191 of 207 people found the following review helpful
Plot descriptions have already been done, so I'll offer my commentary.
The (barely) three page prologue sets a splendid dramatic tension for the story. We know that something is afoot, that there is more to Ember than Ember, and that empowers us, to a certain extent - like when you're watching a movie and you know something that the characters don't.
We see the development of this through the eyes of two twelve year olds, both very different children. Doon has a temper and is rather sullen, and Lina is a bundle of hope and joy. But their depth goes beyond that. These are three-dimensional characters, a rarity in children's books.
Also rare is the sturdy, clear writing. It never felt rushed, always felt poised. The only thing that wasn't handled with perfection was humor. I should have laughed when Doon threw a shoe heel and it hit his father in the ear, but I didn't. But that's OK. Eoin Colfer can be funny, and Ms. DuPrau can simply be a better writer.
I found a few plot points strained: 1) Lina being the great-great-great whatever of one of the mayor's mentioned in the prologue; 2) Her own grandmother's mad search for something that now, in her dotage, she remembers is of the utmost importance; and 3) Poppy getting her hands on the thing that is important and rendering it nearly indecipherable.
But those are minor points. They exist to move the story from one point to another, and the story isn't really about the discovery of the Instructions for Egress, it's about the city of Ember itself, how its inhabitants have adjusted to living in a city where there is no light after nine (because the only light the city has is electricity and it knows nothing of the Sun), deciphering the Instructions for Egress, and the action of egress itself. I felt that the city of Ember, with its surprisingly complex social order was an ingenious invention, and the handling of all other points mentioned above was done masterfully.
When I finished reading this I couldn't help but think to myself: what a shame that more children will have read Shadowmancer than The City of Ember. The latter is a far superior book, in every way.
I found myself, more than once, wanting to walk the streets of Ember, just to see what it felt like. Ms. DuPrau did a terrific job of making this imaginative city real and tangible.
91 of 100 people found the following review helpful
on September 11, 2003
The city of Ember is in trouble, but the complacent citizens seem to ignore the food shortages and frequent blackouts. The Builders, when they created the city some 241 years ago, made provisions for its citizens in the form of a note called "The Instructions." Unfortunately, The Instructions were not handed down through the generations as they were supposed to be, and suddenly 12-year old Lina, a city Messenger, has discovered them. After trying to tell her friends and even the Mayor about the discovery of the partially destroyed Instructions, Lina turns to a one-time school friend, Doon, a worker in the underground Pipeworks, whom she believes will understand their importance. But what can two children do with such important information, and who would even believe them?
The City of Ember is a clever novel which tells the unique story of two unintentional heroes who fight the status quo in order to bring hope to their city. The descriptions of the world of Ember are fascinating, leaving the reader to appreciate the incredible imagination of first-time novelist Jeanne DuPrau. The narrator thoughtfully informs us of the setting-the unusual and self-contained world of Ember-slowly throughout the novel, and not all at once in the first chapter. It's only in chapter 8 that we even realize that there are no animals in Ember and the words "heaven" and "boat" have no known meaning. The characters are outstandingly original yet touchingly familiar in their pre-pubescent views of the adult world. The deaths of Lina's parents and then custodial grandmother create a sympathy for her that causes us to, all the more, wish for her triumph. It is the curiosity of Lina and Doon that drive this narrative, and it is the nice balance between primary and secondary characters that keeps the reader on his/her toes. While we expect a happy ending, it's not until the final pages of the novel that we understand what has happened and why. And, as always, we forgive a good author for the blatant suggestions of a sequel.
43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2004
I read this book straight through in one sitting, because I simply couldn't put it down. It was quite simply one of the most beautiful stories I've ever read - I place it in the ranks of Pullman's His Dark Materials.
