Monday, February 23, 2015

The Prophet of Yonwood by Jeanne DuPrau, 2006

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It's 50 years before the settlement of the city of Ember, and the world is in crisis. War looms on the horizon as 11-year-old Nickie and her aunt travel to the small town of Yonwood, North Carolina. There, one of the town's respected citizens has had a terrible vision of fire and destruction. Her garbled words are taken as prophetic instruction on how to avoid the coming disaster. If only they can be interpreted correctly. . . . 
As the people of Yonwood scramble to make sense of the woman's mysterious utterances, Nickie explores the oddities she finds around town--her great-grandfather's peculiar journals and papers, a reclusive neighbor who studies the heavens, a strange boy who is fascinated with snakes--all while keeping an eye out for ways to help the world. Is this vision her chance? Or is it already too late to avoid a devastating war? 

Each book of Ember has a very specific role in the series. The first one, The City of Emberwas an adventure, suspense novel with the threat of the dying generator looming over Lina and Doone at every turn. The second one, The People of Sparks, was a look at conflict, war, and the slippery slope of giving "an eye for an eye." Both yielded even more on rereading than they did the first time, so I had high hopes when I started reading what was, for me, a boring and pointless addition to the series the first time around.

Unfortunately, my opinion hasn't risen too much the second time through. It's true that I see now the purpose of putting this book in the series: it shows the beginning of Ember, life on Earth during the conflicts that would ultimately tear apart all of human civilization. It explains in a way that the Emberites, clueless to their past, never could, what life was like in the lead-up to the events that destroyed almost all of humanity.

At least, I think that's what she was going for. In reality, it wanders all over the place and never really delivers on any of its promise. Parts of it remind me a little bit about Leaving Fishers by Margaret Peterson Haddix, because of the cult-like behavior of the superstitious village-members. Then there's Nickie's plans for the summer (she wants to fall in love, move to Yonwood for good, and help make the world a better place), which you'd think would help give the story a bit of backbone as she works toward those goals. Nope. For me, what kills any enjoyment I might have had is the fact that not only does DuPrau wander all over the place with her plot (religious fanaticism! Impeding war! Nickie wants a dog!), but she takes the time to set up for a great story . . . and then lets the reader down in practically every respect. Nothing happens the way you would expect it to, and I don't mean that in a good way. I mean it in a "wow, what a letdown" kind of way.

Nickie just never really clicked with me as a character, partly because she wasn't very bright (she spends half of the book spying on people to find sinners because she believes this is how she can help the world) and partly because she wasn't very, well, original. She just kind of was, and there was nothing special or unique about her. Grover had a lot of potential, and I was actually more excited about him than I was about Nickie. But while he wasn't as great a letdown as Nickie was, I still felt like DuPrau missed the mark so many ways with what could have been a great character.

All in all, this was a book with a great set-up and a very poor execution. Because it's a prequel, I would almost advise skipping over it as you read through the Ember books, unless you want to see if you can get more out of it than I can. I most definitely do not advise starting with this book before reading the rest of the series because a) it's really not necessary and b) it might turn you off from trying the rest of the wonderful series.

Have you read this book in the Ember series? Do you agree with me about The Prophet of Yonwood?

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