Goodreads: The City of Ember
Series: Book of Ember #1
Two hundred years ago the Builders created the underground city of Ember to safeguard a small segment of humanity. Now, however, the electricity is failing and the stock piles are running low. Lina and Doon believe they have discovered a long-lost manuscript that shows the way out of Ember. The manuscript, however, is damaged and time is running out.
The City of Ember was a solid middle-grade fantasy that kept me reading past my bedtime–yet I have seen this book before. I cannot immediately name all the other works with similar elements, but they are there. Of course, the premise that two inquisitive children find a way to save their city that all the adults overlooked will surprise no one. That is simply how middle grade books tend to work. The way both children have distinct talents that make them uniquely suitable to such a quest is also standard–Doon likes to fix things and Lina likes to run. The presence of two protagonists, one girl and one boy, as if we have to check all the boxes to ensure this is not a “boy book” or a “girl book” is again familiar. Add a dystopian city with a secret past and all the ingredients for a popular book have united. I cannot fault the book for doing what so many other books do, but the end result is that The City of Ember simply does not stand out.
Strong characters can help a familiar plot seem new and interesting, but while I liked almost every character (except, you know, the obligatory grumpy adults out to ruin everything), I never thought, “Oh, she’s wonderful! We could be friends” or “Wow, he’s really complex. His characterization fascinates me”. They were all just kind of nice. Lina was nice. Doon was nice. Doon’s father was nice. The lady who lived next door to Lina was nice. Possibly the most well-rounded, and therefore interesting, character was the mayor, but we have all seen his type before–he is there to lie to the people and tell them everything will turn out all right even though he knows it will not. It adds drama. But I found I could not even dislike him properly. He just seemed so sad and pathetic, poor stereotyped government official that he was.
In the end, this is the type of book I would recommend only to someone who likes books similar to it–maybe Museum of Thieves, for example. It simply does not have the “wow factor” that would lead me to bring up its name in an unrelated context. Still, the story proved interesting enough that I hope I can find the sequel soon–it seemed like the book ended when the exciting part had only just begun!