Its deceptively simple writing style builds a vivid world around you as you read, and hurtles you headlong into the story - and promptly embeds the characters inextricably in your heart. The main character, Lina, is as beguiling as they come - spirited, determined, and far, far too nosy. Her friend Doon is adorably scowly and moody, her grandmother delightfully batty, and the mayor of the town so vividly painted that by the time he'd finished his third sentence he stood fully formed in my mind. Although characters aren't this book's only strength...
The plot played out almost like a song, lyrical and swaying, full of the stuff of life. I was filled with humor, curiosity, terror and joy in rapid succession, only to start the cycle again at the next turn of the page - and by the end of the book I must confess I was a bit misty eyed. And, without spoiling anything, I'll say that the last couple of paragraphs filled me with bubbling anticipation, and now I think I'll explode if I don't find out what happens soon!
Come on, Duprau, give us the next book!
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
I'm working as hard as I possibly can to become the number one expert in post-apocalyptic children's books. It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it. In the course of my futuristic/distopia-laden reading list, I found that I would be amiss if I didn't read Jeanne DuPrau's 2003 popular puppy, "City of Ember". Drawing on elements from books as widely divergent as Lois Lowry's, "The Giver" to Neal Shusterman's less well-known, "Downsiders", the book contains an interesting look into the life of a community that has forgotten for 200 some years that it's living in a bunker.
As every good schoolchild in Ember knows, their city, "is the only light in the dark world. Beyond Ember, the darkness goes on forever in all directions". In a town lit solely by electric lights, the people of Ember know relatively little about the city's history. They know that it was created two hundred some years ago by the Builders and was provided with everything the people might need. But only recently has this small civilization become imperiled by its inability to be self-sufficent. Power outages result in the lights going out periodically with total terrifying darkness sweeping the land. Food and other supplies seem to be running scarce and Ember is becoming victim to hoarders and thieves. Young Lina and Doon seem to be the only people in town who want to find a way out of Ember, if it's at all possible. When Lina's grandmother unwittingly unearths ancient instructions for leaving the city, it's up to the two children to go where no one else in Ember has ever gone. Over the river and into the light.
In many ways, "The City of Ember" reminded me of "Noah's Castle" by John Rowe Townsend. The lessons about hoarding food and what a single person owes their community come up in both books regularly. "Ember" also bears significant similarities to other futuristic distopia worlds like those found in the aforementioned "The Giver" and Zilpha Keatley Snyder's, "Below the Root". Like those books, this one begins with a pre-adolescent attending an important meeting than will determine their future career. Like those books, the hero's innocence is destroyed when they discover the secret and ugly inner workings of the town. There were a lot of original things in this books as well, however. I liked the idea that Ember was constantly afraid that someday their city's lights would go off and they'd be plunged in darkness forever. I was incredibly grateful that as an author DuPrau resisted the temptation to include a stereotypical wise blind person in the text who teaches the children how to be brave (trust me, it would've been easy to do). There was the clever fact that all foods grown in Ember were, essentially, tubers. I loved the anticipation I felt as I followed Lina and Doon through deciphering the ancient instructions (kids who like books that contain clues and codes will appreciate that aspect of the story) and finally into a whole new world. In these ways, the author was adept at her story. In other ways, less so.
To be honest, DuPrau isn't a fan of details. Which is to say, some of the finer aspects of the city of Ember are left totally unexplained. Why, for example, hasn't overpopulation ever been a problem or even addressed? How could a group of people, even if they've been entirely cut off from the known world, not discover the finer aspects of fire in the course of their 250 some years underground? Heck, I'd think that would be a primary concern for the local scientists! And where are the dead buried? And how do these primitive doctors deal with birth and surgery? These may appear to be extraneous questions, but the very nature of the world of Ember makes you think them up! I know I keep citing other books, but the problems I had with this story mimicked the problems I had with a fellow post-apocalyptic tale, "The Girl Who Owned a City" by O.T. Nelson. "The City of Ember" skimped on the details of its world. I think that if you asked its author about Ember personally she'd be able to give you an array of different answers to these questions. Unfortunately, when it comes to the book she leaves you hanging.
