Novel * Jeanne DuPrau * Fallout Junior * 2004
The People of Sparks is the direct sequel to The City of Ember, so if you’ve not read that take twenty minutes and burn through it real quick. Yeah, it was okay! This one is okay, too! That said, there’s two more of these and I doubt I will get to them anytime soon. The thing is, most of what I said about the first book applies to this second book, to the point where I’m legit wondering if I have enough words in me for an actual article. Ah, who am I kidding, of course I do. Those words may or may not have anything to do with this book, but you know how it goes. Anyway, to reiterate, The People of Sparks is intended for a younger audience. I’m well aware that “family” entertainment can appeal to adults, and that good fiction is good fiction, regardless of how many swears are in it. That’s why I took a shot on these books. Like the first book, though, the quality of the world-building is brought down by the thin characterization.
The novel starts not long after Lina and Doon (I’m going to sing the Doon song now!) escape from the Vault, I mean the cave-city of Ember. At the end of the first book, they’re justifiably gob-smacked by the open, outdoor world. They do, however, manage to drop a message into the doomed city, which is fortuitously picked up by Lina’s guardian. Following that is a mad rush to the boats and supplies to escape Ember before goes dark forever. There are many casualties, including the jerk Mayor. Anyway, eventually a few hundred people make it out, and of course they’ve all lived in a closed, subterranean city for generations. And, for reasons that are never made clear, information about the surface world was not left behind for the citizens of Ember. As a result, they’re all ignorant about, well, basically everything.
Shortly after their escape, the refugees of Ember stumble onto another human community, the village of Sparks (get it?). These surface-dwellers have made a home in the ruins of civilization, scratching together an existence in the countryside a few days out from an ancient, ruined city. The people of Sparks are doing well, all things considered. They’ve started to figure out how to survive with some amount of comfort, even though their community is small. Then a massive wave of despondent, confused refugees show up basically demanding food and shelter and of course there’s conflict. Most of the novel consists of learning very clear lessons. Sharing is good. War is bad. Don’t be a petty little wiener like Torren. Speaking of Torren, The People of Sparks features one of the most unlikable, obnoxious, horrid little-kid characters I’ve ever seen. DuPrau eventually tries to redeem this little garbage-boy, but it never really works because she did her job too well in making this kid the absolute worst. Okay, now I guess I’ll tell you what happens after the break.
They have a fight. The people of Ember and the people of Sparks, I mean. Also, racism is bad. About halfway through the novel, the Sparks natives start referring to the Emberites as “cavepeople,” which is a little on the nose, you know? Regardless, the two groups obviously don’t get along, and most of the novel is spent reading about these people being mad at each other for existing. To be fair, the moralizing is done with a little bit more grace than the first book. It’s a little less sermon-y and there are fewer instances of the author straight-up wagging their finger in my face. I also appreciate that the two main characters aren’t “fixed.” Doon is still an overly-serious, quick-tempered dork who likes public praise a little too much. Lina is a still an impulsive flake who doesn’t think things all the way through. They get a touch better, maybe, but honestly they’re twelve and it makes sense that they don’t really learn their lesson. Negative character traits are something pretty much everyone has to work on for a lifetime.
The world is still entertaining, although not much light is shed on the nature of the apocalypse. The surface dwellers at least have an idea that things used to be better. They know that some Disaster befell humanity and ruined the cities and killed most of the people. There doesn’t seem to be any issue with radiation, so I assume all the damage was conventionally done. One of the better bits in the novel is when Lina impulsively absconds with a couple of Roamers, Caspar and Maddy. Caspar is the older brother of the horrible little Torren, and it turns out both of these kids suck. Caspar is a blowhard dummy who is this world’s equivalent to a conspiracy theorist. He seems to think there’s fabulous treasure buried under the dead city. Maddy, on the other hand, is sage and wise and strong. Almost too much, but comparted to pretty much anyone else in these books, she’s rad.
As for the rest of the book, there’s not much in the way of suspense. Tensions between the Sparkers and the Emberites grow and grow until the situation pops off. Doon spends most of the book being a scapegoat and getting radicalized by a rabble-rouser named Tick, who is actively pushing for a war. In the end, Tick gets his way and the stage is set for a major battle between the two factions, which of course mirrors the larger scale of the original Disaster. Subtle. Anyway, Sparks has an ancient weapon, which I think is a machine gun of some kind, which they pull out. It doesn’t work and ends up maiming the momo who tries to fire it (unsurprisingly the uncle of both Caspar and Torren) and setting fire to the City Hall or whatever. Well, in the end both groups realize the folly of warfare and decide to work together to blah blah blah. Look. These books are entirely serviceable post-apocalyptic novels for kids. I really mean that! When my nephew(s) turn like nine or ten, I will absolutely gift these to them. However, for a general audience, they’re just a bit too on the nose. That’s fine for the target audience, but I think I’m done.