I wanted to read these books for a long time before I picked them up. In fact, I still might not have if a friend hadn’t given me the first one. I recently picked the second up from the library. If I was hoping to be as blown away by the content as I was by the covers (face it, they are pret-tay) then I was disappointed. City of Embers is charming, to begin with, but as it goes on and on, the mystery is not that exciting, and the city’s situation in general starts to seem ridiculous. Not that there’s a city underground (which is what Ember is) but because in generations of citizens, the two main characters, Lina and Doon, are apparently the only original thinkers that have ever been produced there.
I find that a little bit hard to believe. Hard to believe, and a little insulting to the human mind. The People of Sparks continues in the same way—Lina and Doon have lead the way out of Ember into the world above, but the people there are just as backward-thinking, and while they have had much more available to them (by way of natural and man-made materials) that would help them to re-invent their society, they are instead scraping by with things they’re grafting from the ‘ancient times.’
This is a world generations away from an all-consuming disaster, but the disaster is of a scale that even Hollywood wouldn’t pretend to. Here, instead of the major cities being destroyed, apparently (or at least, so far as we can tell) all cities everywhere have been destroyed. Sparks has been built from scratch, and is only just becoming profitable. I just don’t buy it. I have to force myself to look at this as an allegory, and I’m not all that enchanted with allegories—especially ones that last nearly 400 pages. I think if I’d read these when I was younger (say eight, or ten—yes, I think a ten-year-old could read 400 pages if they wanted to) then maybe I might have enjoyed these books, but I just can’t suspend my disbelief enough at this hardened age of twenty-four. And really, until you get to the very end, the moral lessons DuPrau is trying to teach are so weighed down underneath the negativity surrounding them, that the books are just depressing. So many of the people are mean, and cold-hearted, and it just made me sad to read it.
That said, The People of Sparks did pull a nice twist on me at the end, that I didn’t see coming, and I’ll give it kudos for that. Also, despite 99% of the characters being absolutely scathing representations of humanity, Lina and Doon (and those closest to them) really are quite endearing, so you have to root for them, in the mess of everything else.
I give this a nominable B-. They’re decently-written books, and their short-comings are all in the name of the moral story. I just hate reading them.