The Jewel is an upcoming debut Young Adult novel by Amy Ewing, the first of a new series. I have been excited for this book since I read the synopsis when it was announced. I finally had a chance to read an advanced copy of it last week and my high expectations were pleasantly met. It’s exactly what I wanted with a few surprise twists.
Violet is from the Marsh, one of the poorer regions surrounding Lone City. When she hit puberty Violet was tested like every woman in the slums. She was found to be a Surrogate; a genetically suitable host for babies of the Royalty living in the Jewel. Violet spent several years being trained in conduct appropriate for her position before she was deemed ready. She is also tested in a type of magic called the Auguries; a series of several magics used in the surrogation process. Her, and many others, must now be auctioned off to the highest bidders; women that make the social and politically circles of the Jewel matter.
Violet becomes Lot 197; her calling number in her particular auction. She is the third best of her year. As such her bidding quickly soars to sky-high prices and she is purchased by the Duchess of the Lake, a woman from a superior line of breeding. The Duchess is high in the Royal Court social ranking, below the Electress who bid on Violet as well. Violet settles into her new home, hopeful but aware that something around her is off. It does not take her long to see that her position as a Surrogate is dangerous and that power means so much more in the Jewel.
There are a few odd and awkward phrases throughout the book that might be summed up as rookie mistakes. I found myself stumbling across them whenever they came up. But beyond that I cannot find much at fault with this book. I found it to be gripping, enjoyable, and fast paced, and that’s exactly what I wanted it to be. Where people may have problems may lie with a few Hunger Games comparisons – an unhappy situation, a person of unknown nature helping you through, things being not what they seem, etc. These similarities are prevalent throughout the Dystopian genre, which this book is… partly. It’s a hard book to peg down to a genre and therefore defies pigeon-holing. It’s part fantasy, part dystopian, part romance, and completely addicting.
Violet herself was sympathetic albeit naive, though her inexperience made sense considering how sheltered she really was in life pre-auction. Her friendship with Raven, another girl in her auction, made her more real and dynamic. She came alive when she worried about people other than herself. There is a young man in her acquaintance as well – Ash. Ash is a fantastically sparse character. He is introduced a good chunk into the book but his little presence makes a big impact with Violet. He doesn’t shy away from a terrible confrontation with Violet and this scene was one of my favourites in the whole book – him calling her on her behaviour. Their relationship is brief and intense and it also works within the confines of the plot.
One thing I noticed was the over-feminization of everything in this book. The names, the places, the progression, everything is softened and pleasant. The sparkling glitz does little to hide the corrosive interior beneath the surface. Everything is laced with acidic tones, flowers and perfume that hide cutting, harsh edges. It’s the highs and lows of being a woman and working with women and being among them. It’s fiction, of course, but it’s also a weird fact of human socialization and this element affected me very, very hard. I have been thinking about this book for two solid days and I will continue to think about it for much, much longer. It’s beautiful and horrifying in tandem.
Perhaps it’s a bit Handmaid’s Tale, perhaps it’s not at all. But the politics of this books, the themes, the grasping nature of desperate people, and the rich, hopeful determination to thrive kept me intrigued and kept me moving through. I loved this book. It’s imperfect, but I loved it. I can’t say enough praise higher than that.
I can’t wait for the sequel.
4.5 out of 5 stars.
– Follow the Reader –