Literature / The Books of Ember
aka: City Of Ember

"In Ember, the sky was always dark."
Opening lines of the first book.

The Books of Ember is a four-book series about the adventures of Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow, who live in the Underground City of Ember, which relies on lightbulbs to keep the town lighted and running. However, the lightbulbs are beginning to dull and food/rations are running out in the city; it won't be long until the entire city is cloaked in eternal darkness and becomes poverty-stricken. One day, Lina finds a letter (which is unrecognizable at first because her little sister Poppy chewed on it), which may possibly lead the citizens out of Ember. However, Lina and Doon have to confront a conspiracy that wishes to keep the truth under wraps...

Made into a film in 2008 starring Saoirse Ronan and Bill Murray.

Books in the Series
  1. The City of Ember
  2. The People of Sparks
  3. The Prophet of Yonwood
  4. The Diamond of Darkhold

This book series provides examples of:

  • Accidentally Broke the MacGuffin:
    • In The City of Ember, the "Instructions for Egress" were mostly ruined by Lina's baby sister, Poppy, chewing on them; this turned what would have otherwise been a very quick and simple quest into a much more difficult and time-consuming ordeal as they tried to piece together what remained of the instructions.
    • The "Instructions for Egress" had been kept in a safe in a special place of honor for years until about fifty or sixty years earlier, the then mayor took it home and tried to open it, never replacing the safe but instead, having it shoved into a closet to be forgotten and unseen even as its timed lock opened.
      • Slightly tweaked in the film adaptation; the box was meant to be passed from mayor to mayor, but the box was lost when one mayor died while in the role, with his family inheriting the box without knowing what it was for.
    • In The Diamond Of Darkhold, Doon throws the diamond of Darkhold at a pack of wolves to save Lina. The diamond hits the rock that Lina is standing on and shatters into hundreds of pieces. Luckily, the diamond is only a sample. There are exactly one thousand diamonds in a hidden room in the cave. The diamonds are ancient technology that turns solar power into electricity.
  • After the End: Human society was destroyed by the Disaster, a combination of "the Four Wars and the Three Plagues". However, the titular city was built underground as a safehold for human culture and survives for 200-odd years after the war ended... and then the lights start going out. By the end of the series, people start rebuilding on the surface and things are looking up.
  • Alien Sky: In The City of Ember, the sky is the same empty blackness as everything outside the City. This trope is later inverted when the people of Ember are surprised to discover that the real sky is blue.
  • An Aesop: The People of Sparks ' underlying theme is basically learning to accept people who are different from you.
  • America Saves the Day: Very subtle, but think about it. Americans built Ember, Americans populated it, and Americans provided the revolutionary solar-power diamonds that pave the way to the future. Perhaps one of the few non-war examples. Also ironic in that America helped cause the Disaster.
  • Apocalyptic Log: In The City of Ember, a journal from one of the first residents of Ember is found as Lina and Doon find their way out of the city. In the prequel, The Prophet of Yonwood, this log is shown to be the work of an elderly Nickie, the protagonist of Yonwood.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 2. In the twist ending of The City of Ember, it turns out that the eponymous city is an underground enclave built to weather a series of nuclear wars and deadly plagues. The outside world has regressed to pre-industrial levels. However, the people are still fairly well off, and, with the help of the Emberites and a few caches of Lost Technology, are starting anew by the end of the series.
  • Big Blackout: In The City of Ember, these were happening more and more frequently because of problems with the Generator.
  • Black Market Produce: Ember is out of a lot of food products and the black market ones are mostly fruit. Pineapples get a special mention.
  • Blind Obedience: In The City of Ember most people treat the mayor as a pretty infallible and sensible authority figure, which he abused to his gain. Though their city was breaking down and the power plant to their Terminally Dependent Society was nearing failure he managed to keep almost everyone content. The protagonists were some of the few to see the problem and fought to find a way out.
  • Chekhov's Gun: That guy in The Prophet of Yonwood running those weird experiments to contact aliens? HE SUCCEEDED. They're the mysterious new star in The Diamond of Darkhold.
  • City in a Bottle: The City of Ember; a small town completely surrounded by darkness on all sides. The only light the residents have ever known is the harsh glow of the town's street lights. Until the citizens find their way out and realize that the world has gone on without them.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: The City of Ember received a Graphic Novel adaptation in 2012.
  • Courier: Lina Mayfleet, who becomes a messenger in The City of Ember and again at the end of The Diamond of Darkhold.
  • Conveniently Interrupted Document: As seen above in the Accidentally Broke the MacGuffin entry, Poppy found the paper with the instructions on how to leave and chewed on them, making parts of it unreadable.
  • Cosy Catastrophe: Society is a bit like this in The Diamond Of Darkhold. Of course, the events of that book take place about 200 years after The End of the World, so nobody actually has any idea what happened, and the simple farming life is all that the people of Sparks know.
  • Crying Wolf: Invoked; the mayor tried to claim to the city that this is what Doon and Lina were doing when they reported that he and Looper were stealing, stating that they were "spreading vicious rumors." However, they were telling the truth.
  • Disaster Scavengers: The Roamers in The People of Sparks and The Diamond of Darkhold, who explore and scavenge the remains of pre-Disaster cities for old items they can use or sell.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: In-universe, at the end of The Diamond of Darkhold, where Doon has to once again has to put together some letters with Lina that have been broken apart by deciphering the phrases. It sparks off their Maybe Ever After.
  • Earth All Along: In The City of Ember, the city turns out to be underground on Earth. Human beings lived there for centuries; the idea was to protect them from nuclear war, but they lost the evacuation instructions years ago, and no one was around to tell them that the apocalypse was over and they could all go home now.
  • Eternal Engine: Ember in The City of Ember is not all engine, but between the generator and the pipeworks a lot of it is made up of constantly running machinery.
  • First Time in the Sun: At the end of The City of Ember, the main characters find themselves on the surface at night, just in time to see the sun rise.
  • Freedom from Choice: The City of Ember has a bit of this although, it was shown that the lot-drawing didn't actually matter (it was touted as a sort of sacred infallible system, but people could swap their drawings).
