The City of Ember is a dystopian YA story about a city build underground and illuminated by thousands of neon lights that illuminate the entire city in amber. The city was largely depended on its immense storage of canned food and supplies but the city was not meant to last more than several hundred of years and so these supplies soon became depleted, the reactor supplying the energy to the city began to breakdown and the city is slowly dying.
The book introduced two major narrative characters, the first one is a twelve year old, Lina Mayfleet, a bright and energetic girl who had lost her parents a few years back and was living with her grandmother and younger sister and Doon Barrow, Lina’s old childhood friend with natural curiosity of the workings of things leads him to the conclusion that the city is dying and he need to find the way to get out of the city before they’re engulfed in permanent darkness. On the assignment day, Lina picked “Pipeworks” while Doon in his rage found himself as “Messenger” which he rebelled.
Doon asked Lina to switch and happily Lina accepted while Doon thought his work in Pipeworks would give the answers to fix the city.
Working as a Messenger, Lina had realized the city’s inevitable destiny when she noted the dwindling state of the food storage, the resident’s overwhelming fear and panic with each massive blackouts especially with scary rumors that their massive generator are breaking down.
One day, she found her sister chewing a piece of paper that she gotten from an old box. Hundred of years ago, the Builders, makers of Ember, had entrusted the mayor of the city with a box that contained instructions that allowed the residents of Ember to come back to the surface. The box was passed down to several mayor until the seventh mayor’s untimely death that the box was missing. Lina’s grandmother is the granddaughter of the seventh mayor of the city, even with her dwindling health and dementia, she kept insisting trying to find the thing that was missing. Curiously, Lina examined the clues from the damaged paper and found it was a series of instructions that leads to a sort of exit in the pipeworks. She sought the help of Doon and together they investigates the underground tunnels of city pipes until they encountered a secret that could change their lives.
To be honest, I think “The City of Ember” is a proper YA dystopian than countless other’s in the YA market. The language style in the book is very easy and lenient for younger teenagers and above. One of the refreshing ideas in this first book was the society that the author had created. Since I watch the movie before I read the book, one of the things lacking in the movie was the philosophy element in the book. The mayor and his cronies represent the corruption of power in those who was entrusted to by using charm and influence to stay within their comfort zone. The society of Ember is actually a close culture with multi-layered persona with shared kinship between one another and seemingly know each other. Some remained living in ignorance while others wanted solution to their problems but doesn’t know where to find it while lucky few like Lina and Doon seek and found the answers.
The book cleverly played up on these two young teenagers and molded them into these three dimensional characters. I was more surprised with Doon who actually started as a frustrated and angry (read : hormonal) teenager who wanted to find the answers but all he could see was the limitation that surrounded him. He is a smart boy with analytical thinking who craves the betterment of the people around him and at sometimes wanted recognition for his efforts (like wanting to save the city and be known as a savior). In his ego, he realized things were not as simple as fixing small things especially the work of electricity which he does not understood (atleast, without basic of physics) and started to loose hope. While Lina, started as a twelve year old girl without knowing of anything besides her own world who began working in the city but was jarred by the events surrounding her. She was a compassionate character with family and friends until events around her grandmother death and her friend’s behaviors that made her a changed person with a mission. She questioned the moral values of the people who she had once thought to be dependable, witnessing firsthand the perversion nature and corruption of the authority, the helplessness of adults surrounding her, and somehow identified herself to what is right and wrong and wanted to help to change for the better even when she faced harder decisions and consequences.
In both of the title’s medium, there were a question of theology that popped around concerning who made the city, the hope that the builders would come for them and set things right. The author choose a simple way to explain the life cycle by describing a simple bean without any lines and power cord that can grow to a sprout. Somehow in a world of materialism and consumerism, the nature had its way in life.
Its a short simplistic but powerful read for a younger audience. I wouldn’t think twice to recommend the book to grade schoolers who wanted none of the current triangle love YA mess. “The City of Ember” does carries the inner message of life in a place shrouded by darkness and serious theme of undying hope and humanity. I would recommend the book for adults like me who prefer to find complexities in simple stories that carried deeper meanings to enjoy and be thoughtful about. Even the underrated movie was a compliment to the book series. The additional beautiful descriptive settings in the movie enhances the reading experience. Every scene in these book fired my imagination of a place lighted by amber luminescence. Very retro-ish despite me living in this world of eco-friendly incandescent and fluorescent lighting.