The City of Ember is like a more intricate version of Lois Lowry’s The Giver – more characters, more depth, and more potential. However, there are some similarities that I’d rather not have, such as detached characters and somewhat juvenile problems (but this is middle grade, so…). This dystopian story has an interesting premise (imagine having a limited amount of lightbulbs in a world without sunlight!) and it’s really only the beginning of a very long adventure of revelations and betrayals, I’m sure. It got me hooked from this first book though, so I’m excited to keep reading!
On Assignment Day of Year 241, twelve-year-olds Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow have the bad luck of drawing each other’s dream jobs aka jobs they hated: pipeworker laborer for Lina and messenger for Doon. So when Doon proposes they trade jobs, Lina is beyond willing to do so. Soon Lina is carrying verbal messages for the citizens of Ember, and Doon is maintaining Ember’s sewer pipes while trying to understand how the generator that powered the city works. Meanwhile, the people of Ember start to panic as they realize that the generator is deteriorating, the food supplies dwindling, and the light bulbs are running out. One day, Lina finds an illegible message left by the Builders of the city from hundreds of years ago, and together with Doon, the two figure out the key to saving the people of Ember from eternal darkness… as well as some shocking revelations about the city and the people who they thought they knew.
DuPrau created an interesting and impressive world built on artificial lighting. The city of Ember doesn’t seem to have been built hundreds of years from today’s world, since they lack a lot of technology. In addition, the city’s not run very well, since new workers get assigned jobs that they draw out of a drawstring bag instead of being placed based on their strengths. However, the city does seem reasonably advanced, since the citizens know to take vitamin pills with all of their meals (to prevent vitamin D deficiency from lack of sunlight, presumably?) and workers are continuously trained on how to fix electrical problems. I like the feeling of impending doom from this premise since it creates opportunities for solutions or a way out.
Running out of light bulbs, running out of power, running out of time — disaster was right around the corner.
I liked the main characters in The City of Ember, but as in The Giver, it was hard for me to get attached to them. Lina and Doon are great problem-solvers and are brave as heck, but I just couldn’t get into them as I do with some other characters. This may be due to the fact that DuPrau uses a lot of “said’s” during conversations and focuses more on actions than on feelings. Good thing about this is that there’s no instalove! I got caught up in the action anyway, so for me, not getting to know the characters as much is a small sacrifice.
And the ending! So I’ve always complained about cliffhangers, and this might be one… but the ending was well wrapped up and so strategically written that I can’t be mad! The ending made me want to pick up the next book because there are definitely questions left unanswered from this one.
The City of Ember is an action-packed dystopian tale that is on par with The Giver, and I keep comparing the two because I feel that they’re very similar in writing style and character design even though they have completely different plots. The ending of this book just makes me want to keep reading, and did you know that this book was made into a movie? (Trailer here makes the city appear so much more technologically advanced than I imagined…) But anyway, solid sci-fi read. 💡