The City of Ember (Book of Ember, #1)The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Something is going on that we don’t understand. They say the Builders made the city. But who made the Builders? Who made us? I think the answer must be somewhere outside of Ember.”

And that is the real crux of the problem. As far as anyone alive knows, their is nothing but darkness outside of the city of Ember. And, the city is dying.

For those who wish to delve closely, this book seems to be an allegory about spirituality and believing what is easy. But it is also fairly easy to ignore if that is not your thing and for those people…

There exists a carefully designed city of rules. Within this city, everything is recycled or reused, supplies that cannot be remade (like food) are kept in vast underground storage rooms that cannot be replenished, and children only go to school until they are 12. At the age of 12 children draw the jobs they will likely do for the rest of their lives from a bowl, like it is freaking Secret Santa, without regard to talent or desire. Everybody must do a job and the job must be done right. What they learn in school is a pack of baloney about the rules of the city and its very limited “history”.

From this institution of madness, we are introduced to two twelve-year olds- Lina and Doon- on the day they are assigned there jobs. We are also introduced to a real sleaze ball who is the Mayor of Ember. Lina and Doon, although not friends, trade jobs so that they can do things more suited to their talents. Which is really the key to the whole story….well that and a mysterious pseudo-time capsule that has been lost for a few generations and will save them all. No big that it turns up in Lina’s closet.

In the midst of their day-to-day hum-drum, the two kids end up not only deciphering a message left by the Builders over two centuries past that is mostly destroyed and whose words are as foreign as trying to read old English, but also stumble on a nasty secret of the mayors.

There is darkness in Ember, Lina. It’s not just outside, it’s inside of us too. Everyone has some darkness inside. It’s like a hungry creature. It wants and wants and wants with a terrible power. And the more you give it, the bigger and hungrier it gets.”

But that is not the major problem. Resources are running out in Ember. Food and supplies are growing scarce. The store rooms are running dry. The generator which has powered the lights in their city since its creation is breaking down. The pipes that control the water supply are giving out. In short: everything that can go wrong is in fact doing so.

Enter again Lina and Doon, who made an enemy of the mayor and have found a way to leave the city. That is right, leave. A thing that has been impossible since the original inhabitants made there homes there. (view spoiler)

Lina and Doon are the main stage characters here with the only perspectives given by other minor characters is through the conversations those characters have with Lina and Doon. I felt the characters were flat and one-dimensional. Their moves were predictable and they didn’t seem to experience any range of emotion or depth. Lina is a flighty creature full of energy who doesn’t listen because she is trapped inside of her imagination. Doon is a very serious anger management class case of bundled rage who wants to save the city for personal glory. They act very much like the preadolescent they are, only with one extreme emotion instead of the full range of them.

“And what about the adults?” You ask. Solid question. Even more disappointing, the adults have ZERO personality. They are pod people! The next door neighbor is orderly with not emotion or history. The dad has a brief comment on managing anger and then leaves the fact that his kid throws a BOOT HEEL at his head go. The Mayor is a pig who eats and condescends. The guards are one word androids. The characters stink. No depth. No nuance or personality.

The world building was descent. The city survives based on rules and everyone pitching in. The city is well described, if a bit simply, and you can see the decay in the words. The trouble I am having with that portion is that while the political system is blinked at, it is never really explained. How is the mayor chosen, for example, when the job system is Russian Roulette on the last day of school?

Honestly, the author didn’t grab me. I liked the premise, but was let down with flat characters and simplistic writing. We were given just enough at the end that on a slow day when I want a quick read with no emotional investment or significant cognitive though, I could be persuaded to be curious enough to risk the second book. (Why was Ember built? Who made these rules? What was so important to hide away a city? It is all hinted at in a letter at the very end…sneaky, sneaky author) But continuing the series is not a priority, nor even a desire.