Friday, October 17, 2008

Books of Ember Part 1: The City of Ember

Title: The City of Ember

Series: Books of Ember #1

Author: Jeanne DuPrau

Genre: YA (10-13) Sci-fi/Apocalyptic

Excerpt from “Assignment Day,” Chapter 1 of The City of Ember:

In the city of Ember, the sky was always dark. The only light came from great flood lamps mounted on the buildings and at the tops of poles in the middle of the larger squares. When the lights were on, they cast a yellowish glow over the streets; people walking by threw long shadows that shortened and then stretched out again. When the lights were off, as they were between nine at night and six in the morning, the city was so dark that people might as well have been wearing blindfolds.

Sometimes darkness fell in the middle of the day. The city of Ember was old, and everything in it, including the power lines, was in need of repair. So now and then the lights would flicker and go out. These were terrible moments for the people of Ember. As they came to a halt in the middle of the street or stood stock-still in their houses, afraid to move in the utter blackness, they were reminded of something they preferred not to think about: that someday the lights of the city might go out and never come back on.

But most of the time life proceeded as it always had. Grown people did their work, and younger people, until they reached the age of twelve, went to school. On the last day of their final year, which was called Assignment Day, they were given jobs to do.

Two 12-year-old kids seek to save the people of their 200-year-old, underground city.

The Writing: The City of Ember isn’t spectacular as far as books go, but neither does it scrape the bottom of the barrel.

Some head-hopping occurs between the two protagonists, Lina and Doon, but since it is only the two, it’s manageable. The beginning seems to take some time to get going, and some of the first descriptions felt a tad long. Yet they are so well done, they leave an indelible imprint of this world so like our own—but not like it.

The ending loses some steam, lacking the completion of character arcs and the big climatic moment I’ve come to expect. But the last 2 pages are themselves a hook, packing an unexpected punch and reeling the reader into the next book of the series.

The Content: I have mixed reactions to The City of Ember. On one hand, it has some wonderful stuff. Through Lina’s eyes, we see a clear picture of the soul’s corruption, the ability of every hero to become a villain. The potential of every choice is clearly portrayed, showing how one bad choice can lead to another and then another in a downward spiral and how one right choice, though often the more difficult to make, can reverse that slide.

The whole structure of the story can also bee seen as an allegory, though I doubt Ms. DuPrau intended it as such. Here we can see that escape from eternal darkness can ultimately come only from following the Builder’s written instructions.

On the negative side, protagonist Doon is extremely arrogant and with a nasty temper. While the latter is said to carry unintended consequences, the statement is not upheld in this book with action and character growth. Nothing is said at all about the arrogance.

Also there are a group of “Believers” who are always chanting and saying the builders are coming soon to rescue them. They have a very cultic character; however this could be construed as a slam against Christians who believe in the second coming of Christ.

Finally, there are some ruminations about life and where it comes from, versus the mechanical, man-made world (the bean plant and the birth of a moth in the book). Significance seems placed on these events, but what kind eludes me.

Summary: While The City of Ember is not flawless in either content or in craft, the good outweighs the bad, making this an enjoyable read when approached with moderate caution.

Rating: Writing--3.0, Content--2.0, Overall--3.7

Order The City of Ember here.

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