The City of Ember: The First Book of Ember features two teen protagonists, Lina and Doon, as well as a city in crisis. Ember was established by the Builders hundreds of years ago. In their wisdom, the Builders provided the city with everything it would ever need — and they also (like Cylons!!) had a plan. This plan was that humans would eventually LEAVE Ember. Unfortunately (like Cylons??) they trusted the Mayor with the document containing the deets of this plan and eventually one Mayor was weak and corrupt (like Gaius Baltar!!) and forgot to tell the next Mayor in line about the secret document. So now? Ember’s running out of food, light bulbs, etc., and its citizens have forgotten that there is any world but this subterranean, Builder-made place.
Enter Lina and Doon. Lina’s little sister Poppy discovers and chews up some strange paper — with the words “Instructions for Egres” legible amidst the bits and baby spit. Lina painstakingly reconstructs the document, and with Doon’s help, they realize that there’s a world beyond the city…. and that this present Mayor doesn’t care enough about Ember’s citizens to help them survive. The salvation of Ember is up to Doon and Lina… and they don’t even know what PADDLES are!
Doon and Lina get equal time in the text. But that’s not what makes it such a feminist kid’s text. It’s really the relationship between Lina and Poppy that illustrates how cleverly Duprou is playing with the conceits of the genre. Poppy never feels like she’s destined for a refrigerator, and this for me was one of the novel’s charms. That even secondary and tertiary female characters felt fully drawn illustrates how subtly written this world is. The movie was all right but some of the things I really enjoyed (Poppy and Mrs. Murdo’s commitment to being a happily maiden aunt who also KICKS ASS) were dropped.
Next up: Great Maria, by Cecelia Holland. This expansive historical novel covers about two decades in the life of Maria, a robber baron’s daughter who becomes a queen. This book is such fun — as in her other works, Holland doesn’t skimp on the historical details, and creates an almost unlikable heroine. Maria is an only child, only fourteen when she marries Richard, one of her father’s knights. She really prefers Roger, Richard’s brother, but her father and Richard have already decided who she’ll wed. She marries, and almost immediately finds herself embroiled in political intrigue, as her father attempts to take Richard down, and Richard attempts to solidify his hold on the region. Maria has children, manages households, manipulates her court, all to protect herself, her family, and her mores. Holland’s terse writing style suits a character who doesn’t think of herself as intelligent, and isn’t necessarily in love with any of the men she’s presented with. She’s stubborn, though, with a wit dedicated to protecting herself, her people, and, incidentally, her husband.
BY THE WAY: Best book title ever. Finally, a historical novel that acknowledges the preeminence of Marias EVERYWHERE.
NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT: Real Vampires Have Curves is like… reality television on WTF for the fantasy loving set. Or Sex and the City with the undead. By this, I mean there’s only one character of color, a lot of drama centered around men, and four women who bond over being girls who are obsessed with the men in their lives. But what the hell — there’s a Cheeto-lovin’ telepathic dog, TWO chubby vampiresses with great tits running their own small businesses, and a consistent emphasis on female friendship as a self-esteem builder. Plus: every sex scene included some mention of the clitoris, female sexual arousal in a non-skeezy way, and foreplay. Laurell K. Hamilton, take note. I’m a bit ambivalent about Glory, the narrator, calling herself a slut a lot, and constantly worrying about whether she’s a slut, and continuing to hang out with a vamp who basically psychically raped her… but hey, maybe Bartlett drops the shit out of that angle in the sequel. Also, why is Glory so obsessed with her weight/blowsiness? EVERY MAN AROUND HER THINKS SHE’S SEXY. INCLUDING THE DOG. Since that’s the metric she’s using, I’m confused.
I must say, though: If Harmony from Buffy/Angel was your favorite character? You would love this book. It’s like… a pop culture train wreck with vampires.
FREE TO A GOOD HOME: Anyone want a copy of City of Ember? First comment saying so wins!