The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau started off a little slowly, and at first I thought that it wasn’t going to be as compelling a book as The City of Ember. Boy was I wrong! The People of Sparks is a frightening look at how small misunderstandings can quickly spiral out of control and lead to violent conflict. It’s also a look at how a charismatic leader can exploit events and people to his own benefit. It’s a book about the roots of war and hatred, and about how even well meaning people can turn against each other.
Lina and Doon and the people of Ember have escaped the dying city to emerge in a beautiful but strange new world, the world outside. But as beautiful as the world is, the people from Ember have no idea how to live in it; they have no skills or knowledge that will help them survive in the wilderness. So when they find the village of Sparks, the people of Sparks agree to take the Emberites in for six months, even though it will essentially double the population of Sparks and put a severe strain on Sparks’ food and other resources. The people of Sparks are determined to avoid the mistakes of their ancestors, whose conflicts led to the wars that almost destroyed mankind. But in spite of their good intentions, resentment builds as the two groups of people blame each other for their troubles. As the anger on both sides escalates, violence seems inevitable unless someone can turn things around before it’s too late.
Jeanne DuPrau is a master of suspense. The tension starts slowly and builds gradually to an almost unbearable level before the book reaches its stunning climax. What makes it worse is that most of the people are basically good people caught up in events, and it’s hard to see any way out of the situation that won’t result in pain and suffering. There’s no evil villain that can be killed to end the conflict. But DuPrau brings the story to a masterful and satisfying conclusion, and I had tears in my eyes at the end.
A prequel to the series, The Prophet of Yonwood, is due out May 9. I’m looking forward to reading it!