    • The point of that system was to allow people to get jobs they liked more, through trade, while making sure someone ended up doing the bad jobs no one wanted but had to be done.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Hoyt McCoy from The Prophet of Yonwood.
    Hoyt: I am not particularly neat or clean; I am certainly not what anyone would call normal. But I am as good as anyone else.
  • Grandparental Obliviousness: Lina's grandmother has dementia, leaving Lina with little supervision when she goes off to save the city of Ember.
  • God Before Dogma: Nickie rejects the absurd restrictions set by Mrs. Beeson on behalf of The Prophet of Yonwood, but she still believes God is good and would honor people's differences instead of marginalizing them.
  • Government Conspiracy:
    • The mayor, some of his guards, and storeroom worker Looper were secretly stealing and hording some rare items that they found in storage (which had supposedly run out long ago) rather than sharing them with the entire city.
    • The plans set by the Builders themselves could qualify. Going through all the trouble of keeping the true contents of the box a secret. Or seeing to it that no one knew the history of the world leading up to the disaster in an attempt to start from a clean slate.
  • Indestructible Edible: Ember has existed for 241 years but still has some canned food that was stocked there are the beginning (and apparently it's still fit to eat).
  • Karmic Death: It's revealed in The People of Sparks that the mayor and his accomplices, including Looper, drowned in the river while trying to leave Ember ahead of everyone else.
  • Lost Common Knowledge:
    • In The City of Ember, the simple fact that the surface world exists becomes this trope, as does the existence of most animals, candles, matches, the sun, the sky, and many other things.
    • In The People of Sparks, the Emberites don't know that the Earth is round, and don't know about things like animals, trees, trucks, rain, seasons, and gods.
  • Maybe Ever After: A single line at the end of The Diamond of Darkhold hints that Doon and Lina might be falling in love with each other. It's never made explicit how their relationship turns out, but the narrative does mention that they end up sharing a house, so it's safe to assume that they probably did end up together.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Ember and Sparks: two places providing light in a dark, post-apocalyptic world.
    • Lina Mayfleet, a talented runner (which comes in handy when she becomes a messenger and later a fugitive). Lampshaded in the film adaptation by a comment from the mayor when Lina visits his office: “May your feet be fleet.”
    • In The People of Sparks, one of the people who helps to fuel the fires of tension between the Ember people and the Sparks people is a troublemaking Emberite kid named Tick Hassler.
    • The terrorist organization in The Prophet of Yonwood is called the Phalanx Nations.
  • Missing Mom: Lina Mayfleet's mother died while giving birth to Lina's little sister, Poppy. Doon Harrow's mother isn't even mentioned in the series, and her absence is never explained.
  • New Eden: The ultimate destination for the main characters of The City of Ember: their city is dying, so they're trying to find a way for everyone to leave it and go somewhere where they can all survive.
  • The Outside World: This is the ultimate destination for Doon Harrow and Lina Mayfleet, recognizing that the limited lifespan of The City of Ember is winding down. It's an uphill struggle against Ember's corrupt mayor to navigate the exit sequence engineered by the city's original builders.
  • Passed in Their Sleep: In The City of Ember, this is how Lina and Poppy's grandmother dies. After she starts succumbing to an unknown illness, she tells Lina to go to sleep, and the next morning, Lina finds her body still in bed.
  • Pipe Maze: The City of Ember has the Pipeworks workers, whose job is to patch up the incredibly intricate network of pipes that brings water to the citizens. Or rather, they patch up the patches over other patches that someone else, a long time ago, put on some more patches.
  • Promotion to Parent: Lina to her little sister Poppy, as her parents are dead and her grandmother has dementia.
  • Ragnarök Proofing:
    • The system to get out of Ember still works after all these years.
    • Averted with Ember itself, which was originally designed to function for 200 years and looks like it's literally about to fall apart. There's evidence suggesting however that things were starting to deteriorate even before then.
  • Scavenger World: The People of Sparks takes place somewhere in the United States about 250 years after several successive wars and pandemics, where descendants of the survivors have reverted to old-style farming settlements, sending out 'roamers' to search pre-Disaster houses and such for supplies such as clothes.
  • Small, Secluded World: The City of Ember, was built underground as a refuge from a nuclear apocalypse, but the instructions for escape were lost long ago, and now the city's supplies are running out.
  • Stop Worshipping Me: Althea Tower from The Prophet of Yonwood, who insists upon waking up that she is not any kind of prophet, but just an ordinary woman.
  • Terminally Dependent Society: In The City of Ember, the Emberites rely severely on the electrical generator, which is the only thing keeping the city from plunging into permanent darkness.
  • Thousand Year Reign: The City Of Ember was designed to last exactly 200 years and no longer. Too bad the note meant to inform the populace of this got lost.
  • Underground City: The City of Ember is set in an apocalypse bunker type of city where their supplies and power source are failing.
  • Used Future: The City of Ember portrayed a city driven by a huge dilapidated generator that was well beyond its expected life and the impending failure of the generator drives the events of the plot.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Mrs. Beeson in The Prophet of Yonwood, who strictly enforces her interpretations of Althea's delusional mutterings because she believes that they are instructions from God, telling the world what they must do to be free of sin.
  • Waif Prophet: Althea Tower from The Prophet of Yonwood, whose 'vision' makes her extremely ill.
  • The Wall Around the World: There aren't any literal walls in The City of Ember, but there might as well be — the only light comes from the city, as does all of the food and other necessities, making it impossible to leave. Nobody in the city knows what might exist outside of it, if there's anything there at all. It turns out that the entire city is actually underground. The original builders included instructions for leaving the city to be used after a certain amount of time had passed, but they were lost and forgotten before they could be used, leaving the citizens trapped in a city with dwindling food and power supplies, and no way of knowing that escape was necessary or possible.
  • World War III: The books are set 200 years after World Wars III, IV, V, and VI. If The Prophet of Yonwood is anything to go by, the first of "The 4 Wars" was between the USA and a group called the Phalanx Nations, and went nuclear pretty fast. These wars, combined with The 3 Plagues, are what knocked civilization back to pre-industrial levels.
  • The Xof Y: The Books Of Ember, The City of Ember, The People of Sparks, The Prophet of Yonwood and The Diamond of Darkhold.

