colony has come up with a plan to commit genocide on the Topsoilers and reclaim the surface for themselves. Because Adults Are Useless, it is up to Will and various friends of his to stop the Styx, a quest that takes them ever deeper into bowels of the Earth.

  • Tunnels (2007). Originally published as The Highfield Mole: The Circle in the Spiral in 2005. The earlier edition was self-published and few copies were actually sold.
  • Deeper (2008).
  • Freefall (2009).
  • Closer (2010).
  • Spiral (2012).
  • Terminal (2013).


This series includes examples of:
  • Aborted Arc: the Dominion plot was simply forgotten after the end of Closer. Arguably it becomes unimportant due to the events of Spiral, but there was simply no mention of it whatsoever.
  • Absent-Minded Professor: Dr. Burrows in spades. Also Will has picked up a little of this from his foster father.
  • Action Bomb: In Spiral, the Styx use the darklight to brainwash people into being action bombs.
  • Action Girl: Elliott
  • Adults Are Useless: Played straight with the Burrows parents, but pretty well averted below-ground. For a story with kids as the protagonists, there are a surprising number of competent adults. Most of the antagonists are adults, and they are quite good at their jobs.
    • Will's parents turn out to be a brutal justification; they were both Darklit continuously by the Styx to make them that way.
  • Adventurer Archaeologist: Dr. Burrows thinks of himself this way
  • Anyone Can Die: No one is safe.
  • Badass: Drake, most prominently, though most of the Old Guard could be considered this.
    • Sweeney and Jiggs, for instance, are respectively an incredibly muscled supersoldier and a skilled assassin who kill multiple Limiters with little more than their bare hands.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: Eliot's styx side becomes much more apparent in Spiral and terminal, until she even grows insect limbs during the closing moments of the series. And then afterwards the final moments of Terminal strongly imply that Will himself may be becoming a styx
  • Badass Normal: Well over half the human cast
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: the first we see is Dr. Burrows' dust mite the size of a small car. Elliott calls them cave cows. Later on we get similarly-sized "spider monkeys" and Brights.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Drake and Parry's respective posses.
  • Beneath the Earth: The setting.
  • Big Bad Friend: the Rebeccas
  • Body Horror: Anything related to the Phase.
  • Boom, Headshot: Several. How Elliott takes out Tom Cox in Closer and how Cal ends the fight with the Limiter in Deeper.
  • Brainwashed: One of several purposes of the dark light. A surprising amount of people both in the Colony and the outside world have been brainwashed by the Styx.
  • Brandishment Bluff: Elliott pulls one of these in Closer
  • Brick Joke: Jiggs is played for drama this way
  • Broken Bird: Chester
  • Carrying the Antidote: And the Idiot Ball, it seems...
  • Cave Mouth: The entrance to the Colony rests below an enormous stone skull.
  • Changeling Fantasy: Will, though his biological parents actually don't end up being much better at all.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Dr. Burrows is a bit... eccentric, to put it kindly.
  • Crazy Cat Lady: Mrs. Tantrumi
  • Creepy Child: The Rebeccas.
  • Creepy Twins: The Rebeccas.
  • Dead Man Switch: Elliott claims to be using such a trigger connected to a backpack full of explosives as leverage to negotiate with the Styx and rescue Will.
  • Dead Person Conversation: Will has several conversations with Uncle Tam, though he is clearly a dream/projection from Will's mind rather than a ghost.
  • Defector from Decadence: Eddie.
  • Delinquents: Speed and his gang.
  • Dirty Coward: Downplayed but still present with Sarah during her escape from the Colony. She abandons first one and then both baby sons in order to get herself away clean.
  • Disney Death: In Deeper, Caleb is thought dead after his encounter with the Sugar Trap, but gets better.. only to be Killed Off for Real at the end. Also in Deeper, Drake pops up right as rain after an apparent death scene that was pretty traumatic for the protagonists, though only the reader knows he is still alive.
  • Disney Villain Death: Rebecca One in Spiral.
  • Drill Tank: Used by the Coprolites for mining. Drake commandeers one twice, and both times awesomeness ensues
  • Due to the Dead: the "graves" Will makes for his dead relatives in the inner world.
  • Egopolis: Dr. Burrows has a somewhat alarming tendency to name things after himself
    Dr. Burrows: "The Garden of the Second Sun... I shall call it Roger Burrows Land!"
