Loved it. So did the kids. (And the illustrations, by my respected friend Zach Franzen, were also excellent.)
For a good while I was thinking that this book is The Benedict Option for kids—and for adults who dutifully read Dreher’s hot-title-of-2017 but whose affections were not fully engaged by his more prosaic approach (which I did find helpful—this is not a criticism). Ember Rising, by contrast, engages the heart with a stirring story. In this story there is a real evil, real danger, real pain. And, more importantly, real hope and real joy. I felt the story showed respect to the feelings and thinking of kids: it avoided cloying, no-fall-ever-happened saccharinity; and yet it didn’t over-burden the kids with darkness. The characters are well drawn, with personalities the kids could draw from. Captain Moonlight, Weezie, Helmer, Picket, Emma, Heather, Jacks—with the minor, partial, possible exception of Captain Vitton and Dr. Zeigler, no one was cartoonish, a common flaw among kids’ books. And even those exceptions read as real within the overall narrative. By avoiding cartoonishness elsewhere, the book allows readers to enjoy its virtues.
My seven-year-old girl understood the cliffhanger ending, which also read as real: prices must be paid by the good guys, even when their cause is righteous. But the Mended Wood is coming, and they will be vindicated.
I said that for a good while I drew parallels between this book and the Benedict Option. And I think they are certainly present. The good citadels are enclaves of the preservation of good rabbit culture. But I came to think as I neared the end that the book’s sights are set on something higher and bigger than the future, post-dark-secular-age renaissance of the West. I think the Mended Wood is the New Earth.
But, in a way, the Mended Wood can be both the restored West and the restored planet. The glory and honor of the nations will enter the New Jerusalem. That includes the West, right? Maybe the Green Ember series will be some of the literary glory entering that future city. I’m that excited about it.