The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Digital Audiobook narrated by Wendy Dillon
Published by Listening Library on June 4th 2004
Series: Book of Ember #1
Genres: Dystopia, Fantasy, Fiction, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Length: 270 pages or 7 hours, 6 minutes
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Many hundreds of years ago, the city of Ember was created by the Builders to contain everything needed for human survival. It worked…but now the storerooms are almost out of food, crops are blighted, corruption is spreading through the city and worst of all—the lights are failing. Soon Ember could be engulfed by darkness….
But when two children, Lina and Doon, discover fragments of an ancient parchment, they begin to wonder if there could be a way out of Ember. Can they decipher the words from long ago and find a new future for everyone? Will the people of Ember listen to them?
After being burned so many times post-Twilight and The Hunger Games, I’m a bit wary of YA books that smell like they may end up filled with love triangle angst. There is a time and place, and you never know. Plus, The City of Ember is marketed for the 8-12 crowd, and I am way, way past that. I’m pleased to report that none of my concerns were an issue with The City of Ember, and I give it ALL FIVE hearts.
I’m not crazy about Doon, but I’m also not crazy about creepy crawlies or hot tempers. He and Lina are complete opposites – one dark and frustrated, the other sweet and innocent. They are an awesome complement to each other, and they have a really awkward relationship… as twelve-year-olds do. I also felt like they were both realistic in their settings – Lina is protective of her little sister, happy to be alive, curious and brave. Doon is a little moodier, but he’s also very interested in the world. They both have an essential childlike belief that the world could be better. That people are inherently good. It’s sweet.
As for the minor characters, they’re also lovely. They are a bit kinder than I have come to expect from adults in YA fiction, but more’s the better for a middle grade audience. I particularly liked Clary. And Poppy, but that may be because the voice Wendy Dillon used for her was adorable.
The world is the thing I really want to talk about, but I can’t talk about the parts I want without being a little spoilery! … I will suffice it to say that I really liked the world, and I liked how the darkness was basically this big, black, menacing character of itself, and that I think it’s crazy they were eating 220-year-old canned peaches.
If I’m being really honest, this type of story isn’t particularly new. I see a bunch of references to The Giver on Goodreads, and I’m also thinking of the Crossed by Ally Condie. It’s also important to remember, however, that The City of Ember predates Condie’s writing, even predated The Hunger Games. So this book was dystopia before dystopia was mainstream. And it holds up 14 years after publication. YES.
Writing / Narration
Anyone wanting to jump in here expecting intricate writing and complex subplots may want to take a step back – DuPrau’s writing is very simple. This is intended to be an easy, engrossing read for ages 8-12, and it succeeds very well in that regard. If you’re expecting Lord of the Rings detail, this is not it. And I’m fine with that! I am not the intended audience. And, for that matter, I liked it fine.
As for Wendy Dillon’s narration, it was mostly good. I wasn’t crazy about the voice she used with Doon, but it wasn’t grating. The Mayor and the Guard at the Desk (especially the Guard) were intolerable. Fortunately, they had very few lines, and I endured.
Overall, I really liked it. This was a fun, light read in a genre I enjoy without boatloads of romantic tension, a few little laughs, and really endearing characters. I would definitely pick up a copy of this for my home library.
“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.”
“People find a way through just about anything.”
“Wouldn’t it be strange, she thought, to have a blue sky? But she liked the way it looked. It would be beautiful – a blue sky.”
“Lina looked out at the lighted streets spreading away in every direction, the streets she knew so well. She loved her city, worn out and crumbling though it was.”