Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Review: The City of Ember

I first learned about this book by watching the movie. This is not unusual. I generally learn about children's books either from my family members or from the film adaptations. The City of Ember seems to be one of many young adult fantasy works that rode its way to fame on the coattails of the Harry Potter series.[1] It deals with an underground city that is dying. And no one seems to be doing anything about it. And for some reason no one is aware that they're underground.

I can't help but think it's a liberal (politically speaking, of course) allegory of our world:
  • the city of Ember is alone in the dark = the planet Earth is alone in the Universe
  • the once-abundant resources of the city of Ember are now dwindling = peak oil, peak food, peak water, etc.
  • some people unfairly consume more resources than the rest = Americans
  • there are people who ignore the problems of the city, preferring to stand around together singing and waiting for a savior whose timing and nature are both undefined = Christians
If the author's intent is indeed an atheist one, or at least an anti-Christian one, then it is ironic that this city was built (created) rather than arising spontaneously. It is ironic that the Builders provided for the needs of the inhabitants of Ember, including providing a way to be rescued once the need to live underground had been obviated. And it is even more ironic that one of the characters is driven by dreams of things she could not possibly know about—something not even the Builders (who were just human, after all) could have made happen.

My verdict: I thought this book was okay. It definitely had some weaknesses, including the allegorical reading I mention above (whether it was intended or not). It also falls into the typical trap so common in children's fiction/television/film of portraying adults as incompetent fools who must be rescued by their inexplicably smarter children. It was kind of fun, though, to try to decipher the fragments of the message that Lina Mayfleet (the main character) found before she did. I am undecided as to whether I'll read any of the other books in the series. It will probably mostly depend on whether or not I come across them at DI.[2]


[1] I'd say hopefully there won't be a similar explosion of teen vampire fantasy novels in the wake of the Twilight series, but sadly I already know that there is.

[2] DI is short for Deseret Industries, a non-profit organization found throughout the western United States. It is similar to Goodwill Industries elsewhere. See Industries and,11677,2022-1,00.html.

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