- Author: Jeanne DuPrau
- Genre: Science Fiction / Fantasy
- Demographic: 9+
Even though I don’t quite fall into the appropriate age demographic for many fantasy novels that are intended for young adults readers, I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy them one bit. Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, and His Dark Materials trilogy are among my favorite books in my bookshelf. They are powerful and perhaps deeper than some literature books I’ve read in my entire life. The City of Ember (part of Book of Ember series) is one of my latest findings in the young adult section; when I read the synopsis, the book resonated with me as a deep fantasy adventure with ambitious themes that might strike as a “younger version” of George Orwell’s 1984. Unfortunately, what I got at the end was different from what I perceived, but the book definitely kept me entertained and intrigued until the very end.
For over two hundred years, the citizens of Ember have lived in darkness, save for the great lamps and flood lights that illuminate the city by day. But now, the lights are flickering, and blackouts are occurring more often. The buildings are crumbling, and the stockpiles of food and supplies are scarce. Enter the twelve-year-old Lina who discovers the remains of an ancient message that was feared lost long ago. The message, left by the Builders of Ember, contains the instructions on how to escape the city. With the threat of eternal darkness looming, Lina and her friend Doon work together to decipher the message. In doing so, they discover the secrets of why and how Ember was built, and many others that are darker than the city itself.
First and foremost, it is important to disclose that The City of Ember has all the elements of a great young-adult novel. The book is fast-paced and there is such life-threatening urgency in the plot that readers will be engrossed from beginning to end. Thus, The adult nature of the setting, combined with the young, resourceful protagonists, makes this book appeal to a wide age range of readers. However, when it comes to style of the writing, and the elegance of the story, the book somewhat falls short. Respectively, it seems DuPrau purposely dumbs down her own script to appeal to a much younger audience; despite the mature plot, the book doesn’t read like one. Furthermore, despite the rich context of the City of Ember, DuPrau was incredibly vague in her descriptions but she does manage to gradually unfold the realm of the city in an intelligent way that doesn’t distract us from the main plot. Other minor criticisms would be the simplicity of the mechanics of the city and its inhabitants; you will stumble to many aspects that you will question if it is possible for people (specifically adults) to behave in the manner they were shown. For example, DuPau does not provide any type of religious dogma or laws that prevent the inhabitants from experimenting and questioning the authority of the city and its illogical built; certainly humans are constantly curious creatures and always investigating their life as they live it.
Nevertheless, despite the criticisms, The City of Ember managed to become one of the most fascinating stories I’ve read recently. The plot ends with an enchanting cliffhanger that would leave most of it readers in a desperate need for a sequel. As a matter of fact, as soon I finished the book, I couldn’t help but not to pick the sequel (The People of The Sparks) in order to find what happens next. Thus, The City of Ember is definitely an engaging tale of mystery and exploration, just don’t try to explore deeper in its realm too much, because all you will find is a dark abyss with no “movable light” to guide your way out.