I have to admit that I did not read The Green Ember because I thought it would be good. I started it because I had heard it recommended several times (usually by home-schooling moms whose kids had loved it), and because it was cheap (I got the kindle + audio versions on sale for around $8 total). S.D. Smith is of the creatives associated with The Rabbit Room. I have a number of friends who love the website. I really like the idea of the website and group, but I’ve been a bit skeptical. Christians sometimes get a little too enthusiastic about “Christian art.” I don’t always enjoy it. To be honest, it usually feels imbalanced. Either the words are great and the music is bad (or boring), or the themes are great but the writer fails in execution.
All of that to say, I did not have high hopes for the Ember books. Not only are they written by a Christian who sells his art on a Christian website, but they’re about bunnies. Bunnies with swords, no less. That didn’t bode well.
But I was wrong, happily! I really enjoyed these books, and will gladly read more. It was easier for me to come [mostly] to terms with the “bunny” problem early in the book. Smith kept the important aspects of the characters’ “bunny-ness” while anthropomorphizing them enough that they felt and relatable.
The story focuses on two young rabbits, Heather, and her younger brother Picket. The find themselves separated from their parents and baby brother early in the book, when there home is attacked and they are sent running. After being rescued by strangers, they learn that their life was not what it had seemed, and that their lives are entwined with a story of deep betrayal and desperate hope.
The story hearkens back to the time of King Jupiter, under whose rule the forest prospered. When Heather and Picket are brought into the story, the king has been betrayed. The rabbits of the forest are in a losing battle against the predators of the forest, waiting for the return of his heir (it seems appropriate to pronounce the ‘h’) , who holds the Green Ember. [Sidenote: Does this sound a little like Aragorn from Lord of the Rings? Well, yes. But Smith did a good job of striking some of the same tones without allowing his story to give the reader the impression that it was just a re-wrapped classic.]
The Mended Wood
Heather and Picket grow a lot throughout the book, and learn to long for “The Mended Wood” and the rise of the heir of a missing king. Smith paints a beautiful picture of peace and harmony that will come when the wolves and birds of prey have been defeated. I think what I connected with here was the sense of longing that he was able to communicate. No matter how futile the fight seemed, the heroes in this story are sustained by the hope of a glorious future. They recognize the brokenness of the world around them, and point to the coming hope by reminding each other that “It will not be so in the Mended Wood.” Their reminder of the Mended Wood echoes my own desire for heavenback to me, and it resonates in my soul. There is much that will not be so when Christ returns, and it is a good thing to remind each other of that hope.
My Place Beside You
Another highlight for me was the pledge the bunnies of the resistance give to each other.“My place beside you, my blood for yours, until the Green Ember falls or the end of the world,” they say. The greatest threat to the bunnies seems to be the risk of betrayal by their own companions. Loyalty is highly valued, and the cost is often blood. I enjoyed the solemnity with which the rabbits made oaths to each other at the riskiest moments. For most of them, their loyalty comes at great cost. It is a beautiful picture of covenant love.
All in all, I would recommend this book for adults like me who enjoy fantasy and middle grade fiction, and for the kids whose age you would expect this sort of fiction to be written for. The redemptive themes do not usually feel trite or overdone, which was a relief for me, knowing where the book was coming from. Both the despair and hope rang true. Every now and then I would get hung up on silly things like real-life forest management, and rabbit life-spans and reproductive rates. Or questions like “just how does a bunny hug another bunny??” But those kinds of questions would likely not be distracting to most people. Even despite my occasional tendencies to not enter into the fantasy of Smith’s world, it was easy to become immersed in the story. I am excited to read more of Smith’s bunny tales.