25 November 2008

The diamond of Darkhold

At last! It took a while to get my copy of The diamond of Darkhold, final book in Jeanne DuPrau's Ember quartet. (the others being The book of Ember, The people of Sparks and The prophet of Yonwood). I thought I had it a couple of times, but was disappointed on each occasion. It's not yet published in the UK, and chains which thought they had it on import kept turned out not to after all.

I normally wait for paperback editions to come out. A good book in paperback is so much easier to pick up and carry, to read standing up on the tube, to have as a companion at a moment's notice. But I really couldn't wait for this one – if that seems strange, well, then you haven't my love of strong but believable protagonists who tackle big issues and important dilemmas for young readers.

Anyway ... third time lucky: I finally got my paws on a copy from Amazon, and read it today, and it was well worth both the wait and the effort.

After Yonwood, we are back with Lina and Doon – not long after the close of Sparks. The Emberites are now part of Sparks, but the problems which led to conflict have only been accepted and faced – they haven't gone away. Doon and Lina do what they do best, seeking to understand their world and help those around them with courage and fortitude. They go in search of a prize, not knowing what it might be, fuelled equally by senses of adventure and responsibility, and in the end they find it.

The same strong currents of warmth, humanity, generosity and responsibility flow through this book as through the others. Once again, the lazy simplicity of true villains is eschewed in favour of more complicated characters who challenge the moral thinking of Lina, Doon and the reader. Hope, redemption and compassion are again central – not as a gloss, but through honest inner struggle. And all of this applies to small vanities as much as to large conflicts; even the empty headed Lizzie Briscoe has her day and a personal epiphany.

Loose ends are tied off satisfyingly by the end, and a cautious map of the future sketched in. Intriguing possibilities are left open from which future stories could grow – but those stories, if they are told, will be new territory. Endings are often the Achilles' heel of adventure stories, especially those for young readers; DuPrau deftly and skilfully avoids that danger.

A thoroughly satisfying closure to a wonderful sequence. If you enjoyed Ember and Sparks, don't miss it.

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