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"The City of Ember" by Jeanne DuPrau

 The City of Ember          
Jeanne DuPrau
May 2003
Random House
270 pages


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       "In the city of Ember, the sky was always dark."


        Lina Mayfleet lives in the mysterious city of Ember. It sits in a pitch dark
        realm, devoid of natural light. Great spotlights illuminate the streets and
        buildings and its scurrying inhabitants, who hasten about their business
        in fear of the future, because food is getting scarce, supplies are dwindling,
        and worse - much worse - the underground generator which creates Ember's
        light is beginning to fail. The intermittent power cuts plunge the streets into
        thick, impenetrable darkness in which every fear is multiplied one hundred
        fold. But Lina has dreams of another city, one of light and abundance, out
        there in the Unknown Regions. If only she could find the way to it...

        In Ember, all children finish school and begin work at twelve years old,
        their jobs being chosen for them on a special Assignment Day. Lina
        trades her chosen posting with a friend called Doon, and thus, as a
        newly-appointed city Messenger, she is able to start exploring in
        earnest. Likewise, young Doon puts his talents to use underground
        as a Pipeworker. He seeks change by mechanical means, and although
        it was mere chance that saw him trading jobs with Lina, their paths keep
        crossing. By sharing their discoveries, a puzzle comes together,
        instructions are deciphered and out of the darkness, a future
        is revealed....


       » "The City of Ember" has been followed by "The People of Sparks" (2004)
           and "The Prophet of Yonwood" (2006). A fourth tale is forthcoming...

        » The book is about to become a film, thanks to Walden Media and
The film will be directed by Gil Kenan ("Monster House")
            and a release date of October 10th 2008 has already been penciled
            in to the schedules


       The Gnome says

       This book opens with a fabulous premise
, and bags of promise. The
       questions tumble out. Where is Ember? Why does it exist? Why is
       the infrastructure crumbling, and what lies there, in the Unknown Regions
       beyond the flickering spotlights?

       With its intermittent illumination and scurrying inhabitants, one is reminded
       of some peculiar Impressionistic landscape. Fritz Lang meets the
       bollexbrothers, if you will. And running from spotlight to spotlight is
       our heroine. In Ember, lots of common knowledge, words and meanings
       appear to have been lost somewhere along the line. But when Lina unearths
       a page of peculiar Instructions, word by word, line by line, everything
       starts to come together.

       It must be said, nothing much happens to our heroes to bar their progress.
       Antagonists are dealt with quite swiftly. But the characters are well
       drawn, society's shortcomings are very well sketched and Ember's fears
       tangible with each flickering light. At any moment the lights might go out
       and never come back on...

       So what he have here is a real page-turning mystery. It doesn't take much
       effort to figure it out, but in a way, that helps the reader, willing Lina and
       Doon on to decipher those instructions and reach that final reveal. Indeed,
       the book reminds one of a M Night Shyamalan film, in that the Big Reveal
       may not be terribly surprising, but the way in which we get to it is so
       enlightening. Little wonder a film is coming. Ember will look great on
       the big screen.

       Ah, but here's the rub. For a book that works so hard to keep its secrets,
       both the author and her publishers have spoilt some of the mystery.
       For there are already two further books based in Ember's world (a sequel
       and a prequel), with a fourth tale coming soon. Anyone scouring the
       bookshelves could easily stumble upon these follow-on stories which
       expose Ember's Big Secret within their blurbs and synopses!

       But let's not damn them quite yet, because Random House and
       designer Chris Reily furnished the original hardback edition of "The City
       of Ember" with a wonderful, atmospheric cover. That bronze lightbulb with
       an Ember element is a glorious motif. "Turn the page" it says. "Unlock
       Ember's secrets..."

       This Gnome's very glad that he did.



       UK collectors should remember to track down the American first edition
       of this book. Jeanne DuPrau hails from California, and Random House
       first published this title across the pond, in May 2003. The British edition
       didn't appear until the following year...


      Buy this book

   The City of Ember            The City of Ember
      UK hardback edition...            Current paperback edition...


      On the web

      Jeanne DuPrau
      The author's web site...

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