The Prophet of Yonwood: Why Book 3 of 4 is rarely a prequel

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Prophet of Yonwood by Jeanne DuPrau children's fantasy book reviewsThe Prophet of Yonwood by Jeanne DuPrau

Nickie is eleven years old when her aunt Crystal takes her to Yonwood, North Carolina. Their family has inherited a mansion, Greenhaven, from Nickie’s great-grandfather, and while Nickie loves the old building, Crystal is determined to sell it and get back to Philadelphia as soon as possible.

We see the house through Nickie’s eyes, and it is full of neat things, including her great-grandfather’s journals. Nickie also finds Amanda Stokes, who had cared for Nickie’s great-grandfather but who now has nowhere else to go. And there’s also a dog, Otis. Nickie agrees to help Amanda stay hidden in the house and they together create a soundproof room for Otis. (Crystal hates dogs.)

Nickie is a good natured kid and eager to help others. She sets three goals while at the mansion. She is determined to:

  1. Keep Greenhaven
  2. Fall in love
  3. Help the world

They’re charming goals, and this world needs help all the help it can get.

The United States is at odds with Phalanx Nations. The president is making announcements like “I regret to say no progress has been made. Our resolve is firm: we will not back down in the face of threats from godless evildoers.” Everyone is worried. Even in Yonwood, the residents are sure there’s a terrorist in the woods. Worse: who knows what Hoyt McCoy is up to in his house?

Thankfully, Yonwood also has a prophet, Althea Tower. Tower faints after sharing her apocalyptic vision of the future. Though the prophet is incapacitated by her vision, former preacher Brenda Beeson heads a group of people to care for her and to spread the Prophet’s dictates to the rest of the town. The group is organized and it’s soon determined to, like Nickie, help the world. Beeson wants to help by cleansing Yonwood of its sins.

Meanwhile, Nickie meets a boy her age named Grover — could he help her fulfill her second goal of falling in love? It seems unlikely. Grover is obnoxious. He also takes care of snakes in his shed, which grosses Nickie out. When Nickie tells Brenda Beeson about Grover’s snakes, Beeson orders Grover to get rid of his snakes because they are touched by sin. Grover, however, feels that Nickie betrayed him. Nickie is stuck, reflecting: “Was she God’s helper or Grover’s friend?”

What does this have to do with The City of Ember? Well, not very much. The Prophet of Yonwood is a prequel, though the cover bills it as the “third BOOK OF EMBER.” Lina and Doon do not appear here, though Nickie’s earnest desire to help others does recall the heroine of the series. And Grover’s passion for herpetology recalls Doon’s curiosity about electricity and other branches of science. Without spoiling the ending, DuPrau does tie the novel into Lina and Doon’s adventures, but this link requires only two or three pages of effort.

However, even putting aside that I’d gotten to know Lina and Doon over the past two books and missed seeing them and their journey here, the books in the series gain much of their urgency from DuPrau’s post-apocalyptic setting. Here, DuPrau substitutes a mansion for a subterranean city and an apocalyptic vision for a post-apocalyptic world. As in the previous two novels, there’s a code to break, but it is a series of post-scripts written on postcards. The recipe is familiar, but it seems like each of the substitutions is flat compared to its predecessors.

By the time I finished the novel, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I could have skipped The Prophet of Yonwood and just proceeded to the fourth book in the tetralogy, though perhaps my feelings will change as I read further. For now, recommended only for true believers.


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RYAN SKARDAL, with us since September 2010, is an English teacher who reads widely but always makes time for SFF.

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2 comments

  1. It sounds like you won’t really miss too much if you skip this one. I really liked City of Ember but I haven’t read the whole series.

  2. Based on your recommendation, I recently bought The City of Ember for my 12 year old daughter. She’s enjoying it. We may skip this one.
    Thanks, Ryan!

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