Which is not to say that "The City of Ember" isn't worthwhile reading. While it certainly lacks of the sophistication of (oh say) William Nicholson's, "The Wind Singer", it's still clear that DuPrau loved writing this book and made that love apparent in its creation. And as an added side-note, I was entranced by the map of Ember provided at the front of the story. No one is really credited with it, but it's one of the high points of the book, offering more details and intricate plottings than you'll find in the text of the novel itself. Kids who want to be taken to an entirely different world will love what "The City of Ember" does for them. They'll sympathize with the characters and remain on tenterhooks until, after finishing the book, they're able to get their hands on its sequel, "The People of Sparks". For an appealing story about bravery in a dark deep world, "The City of Ember" is an enjoyable romp. Consider picking it up for a look-see. Just don't look too deeply.
23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on December 8, 2003
I just finished City of Ember and I was amazed at how good it was. I've been reading science fiction and fantasy my whole life and was still very impressed with this good read. I picked this up because of the appealing cover design as a gift for my nephew. I thought I'd read a little to see if it was interesting. I read half the book that night and the rest the next day. If you like Harry Potter or John Christopher's Tripods series you will definetely like City of Ember. The book moves along very quickly and smoothly with engaging characters. The solutions that the characters find to the (clever plot device) shreddded instruction sheet puzzle keeps you turning back to page 94 to check and double check your own guesses. Although this is the first book in a series(?)it has enough closure at the end that you feel fulfilled and don't feel cheated. I'm looking forward to the sequel to this very satisfying read.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on September 28, 2008
This is the type of book that gets you hooked. You start reading and are enjoying it, but then the more you read the better it gets, the more you like it, you feel involved in the drama and action and want to help the characters, help them solve the mysteries and problems. I highly reccommend this book. It has an air of mystery and intrigue about it that fills you with curiosity for what will happen next. The author can perfectly relate to you the characters thoughts and feelings and not one emotion is out of place. The novel is not highly predictable so you don't feel like it's a waste of time to finish. This book has light humor in it and would be good for kids aged 8-12. It will even satisfy fantasy and sci-fi lovers alike. Not at all confusing, expertly written and worthy of five stars.
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 2005
I bought this book because the cover caught my attention. The description hinted toward an Orwellian society so I was interested in how a book of that type would be presented to children.
My main beef is that the situation never became dire. To simplify the plot, you could say "some people wanted to escape... and then they did." There are also several subplots that distract from the real story (i.e. the mayor, vocational aspirations, describing particular bits of history when the overall history is intentionally kept vague, etc.).
While you do care about the characters, I would not exactly describe them as 3 dimensional. We know little about Doon aside from that he has a scientific mind and about his temper. We know little of Lina aside from that she likes to draw and run. All of the adults in the city seem to be unindustrious cowards, leaving challenges to the kids. Doesn't jive.
My last criticism is that the author dumbs it down for the readers. I would recommend giving even young readers more credit. In our world, children deal with things they should not have to on a daily basis. You don't need to avoid entirely or over-explain every situation which may propose a moral dilemna. The author should also remember to show, not tell, more often. This is my advice for improvement.
I did like the book. I would recommend this book to any who may consider reading it. There was an exciting tension to this book which had to be left behind when the author wrote the sequel "The People of Sparks."
I think it could be better but the author was on the right track. Rock on!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2005
The City of Ember, a wonderful book by Jeanne Duprau, takes place in the dimly lit City of Ember. Twelve year old, Lena Mayfleet is a true Emberite, has lived in the City all of her life with her grandmother and her little sister. Soon the time comes to leave school and to pick a job by drawing randomly. Lena dreads drawing pipeworks because the endless dark, damp passageways under Ember are not Lena's idea of a wonderful time. Lena longs to be with the people of Ember and to run free, which was just what the messenger does. The messenger delivered messages from people to other people. The messengers had to be fast to deliver the messages on time. They ran all around the city. Little did Lena know that pipeworks were in her future.
