Sunday, April 7, 2013

City of Ember review

City of Ember
by Jeanne dePrau
May 2003

First line: "When the city of Ember was just built and not yet inhabited, the chief builder and the assistant builder, both of them weary, sat down to speak of the future."

In what we assume is the far future, Lina and her friend Doon live in what they believe to be the last bastion of humanity. A disintegrating city surrounded by darkness is reliant on the last of their dwindling stores. The Builders left Instructions for their descendants, which have since been lost. Most of the townsfolk are content to continue scraping along with reduced rations, hoping that the Mayor will somehow find a solution. In a scene reminiscent of Lois Lowry's The Giver, Lina is pleased to receive her assignment for her new job: that of Messenger. Doon, on the other hand is assigned to the pipeworks. Together, they end up piecing together the secrets hidden in their city.

Doon is the "responsible" one seeing the danger in the city as they are running low on supplies, including lightbulbs. I was mystified by their situation at first. The adults in the town seem strangely incurious, bureaucratic and ineffective. A lot of them seemed like mealy-mouthed whiners to me, because they see the supplies running out, but aren't willing to fight for any solutions.

The city is surrounded by darkness, and beyond the trashdumps are the Unexplored Regions. I saw a few plotholes here. Everyone has a massive ravening, unceasing fear of the dark. Everyone? Really? With no exceptions? People have difficulty navigating their own houses that they've lived in all their lives without the help of the lights? I wondered if their fears were at least partially chemically induced, but that didn't seem to be the case. Over several generations in a town of a fair sized population, not one person has ever happened to be blind and thus not afraid of the dark? Mysterious. The pace of this was excruciatingly slow. Some readers could argue that people who have no knowlege of anything else in the outside world would take a long time to puzzle out things which might be obvious to us. This is a solidly imagined world - Lina's knowledge of flora and fauna, for example, is limited to a few insects and a couple of varieties of garden vegetables. She has trouble understanding what a boat is, or how to use a candle.

The main characters are both twelve years old, and there's little or no romance of any sort in the book; their mindset seems very young.
The story has a satisfying ending, but is still quite open for more in the series.

Compare to: 
The Giver - Lois Lowry
Shade's Children - Garth Nix
Incarceron - Catherine Fisher

I borrowed this book from the library.

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