The City of Ember

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For the 2008 film based on this book, see City of Ember. For the capital city of Scotland, see Embra.
The city of Ember
The City of Ember.jpg
Author Jeanne DuPrau
Country United States
Language English
Genre Post-apocalyptic, science fiction, children's literature
Publication date
May 2003
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback), digital (DVD)
Pages 270
ISBN 0-375-82273-9
OCLC 50166630
[Fic] 21
LC Class PZ7.D927 Ci 2003
Followed by The People of Sparks

The City of Ember is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel by Jeanne DuPrau that was published in 2003. The story is about Ember, an underground city threatened by aging infrastructure. The young protagonist, Lina Mayfleet, and her friend, Doon Harrow (the second protagonist), follow clues left behind by the original builders of the City of Ember, to safety in the outside world.

It is the first "Book of Ember" in the eponymous series, which also includes The People of Sparks, The Prophet of Yonwood (a prequel), and the final installment, The Diamond of Darkhold. In 2008, the book was adapted into a film by Walden Media and Playtone.[1]

A graphic novel adaptation by comic book artist Niklas Asker was released on September 25, 2012.[2]

Plot summary[edit]

At the beginning of the story, a coalition of architects, scientists, and doctors known as "The Builders" have assembled 'Ember': a subterranean city with supplies for its inhabitants to survive at least 200 years, to elude an impending disaster; they give the first mayor of the city a locked box, holding instructions for the city's inhabitants, to be passed down from one mayor to the next. This passage continues until the seventh mayor who, in search of a cure for the deadly cough infecting himself and his citizens, tries and fails to break it open, and dies unable to return the box to its rightful place, or inform anyone else of its importance. 241 years after Ember is established, the city's supplies are in danger of exhaustion, and the hydroelectric generator is in decay. At a graduation ceremony where young people are assigned their jobs, protagonist Lina May fleet is assigned the job of “Pipework Laborer" and her classmate Doon Harrow that of “Messenger”. However, both are displeased with their given jobs; they mutually exchange assignments in secret. At home, Lina's grandmother tries to find something. Lina's sister, Poppy, exposes the instructions left by the Builders; but in teething, leaves them almost illegible. Later, Lina asks Doon to help her reconstruct the paper. After much trial and error, she and Doon decipher the instructions from the Builders, which inform them of how to exit the city of Ember. One morning, Lina's grandmother dies, and Lina and Poppy move in with a neighbor, Mrs. Murdo. At work, Doon discovers that the mayor of Ember and a storeroom worker named Looper have been stealing supplies, and he and Lina report the crime. Upon following the instructions given in the note, they discover boats and candles meant for use in the exodus. On their return to Ember, they learn that the mayor has declared them fugitives from the law. Lina is arrested and taken to the mayor, who threatens to jail her. Suddenly, a blackout allows her escape; whereupon Lina, Doon, and Poppy escape in a boat through the river that supplies Ember's electricity. When the boat stops, they learn the origin of Ember from a diary left by one of its original colonists. Thereafter they are faced with a very steep climb and emerge onto the surface, where they see their city from above and realize, for the first time, that Ember is underground. They throw a rock with instructions tied to it down to the city in hope that the people of Ember will escape. The novel ends with Mrs. Murdo finding their note.

Critical reception[edit]

The City of Ember was praised for its setting and main characters, Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow. 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".[3] Sally Estes from Booklist commented how readers would be able to connect to Lina and Doon's courage amidst the conflicts.[4] Robert Sutton from Horn Book Magazine compared the novel to Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry, noting how "the darkness of Ember is essentially literal" with the generator failing and running out of power, leading to frequent blackouts. 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".[5] Dian Roback from Publishers Weekly also praised the "full blooded characters" as every bit as good as the plot which would hook readers until the end.[6] Although Jones Johns from School Library Journal wrote that the setting was not as ingenious as the ones in Joan Aiken's Is and Lois Lowry's The Giver, he said that the characters and pace of the plot would keep readers hooked.[7]

Film adaptation[edit]

Main article: City of Ember

A film adaptation of the novel, directed by Gil Kenan, was produced by Walden Media and Playtone with Bill Murray as the mayor, Saoirse Ronan as Lina, and Harry Treadaway as Doon.[8] Filming was finished in October 2007 and the film was released in theaters a year later on October 10, 2008. City of Ember was released on DVD on January 20, 2009. The film received mixed reviews, with a Metacritic rating of 58/100, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[9]



  1. ^ "City of Ember Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 2013-11-12. 
  2. ^ "Jeanne : Coming this year! The City of Ember: The Graphic Novel!". Retrieved 2012-02-24. 
  3. ^ "The City of Ember". Kirkus Reviews. EBSOhost. 71 (10): 749. ISSN 0042-6598. 
  4. ^ Estes, Sally (April 15, 2003). "The City of Ember". Booklist. EBSCOhost. 99 (16): 1466. ISSN 0006-7385. 
  5. ^ Sutton, Roger (May–June 2003). Horn Book Magazine. EBSCOhost. 79 (3): 343. ISSN 0018-5078.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ Roback, Diane (March 10, 2003). "The City of Ember". Publishers Weekly. EBSCOhost. 250 (10): 72. ISSN 0000-0019. 
  7. ^ Peters, John (May 2003). School library Journal. EBSCOhost. 49 (5): 150. ISSN 0362-8930.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ "City of Ember (2008)". 
  9. ^ City of Ember, retrieved 2016-07-31 
  10. ^ "Mark Twain Award: Previous Winners". Missouri Association of School Librarians. 

External links[edit]

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

Succeeded by
So B. It