City of Ember, the first book in a series of four by the illustrious and always creative Jeanne DuProu, is a great science fiction post-apocalyptic book.
I don’t know why I’ve been hooked on these recently; I think that maybe it’s because I love librarian book recommendations, and every single library in my area has had a huge display case titled something along the lines of, “Did you like The Hunger Games? Well then check out these cool novels!” which of course, led me to devour almost every single post-apocalyptic end-times science fiction YA novel that was vaguely shaped/developed like the Hunger Games was.
Which I don’t mind, let me tell you.
But it is a bother when there’s just so much to read, and so many genres I enjoy, including but not limited to historical fiction, biography, fantasy, utopian science fiction, parallel worlds fiction, cross culture, and more.
But since I read this book, I’m going to tell you about it.
It’s hard to describe a book like this without giving away plot details, particularly because in science fiction or fantasy the author is creating an entire world/set of rules by which the book’s world is governed, and thus, in trying to explain it to someone else involves a whole lot of me saying, “well, in this world there’s actually no cars, and everyone delivers messages by foot through young children who are given it as their career; and yes they start working at a really young age.” So I’m going to describe one of my favorite metaphors in all of literature:
Light and dark.
Because there really is no greater nor more widely used metaphor; a symbol of goodness and evil, of right and wrong, of good and bad, of love and hate, than the state of being in lightness or darkness. Look at all the greatest books ever written; almost all will have some sort of allusion to lightness or darkness in relation to morality/social philosophy. Tale of Two Cities? Lucie has bright blonde hair and the palest of porcelain skin; a direct allusion to her transparency and inherent goodness. Moby Dick plays with this theme because the whale, which Ahab sees as bad, is in reality colored white. Frankenstein is created in the darkest and stormiest of all dark and stormy nights. In The Great Gatsby, Daisy is ALWAYS wearing the color white; which matches her light blonde hair. In Of Mice and Men, Lennie always has a light colored mouse, while Candy is pictured as having grubby yet light complexion; both her and the mice are symbols of helpless, yet good/innocent beings that are victims of circumstance and fate. Of course, inversely we have dystopian novels like 1984, in which everything is a pristine color of white, and yet; it’s too white and “too good” (which is generally the basis of dystopian novels; a society that starts out with seemingly good intentions to better mankind, which ultimately folds in on itself), revealing the true grime and state of humanity; the white is only a foil for the unhappiness of the society.
So here we obviously have a type of society; a group of people living in a very dark, very limited world. The only sources of light come from the rapidly failing generator: there are power outages every once in awhile in the great yet frail city; and in the absolute darkness there is absolute panic. Thus, the light and darkness acts as a physical reminder of the helplessness of the city; an overpowering force that is slowly forcing them to action; and it is only in the moments of clarity provided by the light that the two protagonists, Lina and Doon, can find a way to escape the ever-increasing threat of total darkness.
Which, isn’t that a wonderful lesson? Because the City of Ember is just like life; it’s only with the truth, and the light, that we can find a way to ward off the darkness, and it’s only with those moments of darkness that we learn to appreciate and utilize the light to it’s full potential.