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Literature / The Books of Ember

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

The Books of Ember is a four-book post-apocalyptic children's series (believe it or not) that follows two children as they learn more about their city, the titular City of Ember, its past, and their world.

The first book, The City of Ember, introduces us to Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow, who live in Ember. The city is surrounded by darkness in all directions and so relies on a hydroelectric generator to keep the town alight and running. However, the generator is beginning to fail, causing blackouts that are increasing in both frequency and length. At the same time, the food left in the city is beginning to grow scarce, without any way to replenish its stores. It won't be long until the entire city fails and becomes cloaked in eternal darkness. In the midst of this chaos, Lina discovers an old note that appears to tell of a way out of Ember. Unfortunately, it was badly damaged by Lina's little sister Poppy chewing on it, making the note difficult to decipher. Meanwhile, Lina and Doon have to confront a conspiracy that wishes to keep the truth under wraps...


The book was released in 2003 and became surprisingly popular. A sequel titled The People of Sparks was released the following year and picks up right where Ember leaves off. A prequel to the series called The Prophet of Yonwood was released in 2006 and focuses on a different set of characters. 2008 saw the release of a film adaptation of the first book, starring Saoirse Ronan and Bill Murray, as well as the last book in the series, The Diamond of Darkhold, which takes place after Sparks.

Not to be confused with the Emberverse series.

Books in the Series

  1. The City of Ember (2003)
  2. The People of Sparks (2004)
  3. The Prophet of Yonwood (2006)
  4. The Diamond of Darkhold (2008)


The book series provides examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: While most of the adults in the series aren't evil, they seem quite complacent to sit around while the city of Ember dies, they try to incite a war that could only lead to disaster, and they just accept the words of Mrs. Beeson without a hint of skepticism or critical thought. It's the children of the series who are willing to challenge the status quo and try to change the course of events for the better.
  • Aerith and Bob: The main characters are named Lina and Doon, but other characters have more commonplace names like Poppy or Lizzie.
  • After the End: The first book of the series implies that this is the setting, though exactly what type of disaster occurred remained (intentionally) ambiguous. The People of Sparks reveals that most of humanity died as a result of four wars and three plagues, leading to a severe breakdown of human society. 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.
  • Ambiguously Evil: Barton Snode, the chief guard, seems dim but dutiful, and appears to be willing to arrest the mayor after discovering his stealing, and excited at the responsibility. The mayor is not arrested though, and given that other guards are corrupt its unclear if Snode simply failed in his duties and wa fell victim to You Know Too Much (either fatally or by being locked up), or if he was Evil All Along and his excitement came from the chance to do the mayor such a service. Since he becomes a What Happened to the Mouse?, we never find out either way (although the film portrays him as more of a crony to the mayor).
  • 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 the prequel.
  • Apocalypse How: In the ending of The City of Ember, it is revealed 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, making this apocalypse a societal collapse on a planetary scale.
  • Beneath the Earth: Ember is an underground city that was built to be self-sustaining for about 200 years. It starts failing when it lives long past its expiration date.
  • Benevolent Boss: Don and Lina's supervisors, Captain Fleery and Lister Munk, although both are minor characters, with Lister being a bit more distant, and Fleery a bit more naive, than most examples of this trope.
  • 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.
    • Up to Eleven in The Prophet of Yonwood, where the main theme of the book is the dangers of blind obedience. The citizens of Yonwood take the words of Althea Towers as absolute gospel, going so far as to shun anyone who doesn't follow the least of her (rather strict) commandments. They believe that ridding the community of evil will protect them from the oncoming apocalypse, but it turns out to all be in waste. Althea wasn't even trying to give moral commandments to the community, and the war they were preparing for wouldn't happen for fifty more years.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Torren is a hotheaded selfish child who shows no sympathy or concern for the refugees from Ember. He even goes so far as to blame an innocent Emberite when Torren himself destroys two crates of tomatoes. Why does he hate the Emberites so much? Because a few are staying in his room and in his house. He mellows out a bit by The Diamond of Darkhold, however.
  • Chekhov's Gun: That guy in The Prophet of Yonwood running those weird experiments to contact aliens? He succeeded. The aliens send a spacecraft to Earth, the mysterious new star in The Diamond of Darkhold.
  • Child Prodigy: Doon is a studious child who keeps a book full of information he learns about insects and other bugs, creates a functioning generator that powers a lightbulb, and is one of the first people post-Disaster to actually learn anything about electricity.
  • 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: Poppy chewed up the Instructions for Egress, making large 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, but they lost the evacuation instructions before anyone even knew they existed 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.
  • Fling a Light into the Future: The solar-powered diamond computers and the book which accompanies the first of them are meant to do this.
  • 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 system allowed 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 at the beginning (and is apparently 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.
  • Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: Ember and Sparks are both solid 5.5s; the only technologies that appear are devices that already exist today. Yonwood and Darkhold would both rank 4 or 4.5; the "crack in the sky" and solar-powered diamonds are definitely speculative technologies as opposed to real, existing ones, but they aren't the main focus of the plot.
  • Mondegreen: In Sparks: "Remember the city, the city remember," which is actually, "Remember the city, the city of Ember."
  • 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.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Mrs. Beeson certainly thinks so, and indirectly cites this trope when Nickie tells her that Grover owns snakes in his shed. She concludes that because of the evil nature of snakes, anyone who owns them must be a sinner.
  • Sadistic Choice: Sparks faces several trying to balance their own needs vs. those of the refugees from Ember.
  • Sanity Slippage: Sadge Merrall when (due to concern over his realization that the supplies are running out) he tries to venture outside the city, and gets lost and terrified in the darkness before making it back. He goes full on Mad Oracle for a while, but he seems to have gotten over it in the sequels.
  • 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.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Ben Barlow is this to the Sparks council in the second book, but he gets better by the end.
  • 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 Four Wars aren't given any individual names, but from what we learn in the books, they sure seem to have been World Wars. If The Prophet of Yonwood is anything to go by, the first of these wars was between the USA and a group called the Phalanx Nations, and went nuclear pretty fast. These wars, combined with The Three Plagues, are what knocked civilization back to pre-industrial levels.
  • The X of 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:

