The Fourth Book of Ember
by Jeanne DuPrau
It's been a tough winter in the village of Sparks. A caved-in roof damaged much of their already short food supply, and there had been an unusual number of illnesses and accidents. Lina and Doon are still adjusting to life on the outside: the hardships and the dangers which are very different from those faced in the underground city of Ember. They want to do something to help the village, so when an old book purchased from a roamer seems to allude to something important hidden in Ember, Lina and Doon plan an expedition to return to Ember and search for it. But plans go awry, and what they find in Ember is far different from what they expected.
The Diamond of Darkhold is an enjoyable book, as all the books of Ember have been. It's great to see Lina and Doon back together again, solving problems. There's plenty of excitement and suspense and adventure. And I really liked that what they found in Ember was different than what they - and the reader - expected. Fans of the Ember series will definitely want to read it.
However, I have to say that I don't think it's quite as good as the first three books. One of the things that made the first three books so powerful was the social context that frames the story. In the City of Ember, it was Ember itself, that great underground city, and the effects that the breakdown of the city had on the closed society. In the People of Sparks, it was the conflict created by the merging of the two groups, and the stress caused by the strain on resources of a vastly increased population. In the Prophet of Yonwood, it was the dystopian theocracy created in the name of the Prophet. But in The Diamond of Darkhold, there doesn't seem to be a larger social issue at the heart of the story. Sure, there are shortages in Sparks, but that doesn't seem to be the overarching social theme like we had in the other books.
Another way to look at it is that in each book, there is a city which is as much a character as any person in the story: Ember, Sparks, and Yonwood. In The Diamond of Darkhold, there is still Sparks, but it doesn't get developed as a "character" any more than it already was in the second book. There's also Darkhold, but it's a small society, and only plays a role in part of the book.
Another gripe I had was the way that children were portrayed in this book. In all the books, but especially the first one, there is a subtheme of empowerment of children. In the City of Ember, Lina and Doon find that most of the adults in the book either don't take them seriously, or actively try to stop them. So they take matters into their own hands to save their society. I think this is a theme that resonates with a lot of children because they often feel the same powerlessness in their own lives.
In The Diamond of Darkhold, Lina and Doon, of course, are still doing important things, but all the other children are either belittled or disempowered. Near the end of the book, a child's treasures are taken away from him without permission when they suddenly become important to the society. When he complains, he's told "you'll be proud to know they're going to be used for something important." I had been expecting that the child would suddenly be the owner of something valuable and important, and to see them taken away from him without compensation (and by Doon, who, while still a child, is older than the other child) grated on my nerves. Also, while Lina and Doon are off trying to find the hidden "treasure," some of the other children go on a quest that ultimately ends up accomplishing little except getting the children lost and sending them back to Sparks for adult help, which ultimately makes the whole thing seem silly and pointless.
I know that I've said a lot of negative things, and it seems like I didn't like this book, but I really did like it. I think it's just that I expected so much of this book, that I felt a little let down when it didn't live up to my expectations. I do recommend it, though, especially to anyone who has read and like the other books. If you haven't read the other books, they're wonderful books and should be at the top of your TBR. Here are my reviews of the others:
The City of Ember
The People of Sparks
The Prophet of Yonwood
Also take note that the City of Ember movie was released today. I haven't seen it yet, but it looks good from the pictures and trailers, and I'm looking forward to seeing it. I'm hopeful that, for once, Hollywood may have managed to capture the true spirit of a beloved children's book.
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