“Or the End of the World.”

“My place beside you, my blood for yours, ’till the Green Ember rises, or the end of the world!”

― S.D. Smith, The Green Ember

Admittedly, as I often joke, I read a lot of dead people. Though I may love the worlds of Tolkien and Lewis, I rarely entreat to go beyond my scope of Shakespeare, unknown authors of the Anglo-Saxons, or on occasion, the Clarkson book. Ironically, it is a Clarkson that led me to this week-long obsession.

A year or so ago, while listening to Joel Clarkson’s music, I came across his score for The Green Ember by S.D Smith. Feeling that a stamp of approval from a Clarkson likely meant a good match for the girls, I looked into the book. I was not intrigued by a story about rabbits. And its comparison to Watership Down, and WWII analogies, made me feel as though it alas, would not be a good fit for the girls.

Last week, Athena asked me to put a book on while they were playing. She wanted to listen to a story. We have Audible and when I went to search, The Green Ember came up as a suggestion. I saw that Joel actually narrates the book, and throwing caution to the wind, started the story. The next day, we were in the car on a decent drive and she again asked for me to turn on the story. I was only too happy to oblige. By the time we arrived at our destination, I was completely enthralled. I couldn’t wait to turn it back on for our drive home. And when both girls fell asleep, snoring in the back seat, I continued to listen.

Over the course of the last week, I have listened to all 4 of The Green Ember Saga books. Yes.

The Green Ember
Ember Falls
Ember Rising
Ember’s End

I found myself on the brink of tears more than once, and definitely found myself full on crying only once or twice. I arrived at worship practice Wednesday night right on the precipice of a major plot point, telling my friend Anne, I am SO invested in the lives of these rabbits and this story it is ridiculous, but I can’t stop.

S.D. Smith weaves a powerful story, with masterful world building to the likes of Tolkien, and Lewis. It was a solid balance in that I felt I could truly visualize exactly where the story was taking place, but it wasn’t done in a laborious fashion. As I’ve been teaching my own students, the characters’ interaction with their world gave me far more detail than the author actually just TELLING me and describing the world explicitly. In these stories, there are real monsters. Real battles. There is real loss. BUT. Among it all, there is real hope. There is real redemption. There is real joy. All of this amplified by Joel’s incredible narration, full of voices, and even some singing.

I love how Smith branches the story out. He begins with the nucleus of a family. And the family is torn apart by war. Once Heather and Picket, the main characters of the book are quite established, he adds in more characters. Once those lines are well established, they are pulled away, and brought back together again, the nucleus always coming back to center. Though the cast is extensive, it is so perfectly crafted, I almost never found myself confused by who was doing what, when, where.

As my very first assessment, probably not the best story for my littles. I was thankful that they were asleep at the true catalyst of the story as Heather & Picket were chased through the forest by a pack of evil wolves. It was intense, and I found my own heart pounding as Heather leapt from branch to branch, barely escaping snapping jaws. As an adult, I could empathize with the emotions, work through their traumas, and having studied World War II extensively, understand and see the undeniable parallels. It is described as “middle level,” and I would agree with that. Though younger ones may enjoy the adventure and great heroes, there is no way my 5 year old would have been able to hang on long-term.

I appreciated the VERY low-key, soft, and true, way that Smith built romantic relationship into the story. In an attempt to not spoil anything, I can tell you that the romance that blooms is simple. It’s quiet. There’s no intense passion or parts I remotely felt needed shied away from. The love that grows is through friendship that becomes more. There is an appreciation for the “person,” as they are- their character, their heart, how they treat people, and carry themselves. It’s not obnoxious or grossly blatant. It doesn’t feel forced or like it’s an unnecessary add to appease some mass, but instead, a natural progression of the characters and their growth.

I am sure reading hardcopies, or even doing family read aloud would be fine, but I really truly enjoyed Joel Clarkson’s narration. I am not even generally a fan of listening to books because I am so easily distracted with my own thoughts. This was not the case for The Green Ember. I was so enthralled with the story, it was easy to focus as I cleaned the bathroom, washed dishes, and did laundry. Actually, I was probably wildly productive because I needed to DO things while I listened. As I already mentioned, Joel incorporated “voices,” for each of the characters. They were not wild, grotesque, or over done, but mostly subtle changes and gentle accents that aided in the differentiation of characters.

I’d love to give you a breakdown of each book, but truthfully, since I listened straight through, I could hardly tell you where one stopped and the next started. Instead, this is a stamp of approval on the series as a whole. So well crafted, it had a great balance of action, relationships, reflection, and character development to keep the attention of both boys and girls. He also has a number of companion books that surround the series that I hope to read in the near future. I can only hope that someone will pick up this saga and turn it into a series, as they’ve done with the Wingfeather Saga. Though I listened to them all, we will absolutely be adding hardcopies to our library too. They are just that good.

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