Friday, February 22, 2013

THE PEOPLE OF SPARKS


Review of THE PEOPLE OF SPARKS by JEANNE DUPRAU
(second BOOK OF EMBER)

This book impressed me in Chapter One. If you haven't read the first BOOK OF EMBER, avert your eyes now from forthcoming spoilers. THE CITY OF EMBER ended with lead characters Doon and Lina's escape from the city. They intended a return trip, tracing their route backwards, so then they could lead the rest of the town to safety. Only after leaving, though, do they learn it's a one-way trip: you can leave the city but you cannot return the same way. So they send their fellow townspeople one last clue and the book ends with the uncertain hope that the those remaining in Ember can figure out that clue. Anyway, I expected the second book would focus on that clue and everyone else leaving the city, so I found myself pleasantly surprised when I realized that's only Chapter One! DuPrau does indeed have a new story at the ready.

Though connected as a series, these books can each stand on their own, as I'm now expecting will be the case with books three and four as well. In THE CITY OF EMBER, DuPrau examined crisis within a community and revealed the unexpected truth behind this strange town. THE PEOPLE OF SPARKS also examines crisis within a community, but the stories emphasize the difference between internal versus external conflict. THE CITY OF EMBER followed a tight-knit community crumbling within itself against the backdrop of their disintegrating city. THE PEOPLE OF SPARKS, in contrast, lines two different communities against each other. When the ex-citizens of Ember stumble upon another town, the new town, Sparks, feels a reluctant obligation to help. Aware that the decision will cause tension and strain resources, the town leaders of Sparks still agree to host the new arrivals from Ember for six months. Within that time Sparks citizens will teach Ember citizens as much as they can about how they survive in this world, and then the Ember citizens will be sent off to fend for themselves. Of course, the people of Sparks dislike sacrificing their hard earned resources for complete strangers while the people of Ember grow suspicious that this new town isn't really telling them everything they know or doing all they can to help.

While enjoyable, THE PEOPLE OF SPARKS does display a little bit of middle book syndrome. We explore the world some more, meet new characters, and follow a similar escalation of conflict, but there's the sense of much more awaiting readers in later books. I'm wildly curious to see where the story will focus in books three and four and how DuPrau will conclude this series.

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