I read this one to Mr 12 and we both loved it. It was interesting, exciting and based on a great premise.
Lina and Doon, both 12 year olds, live in Ember. Ember is lit only by lights, all powered by a great river turning a massive generator. Over 200 years ago, the people of Ember began living in this place that The Builders created. No-one knows any other life, yet the electricity is failing, the storerooms that once were bountiful are running low and regular blackouts leave the city completely dark.
While the residents around them remain wary and ignorant of a way forward, Lina & Doon believe there must be a solution to the increasing problems. It becomes clear to them that there must be a way out of Ember, even though darkness is in every direction. It’s exciting and we were very keen to see how it ended.
We then went on to individually read the other three DuPrau has written in the series. Short summary – The City of Ember is the best.
The second, The People of Sparks, continues the story once the people of Ember have found a solution to their problem. It’s a good picture of a post-apocalyptic world, where everyone has had to return to completely basic living after the fall of civilisation.
The third The Prophet of Yonwood was much more disappointing. It is in some sense a prequel, set ~50 years before the City of Ember is built. But rather than continuing with that storyline as it’s main focus, it becomes an analysis of wrong religious interpretation and how fervour for the truth can be misapplied dangerously. Both of us found it a bit tiresome.
The fourth, The Diamond of Darkhold, returns to the original story line following Lina & Doon almost a year later in the city of Sparks, and what happens when they decide they need to return to the City of Ember.
So, I highly recommend The City of Ember, and it works well as a standalone book. If you really like it, push on to books 2 & 4 but I personally wouldn’t bother with Book 3.