That is the last line of the book. Have no fear, I have no intention of spoiling any part of this story. I merely offer that line as an introduction because it is important that you know that is how the book ends. Because, for the last 130 pages of the book, there doesn’t seem like there is much to be hopeful about.
“There would be no time to mass an army from every secret citadel. No time to join with the holdouts and the far-flung militias in a tenuous alliance. No time to form a force capable of winning a victory against Morbin’s far superior army. No. Morbin’s strategy was brilliant. He was attacking the least defended area, the place with the fewest soldiers, where the most free civilians lived.”
This second book of the main Green Ember series by S. D. Smith is exciting and intense. (If you are new to S. D. Smith or are looking for reviews of other books in the series, start here.) Picking up some time after the first book ends, most of the characters have moved from Cloud Mountain to Halfwind Citadel where they are preparing for battle. Cloud Mountain was a place of food, fellowship, hope, and healing. Halfwind Citadel, a military outpost, is the staging ground for the front. In this citadel, the accommodations are practical, the rabbits are focused and on edge, and the reality of what is happening is painfully obvious by the busyness of the hospital.
“Listen, Heather. I love you very much. You’re my dearest friend. But you must be brave. To save lives, we will endure terrible things. We serve an army of rabbits who offer themselves freely for the cause . . . for them, we must do no less than our best.”
When the story opens, Picket and Smalls are scouting out an old mine in the hopes that it is a secret slave camp. They hope to find Picket’s family and free any of the slaves they find. It does not go well, and it sets the tone for what proves to be a story full of mistakes, hardship, sacrifice, and sadness. But, as the last line of the story proves, there is always something to be hopeful about, and Sam never leaves his readers without something good to focus on. At just the right times and in just the right measure, he surprises us with unlooked-for twists and miracles that remind us of the hope that we find in stories like Narnia. So, even though this book has great sadness and some real suffering for our friends, it also has beautiful threads of hope and joy.
“I don’t know how I am going to die,” [She] said, backing to the far side of the sixth standing stone, “but I know how I am going to live.”
Parents may wish to know that in this book we suffer our first substantial casualty, which is compounded by an additional act of heroic but tragic sacrifice. At the end of this book, my children and my book club students were angry and sad, but also completely won over by the story and ready to quickly move to the next book, Ember Rising. While the first book invites us into the story, this lets us get invested and makes us ready to fight alongside our friends in the war that is starting.
“This world is teeming with traitors. It’s the most effective of our enemies’ methods.”
I want to be careful not to spoil anything in this book that is full of surprises. What you need to know is that in Ember Falls the stakes are higher, the sacrifices are real, the betrayal is unexpected and brutal, and the writing is beautiful. A classic middle book, this one moves the story forward, introduces new characters who will become essential to the overall story, and gives us much to think about. I sob every time I read this one. But I keep coming back to re-read it because it also blesses me with its beauty and virtue.
“Though hundreds fell in the battle, many more survived, and by the dying light they made their weary way into the stronghold…”
As one of our favorite friends says, “Battle on, friends. Whatever comes.” Read on, friends. Whatever comes.
You can learn more about S. D. Smith and find more of our reviews of his books here. You can purchase this book directly from Sam’s store, Story Warren, here or from Amazon, here. You can learn more about the book at Biblioguides, here. Also, this video about Ember Falls’s birthday here is fun. Sara has done some Green Ember bookclubs, you can find more here.