  • Enfante Terrible: The Rebeccas
  • Everything's Better with Dinosaurs: Will and crew encounter some "living fossils", including pterosaurs.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Drake's orange lens that allows him to see in the dark. While he doesn't always wear it, he has it on most of the time when he has the boys under his wing, and it is seen to be one of the things that makes him so impressive. Will gets one of his own later, and continues to use it for the rest of the series.
  • Face Full of Alien Wing-Wong: How Styx reproduce during the Phase.
  • Face-Heel Turn: Eddie. Just when you think that he and Drake are going to overthrow the Styx, he goes and activates the Darklight programming he's put on Drake, leaves him to die in an explosion, and clears out his flat.
  • Fair Weather Mentor: When Drake and Elliott find themselves thrown in with Will, Chester and Cal, do they stop to let the boys catch up? Of course not.
    • That is, until Drake teaches them how to shoot and fend for themselves. But Elliott is pretty cold to them to begin with, and then again after Drake's "death". Both of them get better later
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: Tom Cox and Sweeney both have their heads blown to pieces by unrelated incidents in the center of the Earth. Also Caleb's death- being shot by over a dozen snipers at once- at the end of Deeper is described in cringe-inducing detail.
    • The virus released into the inner world at the end of Spiral.
  • Foil: Chester and Cal, Will and Elliott, Chester and Elliott, Eddie and Drake, in some perspectives, and even Will and Chester, in a fair few situations. Heck, at some points, it can even seem like everyone to anyone.
  • The Fool: Dr. Burrows. While everyone else is fighting for their lives, he wanders in and out of lethal danger without even noticing, being far more interested in trying to decipher the odd hieroglyphic than, say, the numerous predators stalking him or his shortage of food and water.
    • It makes sense, though, as he was subject to massive gradual darklighting.
  • Foreign Queasine: The food in the Colony and pretty much anywhere else underground. Eyeless rat is a rare delicacy, and there are far more insect- and fungus-based dishes than Will is comfortable with.
  • Fungus Humongous: the fungus growing in the Pore
  • Good Is Not Nice: Drake. Eddie. Danforth.
  • Gravity Screw: And how! The deeper the protagonists go in the first 3 books, the less gravity there is, and as it turns out there is actually a "zero-gravity belt" between the deepest deeps and the center of the earth.
  • Half-Breed Discrimination: To the extreme when it comes to the (incredibly rare) instance of a child between a Colonist and a Styx. This is forbidden by Styx law, so the Styx parent would be killed and the Colonist parent and child shunned and banished from the Colony.
  • Hands-Off Parenting: Will's mother is glued to the television 24-7, while his father focuses more about archaeology than his family.
  • Healing Factor: Styx heal twice as fast as ordinary humans.
  • Heavy Worlder: The deeper the protagonists go into the earth, the weaker gravity is, so they can easily carry heavy loads and jump unusually high. They experience the opposite effect when traveling back to the surface after a long time in low gravity: everything is heavy and their movements are slow and labored.
  • Heel-Face Revolving Door: Danforth, who ends up killing Chester's parents in an attempt to fool the Styx.
  • Hell Hound: The Stalkers
  • Heroic Albino: Will and Cal. Albinism is highly valued in the Colony, as it indicates direct descent from the albino Founders.
  • Heroic Bastard: Elliott.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Uncle Tam and eventually Drake.
    • Arguably, Dr. Burrows as well.
  • Historical In-Joke: Vlad III Tepes carried out his massacres to stop the Styx.
  • Hollow World: One is rumored to exist at the very center of the earth, and in the third book, they find it.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Martha. Chester also commits unintentional cannibalism, thinking the meat he's being fed is from wild birds.
  • Ideal Hero: Stealing the limelight from Will, Drake could be viewed as this, although he is slightly hot-headed.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight / Beat the Curse Out of Him: Drake uses some of both to break through Chester's mum and dad's brainwashing, making them look through family pictures at knifepoint and eventually resorting to nearly strangling Chester before they recognize him.
  • The Immune: Elliott, after drinking the Dominion vaccine.
  • Impact Silhouette: Chester falls into a massive fungus, landing on his back with his arms and legs out, and leaves a Chester-shaped impression. It's fairly deep too, as he has to spend quite some time working himself free from the fungus. Elliott lands on her side so her impression is more of just a blob shape, and we are never shown Will's or Bartleby's.
  • Innocent Blue Eyes: Will has these at first, but at the end of Terminal, they become red as a result of him possibly becoming a Styx.
  • Ironic Echo Cut: Done several times in Freefall.
    Elliott: "We never leave our own behind. [..] He'd do the same for us."
    Chester: "Yes, he would. Good old Will."
    (Cut to...)
