Sunday, August 2, 2009

Book Review: "THE CITY OF EMBER" by Jeanne DuPrau

Lina Mayfleet desperately wants to be a messenger. Instead, she draws the dreaded job of Pipeworkers 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....


Well, I guess I lucked out. Another 5 star read! And no, I don't just "give out" 5 star ratings. They are well deserved. "The City Of Ember" has absolutely earned the rating and I am looking forward to reading the next 3 installments of the series, starting with book 2, "The People Of Sparks".

So, What makes this 5 stars? Well, for starters, I was sucked in and hooked from the first 2 pages of the introduction. I found myself going to sleep last night at about 5:30 a.m. when the last page was read leaving me wishing I did not need sleep, and wanting to tear into book 2. In the intro, the "builders", who apparently created an underground city that started with 100 older folks and a whole mess of little babies (no one middle aged), had put these people here in case there was a catastrophic event that would end humanity above ground. At the time, there was some need to fear that things were not going too well. In an attempt to somehow preserve life underground in a hidden city, the residents would resurface a few hundred years in the future and rebuild civilization there if needed.

Lina and Doon, childhood friends who have grown up in Ember, know nothing of the world above ground. From early on they are taught that the City of Ember is the only place where life exists, and that life is a controlled one. They are schooled and then at the age of 12, they are assigned to different jobs in the city. Lina, who's job as a messenger has her running all through the town while she delivers messages from residents to other residents at .20 cents a message. Doon, who actually traded jobs with Lina, works by making repairs in the Pipeworks, which are tunnels where a giant river flows and somehow powers a generator providing electricity to the city.

Initially, when the "builders" created the city, they leave a box with a lock that is timed to open about 250 years into the future. This box is supposed to be left with each mayor of Ember as the years go on with only the knowledge that the box is to be passed on to the next mayor and when the time is right, it will open (basically, when supplies have run low and a certain amount of time has passed). No one had any idea at all that the "box" contained instructions that would lead the residents of Ember above ground and introduce them to the world, whatever the state of that may be at the time. The box had been successfully passed down amongst several mayors, until one day it did not, and ended up stuffed in the back of a closet somewhere in Ember, only to finally have the "timed" lock open, going unnoticed.

Lina's grandmother finds the "box" in the back of her closet, as it was a relative (a past mayor) who did not follow orders and did not pass the box on to the next mayor. Lina's baby sister Poppy, had chewed up and destroyed most of the words on the single sheet of paper that was in the box, leaving Lina to try and figure out what exactly did the message in the strange box say. Only having pieces of sentences and words, which was very difficult to decipher, Lina and Doon attempt to figure out the message and are hoping it has something to do with finding a way out of Ember, which they have dreamed about for years. Could there possibly be another city or even another world where others existed and skies could even be blue? A place where daylight was not basically set on a timer?

As the box containing the message, which was instructions on how to accomplish the unthinkable and actually leave Ember were discovered past the "pre set time", food had become scarce, the electricity had begun to flicker in and out on a much too frequent basis than ever before, and almost all supplies were scarce or even gone. Lina and doon, decipher the message and find that there is indeed a way out of Ember. It is a trip they must attempt. They do not know where the instructions will take them or what to expect, but all they know is they must go and see if there is hope outside of Ember for themselves and their fellow residents before times runs out and everyone will end up dead in Ember.

When Lina, Doon, and Poppy take the journey instructed to them down a long river and up a steep multi mile climb through caves and tunnels, they emerge to the site of a strange white, glowing ball (the moon) and an infinite number of little spots (stars) in the sky providing them with a "different" kind of light. The next day, they are even more startled to find a bright yellow ball of fire in the sky, which is providing natural light, not light provided by the generator, which could or couldn't work at any time. Finally they discover trees, actual ground, and a four legged creature who basically introduces them to what I believe to be plums ( a purple fruit with a "stone" in the center), the most wonderful thing they have ever eaten.

They find their way to a hidden crack in a dent in the ground, where they see, from miles up, their city of Ember! Lina, thinking quickly, finds a way to send alert to the rest of the residents of Ember with instructions on how to escape before it is too late. They can only hope that it is found and the instructions are followed (the author leaves a hint that it is found). The book basically ends there leaving you dying to see if the residents of Ember find their way out and even more so, what are they to do now if they can get out? They would be homeless, without food, or no real knowledge of life above ground, if there is even any human existence left. Ahhh, time for book 2, "The People Of Sparks".

Jeanne DuPrau created a city in which to the residents, life was what is was supposed to be. No where else to go beyond the city limits, education based solely on the history of Ember, a limited supply of food, supplies etc., recycled clothing, the same old way of life since as long as anyone can ever remember. However, what is still portrayed, even given the circumstances, are the ability to love, care, deceive, maintain friendships and most importantly, live in a civilized, orderly manner, regardless of whether you live in a city miles under ground unknowingly isolated from the real world.

I did give this book 5 stars as I can not wait to read the rest of the series. I am anxious to find out what happens to the citizens of Ember. I am dying to watch the character development of Lina and Doon as well as the introduction to hopefully new characters as the story progresses. Possibly even a relationship form between Lina and Doon would be something to look for down the road. Watching Poppy grow and what her reaction might be to learning about her past is something else I am curious about. If and when the citizens do join Lina, Doon, and Poppy above ground, I can not wait to see how they learn to adapt to an unknown world and to see their initial reactions.

Great Job in writing this Jeanne. When an author can create a world where you can actually picture what it would be like to physically be a part of it, to me, that is very good. To then make the story line fantastic, thrilling, and the book unable to be put down, then it becomes great. "The City Of Ember" was great, and I can only hope that the rest of the series will prove to be the same.



  1. Wow, awesome review of Ember! So much detail! I know that if I hadn't already read this book, I would certainly be interested in picking it up now. ^,^

    I'm glad you liked it so much. The series is just great. I don't mean to give you any spoilers, but the third book wasn't my favorite in the series. Just warning you. And the way DuPrau writes the ending for the last book... honestly, it makes the whole thing that much more worth it that you chose to read the series. Awesome ending.

    (btw, the creature that helps Lina and Doon find plums? By the description, I remember thinking it was a fox. Just saying.)

    If you'd like to see my review of the City of Ember, here's the link:

    Enjoy the other books of Ember, and keep up the awesome reviewing!

  2. Oh, and please forgive the very strict form of my review. I dropped it after I'd read 12 books, and then I was able to write more freely. Sooooo much better that way.