So I finished The City of Ember the other night and let me sum it up for you in one word...unimpressed. I acknowledge that it was not written for someone my age, but thus far in my teaching career, I've been able to read fiction falling under the genre of "Young Adult" without being terribly offput. This one, though? Not so much. (Although to be fair, my mom, a librarian, told me, upon my conveying my dissatisfaction with the book that it wasn't even written for Middle School students. She said the target audience was fourth graders. So I guess that makes me feel a little bit better, but it certainly doesn't lead me to think that I'll be recommending the book to any of my students.)
The characters were pretty flat, I wasn't really feeling their interactions, much less their contrived way of feeling toward one another. The plot was simple, to be generous, and was full of elements that any advanced reader could see coming a mile away. (Again, I realize she wasn't writing for college graduates, but still... There's gotta be something in there that's not predictable!) Also, as a rather complex complaint, I felt that the editors (whoever they may be) did a particularly terrible job with this book; there were logical problems with the narrative that led me to think, "Well, this won't be an issue for a child reading this, but how did this make it past someone whose job it is to catch things of this nature?" Furthermore, the ending fell short on so many different levels that I really don't even want to get into it, but suffice it to say that after a whole novel's worth of build-up, to leave off on this note was terribly unforgivable. I knew there were two sequels, but looking at Amazon for the above link showed me that there's even a fourth book. Keeping in mind that I haven't read the second book (The People of Sparks) or the third (The Prophet of Yonwood) much less the fourth, which hasn't even come out yet, just reading the Amazon description of the fourth book discouraged me quite a bit. At this point, it seems like maybe (just maybe) the author is stretching her story beyond it's initial idea. Not many people set out to write more than a trilogy. (I mean, seriously, that's hard. Harder than people realize already.)
So, how many books does she have planned for this series? Do they get better? I hope so. As it stands now? The City of Ember is a good book for lower-level kids, or for those kids who are psyched for the movie adaptation they're making - which, honestly, looks just as bad as the book. It's a quick, easy read that might be just what some kids need to motivate them to try something harder. Just don't get into it expecting it to work on many levels...it barely works on the one it attempts.