Reviews in Brief: City of Ember, Great Maria, Real Vampires Have Curves

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!


    • says

      Darn, missed it. Well, I’m still going to check it out. I hit a reading streak of some vapid heroines, need something to cleanse my palette. Thanks for the rec’s.

  1. Dani says

    Thanks for the book recommendations (and the Battlestar Galactica comparisons 😛 ). City of Ember especially looks really good.

  2. says

    If you enjoy the City of Ember, I’d recommend you check out Gregor the Overlander, the first from Suzanne Collins’ non-Hunger Games series. (Errr, the first book in a series that was also written first.) Though the POV character is a boy, he’s surrounded by awesome girls, including a younger sister (two, in fact). And it’s also a book that takes place largely in an underground world, albeit fantasy, rather than scifi, which is what made me think of it. (Also because it’s really, really good. I’m probably in the minority, but I liked the Underland Chronicles more than the Hunger Games.)

  3. says

    I really liked City of Ember…unfortunately, I feel the sequel (People of Sparks) was not nearly as good. I’ll probably try the 3rd book (hey, why not).

    Has anyone seen the Ember movie? Did it translate well to screen?

    • SunlessNick says

      City of Ember…the sequel (People of Sparks)

      Weird, I’ve just read two completely different books in sequence called Embers and Sparks.

    • The Other Anne says

      I liked the movie but have not read the book. Saiorse Ronan (sp?) is amazing, as pretty much always, I liked the boy, the sister, and the sets and story. It’s not the greatest movie ever but I’d say it’s worth seeing.

  4. KLee says

    I’m not sure I agree with the comparisons between Ember and BSG, but it is all in fun. I agree that its a shame a bit more of Poppy & Mrs. Murdo weren’t translated into the film. I enjoyed the film, even bought it albeit on deep deep used discount, but admit it lacked something that I’ve never quite been able to articulate beyond that the 3rd act seemed a bit short changed compared to the buildup.

    For something somewhat similar I rec: The girl who owned a city by OT Nelson and This Time of Darkness or Children of Morrow by HM Hoover. However they can be hard to find in your local library.

    Great Maria sounds a possibility, so I thank you for the rec. But I’m going to run quickly away from the vampires book.

    • The Other Anne says

      The Girl Who Owned a City is one of my favorite books of all time. I read it once every few years. As opposed to Ender’s Game, this is a book from my childhood which has withstood the test of maturity and knowledge I’ve gained–Ender’s Game now just pisses me off, as does OSC.

      I highly recommend it if you can get ahold of it, and if not I would not be opposed to lending mine out. It’s very short, which is my only gripe with it. :)

      • Alara Rogers says

        It’s interesting that you found that The Girl Who Owned A City withstood your growing up while Ender’s Game didn’t. I found that the opposite was true to a certain extent, once I realized that The Girl Who Owned A City was essentially a libertarian polemic. Lisa believes that because she has the idea of taking over the high school to make a fortress, that she “owns” the city, and everyone is graciously allowed by her to live in her city. The concept that other people are putting in as much time and work as she is, and, since they don’t have a currency so she can’t pay them, they are receiving only food and a roof over their head for their work, never occurs to her (or if it does, it never occurs to her that this impinges on her ownership. She says she owns it, therefore she does, and the work other people do for it is merely work for hire.)

        I still love the book, and the worldbuilding, but while a ten year old girl having totally wrongheaded ideas is perfectly understandable, the fact that the novel itself firmly sides with Lisa and presents her ideas as if they are correct bugs me. Orson Scott Card doesn’t incorporate much of his Mormon beliefs into Ender’s Game and he wrote the book before he went off the deep end into radical right-wingnuttery, so I find it a much cleaner, less plainly ideological read.

        • The Other Anne says

          That’s true (about the libertarian nonsense). To be honest I tend to pay most attention to the attempts of survival outside the city, and then just at the strategy of defending the city. I guess I should read it again–I haven’t done so in quite a while!

          For me, my morality of violence matured faster than my feminism, so OSC pissed me off in every book for the last five or six years. Not so much because of mormonism, but because of the gender diversity (or lack thereof) of the Battle School for no apparent reason, Petra’s narrative in the last section, the idea that I am supposed to sympathize with and root for Ender and agree with the people who run the school, and I hated that through the course of both series I am supposed to start liking Peter and think he’s so smart and a good leader. Ender, to me, is very unsympathetic especially after reading Speaker for the Dead, and…well, all the religion and marriage crap and the roles of girls and women…I could hold more strongly onto my like of GWOAC because I could relate to a girl in a terrible situation more than I could a murdering boy who’s written to be absolved of any wrongdoing, in which intentions are more important than outcome, and where women fail spectacularly or are only important in their relationship to the men in their lives.

          *shrugs* I do remember taking issue with the “MINE!” mentality of Lisa, but I should probs read it again before really comparing the two.

  5. The Other Anne says

    Okay so this was my first reading of GWOaC since my freshmen year of college and I couldn’t make it halfway through. Guess it didn’t fully withstand me growing up then! I’d forgotten how much growing up I’ve done since then. I got to the part where she’s forming the militia and it’s such BS that I wa getting angry and had to stop. XD but I think this means I have to read Ember. Does anyone know how GWOAC compares to the tv series Jerimiah?

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