Doon Harrow, another Emberite is the same age as Lena, had been friends with her since they were little kids. Doon draws messenger! But Doon wanted pipeworks. He too, had a future involving the underground pipes and passageways.
The City of Ember is a thrilling tale filled with adventure, page turning suspense, epic chase scenes and friendship. Jeanne Duprau weaves The Tale of Despereaux and A Series of Unfortunate Events into one terrific book.
I felt like I was living in Ember with Lena and Doon when I read this book. I didn't want the book to end. I usually don't read science fiction but this book was so good I started reading more science fiction.
What would happen if the streetlights of Ember went out and Ember was plunged into darkness? What would the people of Ember do? Would Lena and Doon figure out the reason of Ember's power failure? Read The City Of Ember and find out.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 12, 2005
This is a terrific quick read, for 5th to 8th graders, with a surprise ending. The two main characters are Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow, two 12 year olds who live in the city of Ember. Ember is a small city in an entirely lightless land. According to legend, it was constructed and stocked with supplies and foodstuffs many years ago by "the builders." It is a city that cannot sustain itself. At this time, food supplies are rumored to be running low, light bulbs are reported to be gone, and power black outs are becoming daily events. The generator is the heart of life in Ember, pumping light and electricity throughout the city, but for how much longer? Lina and Doon become partners in an effort to save the city, unexpectedly uncovering political deceit and discovering Ember's true history. Their resourcefulness will delight you. Ember sounds like a city in science fiction world, but is it?
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2004
I don't normally pick out fantasy books I don't like. I'm the type of reader who's very picky about the books I choose, and admittedly, if a book doesn't capture me within the first chapter or so, I'll generally put it right back on the shelf. That's why I was so surprised by the outcome of The City of Ember. I picked the book up from the library, intent on an exciting, captivating fantasy story with an original concept and strong character development. This is what I had heard from friends and family of mine. When I opened the book and began to read, I was surprised, and admittedly impressed. They were right, this was an engaging book... at the beginning that is.
The City of Ember feels like an unkept promise, once all is said and done. The basic plot-line was creative. The characters were well portrayed, if perhaps not terribly interesting. Even Jeanned DuPrau's particular style of writing was unique. That being said, I think I've listed everything about this book that was noticeably enjoyable for me. After the first couple chapters or so, the book begins to go downhill. The basic idea with which the story started out with was drawn out and winding, and although this is by no means an essential for a good fantasy book, there weren't any real elements of surprise in the story.
Those are minor complaints, however. My biggest problem with this book, is that it doesn't flow well. I by no means want to undermine the imagination Miss DuPrau put into this book, but if you'll notice, on the back cover, it states that Miss Jeanne DuPrau used to be an editor and technical writer. This is both a good and a bad thing. For one, no grammar mistakes made it through to print, which was nice. There were no confusing sentences or phrases which you had to read and re-read to understand. Indeed, the only problem with the flow of this story, is simply that her sentences feel too short.
Whenever you feel yourself getting into that 'roller-coaster' effect that you get in books, the feeling where a story grips you and won't let you put it down, you feel yourself jarred out of this reverie by a large clump of short sentences. It feels like each line was cut short, and that the passage lacks in creative detail. I even found myself thinking 'she could have combined those three sentences...' then I'd think of what it would sound like -had she done that- and would end up continuing from that point in the book not with a paragraph of short sentences in mind, but a few, fluent, longer sentences which I had stopped to conjure up in my head while reading. I don't want to sound arrogant or rude, but for me, the book simply didn't flow well.
So, here's a quick summary for those who don't have time to read the whole review...
*Imaginative plot concept
*Believable and likeable characters
*Creative and fun setting
*Choppy feeling flow
*Minor character development
*Slow moving, and at some times, drawn out plot line
Well, all that being said, if you're a die-hard fantasy fan, I recommend this book. It's an entertaining read, but if you're looking for a fluent, quick moving, and/or complex fantasy book, I recommend you look elsewhere.