    Will: "Get a move on, or I'll leave you behind!"
  • Jerk Ass: Everybody has their moments due to the stress and tension they're put under throughout the series. Strangely enough, any consistent Jerk Ass in the story mellows out eventually. The only truly consistent example throughout the whole series is, of course, the Styx, especially the Rebecca Twins, who often go out of their way to humiliate Will and make him feel like an idiot before they get down to business and try to kill him.
    • Celia Burrows becomes notorious for her pushy, loud, and rude behavior during her time in the mental hospital, mostly out of frustration from being the literal Only Sane Woman. She's insensitive towards the insane patients and monopolizes the television. She rips Sarah up pretty badly, too, when she tries to question her about Will's whereabouts.
      • Celia and Roger Burrows' Jerkassery is explained in Spiral as being caused by Darklighting.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Drake. He is hard and tough, but still has pretty idealistic values.
  • Les Collaborateurs: The Styx have agents everywhere. There are even Topsoilers who collaborate with the Colony.
  • Let's Get Dangerous: Despite being the biggest of the kids and someone not to be messed with back at school, Chester underground is nearly constantly complaining, easily grossed-out, and generally the least proactive of the group; however, he does have his moments here and there. Most notably the fight between the boys and the limiter where he's pushed far enough to skip over badass and go straight from scared to scary, going crazy for minute and trying to beat the guy to death with his fists.
    • He won't forgive the Styx for all those months of imprisonment and daily beatings in a hurry.
  • Let's Split Up, Gang: "No way! Whenever they do that in the movies something terrible happens. We're staying together."
  • Mad Love: Martha is obviously barking mad and has a strong but twisted kind of (parental) love for Chester, whom she sees as a substitute for her own dead son.
  • Mama Bear: Sarah when she has her mind right
  • Man-Eating Plant: The Sugar Traps. Yikes.
  • Manchurian Agent: Lots of people topsoil, including members of the government and police force.
  • The Masquerade: The Colony will go to any lengths to keep its existence secret. They have collaborators on the surface, and anyone who stumbles on something they shouldn't or starts asking inconvenient questions gets disappeared.
  • Meaningful Name: Dr. and Will Burrows are passionate about digging and exploration.
  • Men Don't Cry: Notably averted in that there are more tears from male characters than from the ladies. Chester cries more than anyone else in the first few books, and in quite an unmanly fashion. We usually see Tears of Fear from Chester, because scary things keep happening to him (being kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured, etc.), and tears of grief from Will, whose companions/relatives keep getting killed. Even Drake weeps as the people of the Rookeries are massacred.
  • Mind Probe: The Dark Light.
  • Multi-Armed and Dangerous: The Styx women during the Phase.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: The fight between the three boys and the Limiter in Deeper.
  • Near Villain Victory: The Styx took down Britain, and very nearly had the rest of the world while they were at it.
  • No Name Given: Drake, and arguably Eddie as well, since the name he uses is also an alias.
    • The latter does have an excuse, though, given that he is a Styx and therefore no Topsoiler would be able to pronounce his name.
  • Not Even Human: In Spiral, the Styx are revealed to be non-human.
  • The Obi-Wan: Uncle Tam
  • Offing The Off Spring: Sarah's plan for Will, believing that he betrayed Tam to the Styx.
  • Parental Abandonment: Sarah Jerome ditches both her sons when escaping the Colony. Also the Burrows parents in their own way. both are so caught up in their on obsessions (Celia's TV and Roger's archeological work) that they don't take care of their children at all. If anyone is the parent in the Burrows house, it's Rebecca, who does all the family's cooking, housekeeping, and bill-paying. Later they both literally abandon their family as well, Roger disappearing and going off on his own underground adventure and Celia going to live at a sanitarium and leaving her children with her equally-irresponsible sister.
  • The Plague: Dominion, a strain of influenza engineered by the Styx to eradicate life on the surface.
  • Plant Person: The natives of the Garden of the Second Sun.
  • Planet Spaceship: Earth itself turns out to be one at the conclusion of Terminal
  • Precursors: It turns out the Styx are these. After an unknown event they simply forgot who they are.
  • Properly Paranoid: Sarah when topsoil. Drake and Elliot in the Deeps. Chester thinks of himself this way almost word-for-word in Closer.
  • Psychic Static: "I pray that I might not let those about me spoil my peace of mind."
  • Rape as Backstory: Implied in the brief mention of Elliott's history.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Sarah
  • Religion of Evil: The Book Of Catastrophes.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Martha tries to adopt Chester as a replacement for her dead son.
