"Nickie could only think that either there were lots of different Gods saying different things to different people, or that God didn't really speak to people at all, or that people thought they were hearing God speak when really they were hearing something else."
Prophet of Yonwood is the third book in the Ember series, but it's actually the prequel. It's set about 300 years before the events of City of Ember, in the small town of Yonwood, North Carolina. As prequels go, this book fails pretty bad. As books go it also fails pretty bad. It's boring, random, pointless, incredibly anti-religous, and just plain bad.
The actual Prophet of Yonwood is a woman named Althea Tower. She has a vision of an apocalyptic future—those familiar with the first two books can assume it is the coming great Disaster. Stricken with nightmares and bedridden, she is taken under the wing of Mrs. Beeson, who begins to act as her interpreter.
The wrath of God, Mrs. Beeson claims, will fall on them all unless they follow her instructions. They alone can build a shield of goodness around the town to protect it from the impending nuclear apocalypse. And the way to build a shield of goodness is to follow Althea Tower's incoherent mumblings to the letter (or supposed letter, based on their best guess, of course). Thus begins a nightmarish dystopian regime in the town of Yonwood. Nickie, the main character, gets caught up in the weird religious fervor that sweeps the town.
Nickie, being an inquisitive girl, tries out and rejects the town's warped religiosity. This leads to all sorts of wide-eyed questions about God, like how do you know that you're hearing from God when the enemy thinks they're hearing from God too, and if you both pray to God how does he decide which side to answer, and other disingenuous musings.
This all leads Nickie to conclude that if there is a God, then he is one who loves everyone and made everything, that he couldn't possibly be all knowing or all-seeing, and that she can pretty much just go on living her life as before.
And how does Nickie live her life? In this book it's a series of bizarre facts and coincidences after another. What do the clues of: her great-grandfather's diary, a random ghost sighting, an old picture of Siamese Twins, a girl who lives in the attic, an albino bear in the woods, and a cross-written letter have to do with the plot? Nothing, it turns out. The book is full of random, pointless rabbit trails that Nickie follows blithely through the story.
For that matter, what does this prequel have to do with City of Ember? The answer is that, besides being in the same world in which the events occur, it has very little to do with the first book. There are about three paragraphs that tie it all in—Nickie's dad, who spends the whole book working on a secret project we hear nothing about, ends up being one of the Builders that created Ember (a fact we don't learn until the second-to-last page of the book). Nickie grows up to become the old woman whose diary Lina and Doon found. The City of Ember is located in California. The great Disaster is coming. And that's it.
The book does not end with the great Disaster. It ends with the world governments establishing a temporary peace in order to gain knowledge by exploring space, brought on by (supposedly) a random vaguely-mentioned encounter with, yes, an alien race. But fifty years after the events of the book, it all goes downhill because, to quote the book, "All over the world people who believed in one truth fought against people who believed in a different truth, all of them believing that theirs was the only real truth."
It seems, then, that the only thing that's truly a sin in Prophet of Yonwood is being convinced that you know the truth and being willing to defend that belief. A message that, along with the bizarre and random plot, lack of good characters, and heavy-handed anti-religiosity, makes this book worth skipping altogether.
Review by Lauren Shearer
Lauren Shearer writes words for fun and profit. She also makes films, but everyone knows you can't make a profit doing that. Her other hobby is consistently volunteering way too much of her time. You can read more of her reviews here
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