Review: The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Author: Jeanne DuPrau
Genre: young-adult, dystopia/post-apocalyptic
Series: The Books of Ember #1
Pages: 270 (paperback version)
Published: 2003
Source: bought
Rating: 3.5/5

Easy to read, easy to get sucked into irretrievably, easy to digest - The City of Ember is a pared-down examination of human nature. In a world used to deprivation, shortages and power outages, Jeanne DuPrau introduces us to a world where the last refuge for the human race is tucked away underground. Following the mysterious, and as yet, unexplained devastating calamity known only as "The Disaster", the Builders (whoever was behind the creation of the city, almost revered as deities by some Emberites) constructed a hidden hideaway to ensure the survival of the species. My first thought upon beginning this novel was that the author had created a genuinely intriguing, new idea for a teenage dystopianish novel. In a literary market seemingly inundated every week with ridiculous, new,  implausible stories, the simplicity and believability of DuPrau's ideas shine.

The book jumps off from the get-go; we are introduced both to the city and our main character in the first paragraph. It's not too much of an info-dump and the details of the city are interesting, though DuPrau occasionally veers into telling more than she shows throughout the book. There's clear evidence of forethought and planning on the part of the author - Ember sounds and feels like a true city. Every complication for living underground has been covered and covered plausibly. Faltering steadily under the dictator-like power of the avaricious Mayor, Ember itself is slowly revealed to hardly be the refuge it was conceived and constructed for. The only true dystopia-ish themes that are in the novel are because of the Mayor and his system of controlling Ember - this is really more of a post-apocalyptic tale. However, the Mayor's total control over the citizens' lives, as well as the judicial system taking his directives lends the novel its darker themes and moments.

Lina Mayfleet, our pint-size heroine, is an orphaned but feisty teenager is the driving force for much of what haoppens for the novel. And whatever could not be laid at the feet of the blonde Messenger, lies squarely with Lina's counterpart: Doon Harrow. Doon is quiet, studious and kind - when Lina is assigned a job (for three years!) she despises, he is the only person willing to trade with her. There's a nice contrast between the two kids: Lina is more of a take-charge kinda gal, with Doon more of a deep-thinker than his friend. He's a conflicted mix of temper and concern, and Lina tends to float along in her own world. The change in Lina's character from carefree-don't-worry child into a mature and caring young woman is a direct result of her interactions with Doon. In a novel where the story is dictated by the two leads, it always pays to have likable, diverse characters to satisfy the readers and these two do not disappoint. Lina and Doon create a viable, tangible friendship that is the heart of the story.

Suspenseful, and absolutely FULL of action and adventure, I can't overrecommended this simple but utterly enjoyable tale.  Well-planned, well-executed and just plain fun to read, The City of Ember more than lives up to the hype I've been hearing for eight years. The neatly-constructed revelation/cliffhanger of the last chapter ensures continued readership, and I can't wait to conclude this sweet little series.


  1. You know, I've been wanting to read this for a long time...maybe I should actually do it!

  2. same here! It's been sitting on my dresser waiting for be read forever. Glad I finally read the first two - easy and fun :)

  3. You're killing me Jessie. I feel like I need to add this to the TBR list as well.

  4. ha, Libby! :D It's super easy to read, well worth the time. Less than a day, I promise!


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