  • Adaptation Deviation: The giant insects and moles weren't in any of the books, but they were added into the movie, possibly to show the effects of radiation on the wildlife.
  • Adaptation Induced Plothole: There are a couple.
    • In the book's prologue, the box containing the instructions on how to evacuate the city was said to have been stored by the Builders in the basement of the gathering hall; it was Lina's ancestor, the seventh mayor, who stole it from its hiding place in the belief that its contents could save him from sickness, only to die suddenly without imparting its secret to anyone. The film changes things so that each mayor is shown to keep the box on their person, making it much easier for it to have been misplaced and much odder that no one else in the city would know about it.
    • With regard to the mayor's hoard of food, the book implies that the secret room in which it's kept is actually the mayoral office, which is described as being in the basement of the gathering hall. The film shows the mayor's office and the secret room in much greater detail, showing that they are two separate places and that the latter is only accessible by going down into the Pipeworks, raising the question of how the mayor and his guards could make such regular trips down there without anyone noticing them.
  • Asshole Victim: The Mayor has his own safe room, full of enough food to feed the entire city. When he locks himself in there and can't escape before the giant mole eats him, 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.
  • Composite Character: The film gives Mrs. Mc Murdo Captain Fleery's role from the book, as one of the Believers who tells Lina the Builders will come again to help the residents of Ember.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: In the book, Lina's father simply died of a coughing sickness that was going around. In the movie, he died during an escape attempt with Loris, Doon's father.
    • Mayor Cole is potentially another example of this, depending on how you look at it. He survived the first book, but the second book reveals that he, Looper, and his cronies all drowned in the river while trying to escape Ember. This differs from his death in the film adaptation of the first book, where he is eaten by a giant mole.
  • Exit, Pursued by a Bear: At the end of the film, Mayor Cole is eaten by a giant mole.
  • The Film of the Book: The movie is a film adaptation of the book.
  • 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.
  • Gender Flip: The captain of Ember's messengers was female in the book but is male in the film. The inverse is true for Doon's supervisor in the Pipeworks, who the film also makes an Ascended Extra.
  • 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, say, 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.
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: Oscar-winning actors Tim Robbins & Martin Landau play important roles in the film, but they hardly appear in the advertising for it.
  • 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. Although, Lina’s actress is closer to her age in the book and plays this trope straighter.

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


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