Ahhhh. This is my sigh of utter satisfaction on finishing the fourth and final book in the City of Ember series, The Diamond of Darkhold. Jeanne DuPrau, thank you! Thank you for giving us another interesting story, and one that so pleasingly completes the series.
When The Diamond of Darkhold begins, the citizens of Sparks (a post-apocalyptic settlement) are suffering through a rough winter. People are cold, and there isn't enough food for everyone, and as a result, many people are sick. The Pioneer Hotel, where most of the citizens of Ember (the underground city of the first book of the series) are still living, is ever more decrepit.
Determined to do something to help their families, Lina and Doon (the heroes from the first two books) decide to return to the City of Ember. They take with them a mysterious clue, received from a roamer (a wandering trader) named Maggs. In addition to looking for practical things, like food and antibiotics, they also seek to solve the mystery. They hope to find something major, left behind by Ember's builders, to help their people survive. However, they fall into some trouble along the way, and learn that without its citizens, the underground City of Ember is a very dark place.
Two things strike me in particular about this book. The first is the way that kids drive ALL of the action, and are responsible for saving themselves. Even when the adults get involved, they only do so under the direction of the kids. This is true to the other books in the Ember series, but I find it refreshing when compared to some of the other books that I've read recently. I think that kids will find this book fascinating (underground city, children on a quest, a mysterious jewel), but also empowering.
The second thing that is fascinating about this book, at least for me, and that was also present in The People of Sparks, is DuPrau's envisioning of a post-apocalyptic world. What aspects of our civilization have people held on to? What have they lost (electricity, indoor plumbing, elephants and giraffes)? The idea that our civilization is so fragile that we might one day have people who don't know how to spell or pronounce the names of our major cities ... it's terrifying, but it sure does make you think. And the distorted remnants of words from our world catch your attention when they sneak through (a new character uses the word "Wallah", for instance, which he says means "there it is").
Also interesting is the difference in experience between the people of Sparks, descendants of surface survivors of the apocalypse, and the people of Ember, who led a relatively sheltered life below-ground. Living in Sparks is quite an adjustment for the Emberites, who grew up with electric lights and indoor plumbing, but had little exposure to nature. Here are a couple of examples:
"They walked as quickly as they could, but it seemed unlikely they'd avoid getting wet. A few raindrops were already drifting down. Doon felt their light, cold touch on his face. Rain had become familiar to him by now. Since he and his people had arrived here in Sparks from the City of Ember, where sun and rain alike were unknown, four rainstorms had swept over the land. The first had terrified the people of Ember, who thought something dreadful had gone wrong with the sky." (Chapter 1)
"He remembered that someone had told him about a thing called lightning -- a bolt of electricity that came sometimes in storms. He had not known how to picture a "bolt of electricity." (Chapter 1)
Meanwhile, the people of Sparks have had little education, resulting in passages like this:
"Other than Nature, school seemed confusing or boring to Kenny. He'd learned to read a long time ago, but he didn't much like doing it. There wasn't anything very interesting to read. And he'd learned his numbers well enough, up to the part where you have one number on top of another one, with a line between them. He got a little lost after that." (Chapter 14)
This isn't the kind of book where you stop to flag dozens of pages, because there are so many gorgeous turns of phrase, or witty little passages. Instead it's a book that flows along effortlessly when you're reading it, because you care about the characters, and you keep wanting to know what happens next. The plot moves along quickly, with just the right balance of action and atmosphere. Doon and Lina are actually rather ordinary kids. Their primary strengths lie in taking action and looking out for each other. But they feel real. And I think that kids will be able to identify with them.
This book is the very definition of kid-friendly, even as it touches on important , big picture issues. The cover is absolutely fabulous, too. I am certain that fans of the Ember books are going to be very happy with this conclusion to the series. Highly, highly recommended. Get it as soon as you can. You won't be disappointed.
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 26, 2008
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
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© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.