The film adaptation provides additional examples of:

  • Asshole Victim: The Mayor has his own safe room, full of enough food to feed the entire city. When he locks himself in there accidentally with a giant crawler, it's hard to feel sorry for him.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: The film has some oversized insects, probably to illustrate the effects of radiation on the wildlife.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The multi-tool Loris gives Doon for his graduation. It comes in handy numerous times in their quest to escape the city.
  • Exit, Pursued by a Bear: At the end of the film, Mayor Cole is eaten by a giant mole.
  • First Time in the Sun: The protagonists come out from the underground city... to a wholly dark sky. They start doubting their whole trip, believing that what they were told about the dead world outside is true. Then the dawn comes...
  • Ignored Expert: Doon is the only one convinced that the eponymous city's generator is beyond repair, and it needs to be overhauled, or the city abandoned. Naturally, the older generation tells him to shut up. It turns out he and Lina are Legacy Characters (of sorts) to their fathers, who were part of a cabal who foresaw the collapse years ago. Her father died trying to find a solution.
  • It's What I Do:
    Doon: "How do you know that's what you should do?"
    Sul: "... It's my job!"
Interestingly, both a comedic and a poignant example of this particular trope; comedic because it's the punchline to a repeated catchphrase ("Not my job!") and poignant because it's not clear what happens to Sul after he helps Lina, Doon, and Poppy escape.

  • Just Desserts: Mayor Cole gets eaten by a giant star-nosed mole.
  • Karmic Death: The Mayor is eaten alive after locking himself in his secret room full of stolen food.
  • Malevolent Architecture: The film has an escape route (meant to eventually be followed by all the inhabitants, no less) that requires activating a complex machine that moves around small boats, destabilizes a power reactor, generates a powerful water current and finally blasts the hapless citizens in the aforementioned tiny boats through a waterslide course any entertainment company would pay millions for (replete with suspended structure). You'd think they could have built, I dunno, an elevator instead... It might have been justified if not for the waterslide, since the place was already past its expiration date anyway.
  • No OSHA Compliance: The generator of Ember has catwalks and stairs going above and alongside heavy, dangerous, steam-emitting machinery of all kinds. And the official, government-approved method to escape the city involves hundreds to thousands of people riding a ridiculously dangerous water toboggan on tiny wooden boats that are intended to pass above large water turbines.
  • "Pan Up to the Sky" Ending: The film ends with the sun rising into a bright blue sky, which is especially meaningful because the characters have spent their entire lives living in an underground city, never knowing there was anything different or that there was such a thing as the sun or sky.
  • Younger and Hipper: The film used the "older and hipper" inversion. The lead characters are twelve in the original book, but are teenagers in the film.

Alternative Title(s): City Of Ember, The Diamond Of Darkhold, The City Of Ember, The People Of Sparks, The Prophet Of Yonwood