  • Retired Badass: Parry, as well as the rest of the Old Guard.
  • Scenery Porn: Will and Dr Burrows freefalling to the center of the earth, and the subsequent travel through the gravity belt is quite dramatically described
  • Single-Minded Twins: The Rebeccas.
    • Only at first. Through the course of the books, their personalities diverge quite a bit. Rebecca Two is far milder and much more rational. She rarely suggests the use of violence and acts quite kindly to several character. Her sister, on the other hand, is very dominating and quite ruthless.
  • Sinister Scythe: The weapon of choice for the Styx.
  • Sour Supporter: Elliott and Chester are both this for Will in Deeper and Freefall, but become less "sour" and more "supporter" as the story goes on.
  • Spirit Advisor: Uncle Tam to Will. Implied that Martha's dead son may be something of this to her...except she's actually crazy.
  • Straight Man: Eddie, somewhat.
  • Straw Nihilist: Elliot seems to think this way, though it is downplayed and not used to make philosophical arguments. She is more cynical than Drake despite being much younger, and her spiel in Deeper about how everyone is wormfood certainly fits this trope.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Drake and Elliott both carry a lot of explosives. In a whimsical moment Will even imagines a superhero alter ego for Elliot, the Exploding Girl, who has nitroglycerin for blood.
  • Stupid Neutral: The Coprolites appear to possess no survival instinct, and will passively let the Styx line them up and execute them without resistance, though this may be justified by their having been enslaved for generations and accepting this as the normal course of life.
  • Stupid Scientist: Being off on his own adventure for the first half of the series and an Absent-Minded Professor to being with, Dr. Burrows never gets to see the Styx's brutality or anything about the Dominion plot. So he thinks Will and Drake are just being paranoid to run from them and stubbornly refuses to accept that the Styx are dangerous or that the Dominion could even happen right up until his death at the hands of Rebecca.
  • Supersoldier: Sweeney and quite possibly Jiggs.
  • Talking to the Dead: Will does this a couple of times, notably in Deeper after he fails to keep his promise to protect Cal.
  • The Ghost: Jiggs in Spiral. until one paragraph at the very end.
  • To absent, and very brave, friends.
  • Trigger Phrase: Used by the Styx. Sensibly, the phrases are in the Styx language, so they can't be triggered accidentally.
  • Twin Switch: Done regularly by the Rebeccas.
  • The Unmasqued World: The Book of Catastrophes foretells this, calling it the Discovery and warning that the Topsoilers will destroy the Colony unless the Colonists destroy them first.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Downplayed by Dr. Burrows. The Styx were going to kill them anyway, but he outright called their bluff and volunteered to be the victim, despite all the ruthless and vicious things happening around him. It wasn't the first example either.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Downplayed. Will is revealed to be something of this in Deeper when Rebecca derides him for spending so much time digging and helping Dr. Burrows, "digging for daddy's love".
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The character Jiggs is mentioned several times throughout the book by Drake and Parry. For several hundred pages not one mention of him is made, until he suddenly appears in the Garden of the Second Sun, kills several Limiters, distracts the Rebeccas, saves Will, and tumbles into the inner space of the Earth's core, and is presumably killed.
  • Wild Card: Eddie.
    "He's not on your side anymore!"
    "No."
    "Well, whose blooming side is he on then?"
  • Yandere: Martha.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Poor Chester gets his chain yanked twice. First is Will's disastrous attempt to rescue him from the hold in the first book where everyone gets away except Chester. And then he spends months underground wanting only to go home to his family on the surface, but when he's finally reunited with his parents, they've been brain washed and don't recognize him as their son. Fortunately Drake is able to fix them.
    • Only for them to be killed the very next book. By a double agent who later turns out to be a triple agent. Understandably, he doesn't take it well. Then, he is killed in the next book by Martha.
  • You Cannot Thwart Stage One: the dominion virus still ends up in styx hands by the end of Closer despite several books being spent trying to get rid of it entirely. However, Will and Eliot do at least manage to get the cure to the surface. Then in spiral there is a double subversion; the first phase is averted without any difficulty, meaning stage one is thwarted. However, the backup Phase goes ahead on the surface, effectively making things worse than if stage one hadn't been thwarted
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Standard Styx procedure towards anyone who helps them.
  • You Shall Not Pass: Uncle Tam's death in Tunnels.
  • You Wouldn't Shoot Me: Roger doesn't say this exactly, but his sarcastic "if you want to murder someone, you can start with me" counts. As it turns out the person he's taunting really would shoot him. A lot.
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