The City of Ember

The City of Ember
The City of Ember  
The City of Ember.jpg
Author(s) Jeanne DuPrau
Publication date May 2003
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback),digital (DVD)
Pages 288
ISBN 0375822739
OCLC Number 50166630
Dewey Decimal [Fic] 21
LC Classification PZ7.D927 Ci 2003
Followed by The People of Sparks

The City of Ember is a post-apocalyptic novel by Jeanne DuPrau that was published in 2003. Similar to Suzanne Martel's The City Under Ground published in 1963, the story is about Ember, an underground city that is slowly running out of power and supplies due to its aging infrastructure. The young protagonist, Lina Mayfleet, and her friend, Doon Harrow, manage to decode a message and follow clues left behind by the original builders of the City of Ember that would lead them to safety in the outside world.

It is the first book in the Books of Ember series, which also includes The People of Sparks, The Prophet of Yonwood, and The Diamond of Darkhold. The book was adapted into a film by Walden Media and Playtone and released on October 10, 2008. City of Ember was released on DVD on January 20, 2009.[1]


Plot summary

Unidentified architects and engineers, referred to as "the Builders", designed an underground city with supplies for its inhabitants to survive for 200 years. During that time, the Earth would be uninhabitable for an unspecified reason, although the books prequel, The Prophet Of Yonwood'', points at that reason being a devastating nuclear war. After completion of the city, the Builders give the first mayor of the city a locked box that was to be passed down from one mayor to the next. Unknown to the mayors who were to pass it down the line, the box was set to open after 200 years and provide instructions to the city's inhabitants on how to return to the surface.

For several generations, the box is faithfully passed down from one mayor to the next until the seventh mayor who, hoping that the box might contain a cure for the deadly cough that was infecting many citizens of the city at the time, takes the box home and tries to break it open. He fails, and dies before he is able to return the box to its rightful place, or inform anyone else of its importance.

The story moves forward to the year 241 where the town is running out of supplies and the massive generator that provides the light and power for the city is on its last legs. At a graduation ceremony where young people are assigned their jobs, Lina Mayfleet is assigned the job of “Pipeworks Laborer", while Doon Harrow gets to be a “Messenger.” Both are unhappy with their assignments, and the two decided to switch jobs.

At home, Lina finds an old piece of paper she salvaged from inside a box. Unknown to her, it is the box that was passed from mayor to mayor. Currently, many people referred to as the "believers" believe that the Builders would come back and guide the citizens of Ember out of the city. Lina attempts to decipher the letter, but her little sister chewed on it and the letter has holes and is ripped. Finally, she asks Doon to help her reconstruct the letter. After much trial and error they realize it's instructions from the builders on how to exit the city.

Doon Harrow and Lina Mayfleet explore the tunnels in the pipeworks, trying to find the exit. Soon, they find an underground river, where they discover boats meant to be used by the community. They go on a wild boat ride and when the boat finally stops, they find an old journal explaining the history of Ember. The Builders decided to protect 100 adults and 100 children to ensure that the human race would survive. After they find the journal they are faced with a very steep climb that takes hours, but when they get to the top they discover the outside world, and through a series of events they find a cave leading to a cliff that shows the city miles below. In a scene reminiscent of Plato's Allegory of the Cave, they are shocked when they see the dim, glimmering lights of the city beneath them; they never knew they were living underground. They throw a rock with instructions tied to them down to the city in hope that the people of Ember will escape. The novel ends with Mrs. Murdo, Lina's guardian, finding the bundle containing the note, which they tied to a rock.

Critical reception

The City of Ember was praised for its setting and main characters, Lina and Doon. Kirkus Reviews praised the characters finding them "likable" for their courage, but also for their flaws of human pride. The reviewer noted how "their weaknesses often complementing each other in interesting ways".[2] Sally Estes from Booklist commented how readers would be able to connect on how Lina and Doon's courage despite amidst the conflicts.[3] Robert Sutton from Horn Book Magazine compared the novel the Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry, noting how "the darkness of Ember is essentially literal" with generator failing and running out of power. Sutton noted how DuPrau does not explain the history of Ember all at once, which would confuse and overwhelm the reader and instead, "allows the events of the story to convey the necessary information". Lina and Doon were described as "good sorts" that are "deeply etched".[4] Dian Roback from Publishers Weekly also praised the "full blooded characters as bit as good as the plot which would hook readers until the end.[5] While Jones Johns from School Library Journal found that the setting isn't as ingenious as the ones in Joan Aiken's Is Underground and Lois Lowry's The Giver, he found that the characters and pace of the plot will keep readers hooked.[6]

Film adaptation

A film adaptation of the novel was produced by Walden Media and Playtone with Bill Murray as the mayor, Saoirse Ronan as Lina, and Harry Treadaway as Doon.[7] Filming was finished in October 2007 and the film was released a year later on October 10, 2008. City of Ember was released on DVD on January 20, 2009.



  1. ^ "City of Ember" and "Igor" are among this week's DVD releases
  2. ^ Kirkus Reviews (EBSOhost) 71 (10): 749. ISSN 00426598. 
  3. ^ Estes, Sally (April 15, 2003). Booklist (EBSCOhost) 99 (16): 1466. ISSN 00067385. 
  4. ^ Sutton, Roger (May/June 2003). Horn Book Magazine (EBSCOhost) 79 (3): 343. ISSN 00185078. 
  5. ^ Roback, Diane (March 10, 2003). Publishers Weekly (EBSCOhost) 250 (10): 72. ISSN 00000019. 
  6. ^ Peters, John (May 2003). School Library Journal (EBSCOhost) 49 (5): 150. ISSN 03628930. 
  7. ^ "City of Ember (2008)". 
  8. ^ "Mark Twain Award: Previous Winners". Missouri Association of School Librarians. 

External links

Preceded by
Surviving the Applewhites
Winner of the
William Allen White Children's Book Award
Grades 6–8

Succeeded by
So B. It

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