The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Posted July 25, 2017 by Amber in Reviews / 8 Comments

The City of Ember

The City of Ember

by Jeanne DuPrau

Series: The Book of Ember #1
Publisher: Random House on May 13, 2003
Genre: Dystopia, Science Fiction
Target Age Group: Middle Grade
Rating: ★★★★½

Check out this book on Goodreads

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.


Personal Thoughts


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.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★★★
Plot: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Writing: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★★★
Narrator: ★★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★


Have you read this book or anything by this author?  If so, did you enjoy it?  Tell me all about your experience in the comments!

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8 responses to “The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

  1. I’ve never heard of this book before and I’ll be honest, I almost dismissed it when you said it’s intended for readers from 8-12. Mainly because I am also way past that age group and YA novels can sometimes be a bit too juvenile for me. So, I’m glad that you put that bit in there and the fact that you loved it so much even though it had some things you didn’t care for.

    • To be honest, the age group didn’t even click for me at first. MG/YA really has a range… some of it if silly and juvenile, but some is well-thought out and good storytelling. This was definitely the latter, once you get around the 12 y/o protagonists. That said… the genre DEFINITELY isn’t for everyone. I’m 27, and IRL most people are really judgy about s girl in her late 20s reading YA. 🙂 And that’s okay too.

  2. Leeve

    First of all, I’d like to say that your blog design is gorgeous! And honestly, I had forgotten about the existence of this book! I’ve never read it, but ever since I watched the movie (500 yrs ago) I had wanted to read it and even though I don’t find it as interesting as I used to, I’m still wiling to give it a try and I’m glad you enjoyed it!

    Great review!
    L. @ Reviews by Leeve

    • Aw, thank you so much! I was just checking out yours actually from the Twitter like. :). I try to go back and read books younger than my demographic because, frankly, I think it’s horribly unfair that things like this or Percy Jackson arrived when I was “too old” to read them – why miss out? 😉 It usually works out! I’ve actually never seen the film! I will have to try it. 🙂

      • Leeve

        Oh wow haha, sorry for the twitter stalking! And I know the feeling! It has happened to me with lots of books lately! They sound amazing and then when I see the age difference I’m like “WHY NOW AND NOT WHEN I NEEDED THEM?!”…but that’s just me being dramatic. The film is pretty enjoyable, but since I haven’t read the books I have no idea if it sticks to it or not, but I hope you get to enjoy it if you do watch it! 😀