Monday, August 11, 2008


Title: The City of Ember
Author: Jeanne DuPrau

I saw this at the bookstore a few weeks ago when I was looking for a one-year-old's birthday present. I was immediately interested in this volume, and the two that follow it, and thus forgot the title as soon as I walked out the door. I remembered it when I saw that Bill Murray is starring in the movie this fall.

Ember is completely surrounded by darkness. Each night at nine the city's lights shut off, and there is only pitch blackness until six the next morning. They've lived like that for decades, but things are starting to get a little wonky. Lately, there have been more cases of blackouts, the longest lasting for just over three minutes. These are terrifying because if you're across town, you may not be able to find your way home--there is no such thing as a portable light in Ember. Adding to the problems, the city's storehouses, a vast catacombs beneath the streets holding everything the city should ever need, is running low on everything--especially light bulbs.

When children turn twelve, they graduate school, pick a job from a hat (literally), and enter the workforce. Doon wants a job as an electrician's apprentice so he can help to save his city from the impending catastrophic failure of the generator he believes is imminent. Lina wants to be a messenger, Ember's version of instant messenging. Doon soon realizes that the mysteries of electricity are far more complicated than anything else he's encountered--or anyone in Ember. Nobody seems to know how the generator works, only how to replace parts from the pile of spares in the storehouses. He becomes very distraught that he won't be able to save the city... until Lina finds the most important item in Ember, chewed into slobbery fragments by her baby sister.

I can't go much further without throwing some spoilers around, so here's the skinny: Lina and Doon have to save their world with fragments of clues while (eventually) pursued by the only law Ember has, which is naturally thoroughly corrupt (otherwise, saving the world would be too easy). I may have to blame J.K. Rowling for this. Does 12 seem to young to save the world? I mean, I was a pretty bright kid, but I'm not sure I could have saved all of society as I knew it at age twelve. Fourteen, maybe, but twelve??

Still a great read for a long afternoon. I look forward to the other two books, but I don't see how the movie is going to cover this story without really spoiling it. Some of the greatest, tensest moments in the book are the ones in pitch black, when the characters can't see anything and have to rely on touch, sound, and smell to figure things out. No matter how much money it might save by going to a black screen in a movie theater, they'll never do it as long as the book requires. I don't see how they're going to translate that successfully.

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posted by reyn at 12:22 PM


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