The Books of Ember

Note: Having just finished the third book in The Books of Ember series yesterday, I had thought to review all of them in a single post, seeing as how I'm behind on the previous two posts as it is. However, that would just throw off my numbers for the year—because the number of review posts would not match the number of books read—which would drive me slightly batty. So I then decided to give them their own posts, but write them at the same time. In the end, that seemed too disjointed. Consequently, they're all bundled up into a single post. The number thing will make me slightly neurotic, but I'm hoping the cohesion placates me.

The City of Ember
by Jeanne DuPrau
MG apocalyptic fiction. 270 pp.
Random House. 2003.

back copy:

Lina Mayfleet desperately wants to be a messenger. Instead, she draws the dreaded job of Pipeworks laborer, which means she'll be working in damp tunnels deep underground.

Doon Harrow draws messenger—and asks Lina to trade! Doon wants to be underground. That's where the generator is, and Doon has ideas about how to fix it. For as long as anyone can remember, the great lights of Ember have kept the endless darkness at bay. But now the lights are beginning to flicker . . .

I'd heard about this series quite some time ago but never really picked it up to read. Then, somewhere along the way, I came across a review that actually piqued my interest. So I bought the first book. But then I still didn't read it. I finally changed that this year and finished off the series along the way.

The first book is, in terms of story and quality, the better book in the series. I think that has to do with the fact that apocalyptic fiction relies on the world you create. The same decline in quality essentially happened with The Giver and its subsequent books (though Gathering Blue was quite good as well, but that was only because I believed it was a different world from the first book, a notion that Messenger essentially debunked). The primary difference in the fall I see between these two series is that Lowry is a better writer than DuPrau and at least had quality of writing to salvage the end of her series.

I think the development of themes is more interesting in the subsequent books.

The People of Sparks
by Jeanne DuPrau
MG apocalyptic fiction. 338 pp.
Yearling. 2004.

back copy:
When Lina and Doon lead their people up from the underground city of Ember, they discover a surface world of color and life. The people of a small village called Sparks agree to help the Emberites, but the villagers have never had to share their world before. Soon differences between the two groups escalate, and it's up to Lina and Doon to find a way to avoid war!

In the riveting sequel to the highly acclaimed The City of Ember, Jeanne DuPrau explores the nature of conflict and the strength and courage necessary to overcome it.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I think the quality of storytelling and writing is in a bit of a decline. Here, I attribute that to my general Dislike of the Sequel. I can't say I was particularly interested in more of Lina and Doon's adventures. And I guess my problem with this is that I find it a bit on the implausible side that Lina and Doon can be the saviors of civilization yet again. Perhaps it would have been better for the author to spread the glory around a bit.

What I think works really well in this book is the notion of conflict and how it leads to war. It's particularly interesting as you have two cultures butting heads following some grand destruction. You have the cool heads who want peace to prevail as well as the hotheads that are looking for a fight to acquire power. In the end, you see the importance of cooperation.

The Prophet of Yonwood
by Jeanne DuPrau
YA fiction. 289 pp.
Yearling. 2007.

back copy:
War looms on the horizon as eleven-year-old Nickie and her aunt travel to the small town of Yonwood, North Carolina. There, one of the town's respected citizens has had a terrible vision of fire and destruction. As the people of Yonwood scramble to make sense of the woman's mysterious utterances, Nickie explores the oddities she finds around town, while keeping an eye out for ways to help the world. Is this vision her chance? Or is it already too late to avoid a devastating war?

In this prequel to the acclaimed The City of Ember and The People of Sparks, Jeanne DuPrau investigates how, in a world that seems out of control, hope and comfort can be found in the strangest of places.

In terms of actual writing and storytelling, I felt this book was the weakest of the three. I think that is most evident when you get to the last chapter, which is essentially a required epilogue. And we all know how I feel about those. But DuPrau forced herself into that by leaving too many open threads that needed resolution. And she had to somehow connect this book to the other two, since it's billed as a prequel.

However, I found myself quite intrigued by the author's exploration of the use of religion and God to justify war and conflict. Nickie's conflict comes in her desire to do and be good but in the unintended negative consequences that follow from that when she doesn't pause to question whether or not the things she's asked to do truly are good and moral.

I guess the one thing I walk away with from the series as a whole is the notion of respect for others and how that ought to be the key that leads to peace. In the first book, you have a civilization in decline that needs to find an answer, but you also have a corrupt government that is inhibiting others from seeking out solutions. In the second, you have two groups of people who must strive to work together, but again you have power-hungry individuals who are thwarting those attempts and aggravating the peace. The third throws in the element of religious/moral do-gooders who don't always do so much good, particularly as they set themselves up as the arbiters of what and who is good and bad.

In the end, I like the themes that DuPrau explores, though I find myself unimpressed with the writing skill employed. Regardless, I can see this as a good series to perhaps start a discussion with younger kids about conflict and love of neighbor.


Capn Kirk said...

Since the first book sounds like the best one, would it be best to just read City of Ember? Is it a standalone, or do the books require you finish the series?

On a scale of 1-10 (1 being abysmal and 10 being dynamo), where would you rate the series as a whole?

Edgy said...

I would just read the first book. The second book is truly a sequel, but your life will be no better nor worse for not having read it. Really, each of the three books could sit as a standalone.

On a scale of Abysmal to Dynamo, I'd probably give it a 3, assuming 3 is Meh.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic series. That's all I can really say! I love these books. Have you heard about the movie yet? Fox and Walden Media are releasing the City of Ember on October 10th of this year! I can't wait to see the action/adventure come to life, especially with Bill Murray playing the villainous Mayor Cole! I'm also an official ambassador for City of Ember, and we have a few exclusive, first-look pictures that I think you'd really like.
Would love to share them with you and have you involved in spreading the word about City of Ember as much as possible!

I hope posting on your blog did not overstep any bounds.

Look forward to talking with you soon!

Amber Baynor
Official Ambassador