Happy Saturday, Reading Nook Readers!
Today, I'm reviewing The Jewel by Amy Ewing. It's the first book in a trilogy and guys, guys - YOU WANT THIS BOOK.
You know how I know you want this book? Because I started reading this book during ALA - where there are a ton of other books for one to obsess over - and I was literally bouncing around on the convention floor telling people about this book.
(Sure, I got some weird looks, but what a perfect place to spread book love, right?)
Hardcover, 358 pages
Expected publication: September 2nd 2014 by HarperTeen
Format read: E-ARC via Edelweiss
But the stark reality of Violet's life as a surrogate to the wealthy of the Jewel, will both haunt and intrigue readers, as they figure out that some benefits just aren't worth the price.
Purchased at the surrogacy auction by the Duchess of the Lake and greeted with a slap to the face, Violet (now known only as #197) quickly learns of the brutal truths that lie beneath the Jewel’s glittering facade: the cruelty, backstabbing, and hidden violence that have become the royal way of life.
Violet must accept the ugly realities of her existence... and try to stay alive. But then a forbidden romance erupts between Violet and a handsome gentleman hired as a companion to the Duchess’s petulant niece. Though his presence makes life in the Jewel a bit brighter, the consequences of their illicit relationship will cost them both more than they bargained for.
(Seriously. Look at it. Loooook. It's gorgeous, right?)
Then, I read the synopsis and realized that the story sounded a little like The Handmaid's Tale, a book I absolutely love. So the second I was able to get a copy of The Jewel via Edelweiss, I did.
Things that worked:
I've encountered plenty of dystopian heroines in YA in my time, but very few as interesting or quietly brave as Violet Lasting.
Violet's a girl with immense power and potential; she ranks amongst the top in terms of her auguries, or the special abilities that allow her to manipulate physical objects. But her life also isn't her own. Because of those very abilities and her position in life, she's known almost since day one that she's about to spend her life living out the whims as a surrogate to the elite, and there isn't much she can do about it.
Ewing could have easily made Violet into someone who either raged against her life, or was depressed all the time. But she's neither. Ewing is careful to show her trying to work with the situation as it is. She accepts being taken from her family - though not without a few rebellious moments - and also attempts to adjust to her new life with the Duchess of the Lake.
There's so much strength in Violet's journey from initial acceptance, to her determination to break free from enforced servitude once she begins to realize that the price to pay for her life is too high, that I have no doubt that readers will feel a piece of their heart join Violet as she begins to fight for her future.
As for the secondary characters, Ewing has created a memorable group in their own right. Readers will likely sympathize with the young women like Raven who are forced to suffer along with Violet, while the machinations of the Jeweled elite will keep readers horrified and guessing.
Though the Lone City's class hierarchy of the Jewel at the top and the Marsh at the bottom may initially appear like any other dystopian society, Ewing's world-building is anything but standard.
Both Ewing's carefully thought-out details on everything from the history of the auction, to her inside look at the vicious in-fighting that occurs between members of the elite as they seek to gain hereditary dominance, helps to lift the veil on how a enforced slavery/reproductive system eventually begins to impact every facet of society.
But even with her attention to detail, Ewing also doesn't forget to drive up the stakes. There are hints at every turn that the Lone City is one teetering on the verge of collapse. From the introduction of a younger-than-normal Electress, to whispers of discontent amongst the lower classes, it's a question of just who's going to set off the tinderbox, which is enough to keep readers reading.
A frank look at the deeper issues
While The Jewel is very much a story about learning not to accept the status quo, and what it takes to break out of a prescribed position in life, this is also a story about the societal pressures of wanting to fit in.
Ewing challenges the dangers involved with conspicuous consumption, and how a society can be so throughly warped by the idea of consumerism - or in this case, the ability to essentially purchase a womb-for-hire - and how that consumerism becomes tied to social mobility.
There's a very strong and underlying question of just why people of the Lone City allow the materialistic-obssessed of the Jewel dictate the rest of society, something that is surprisingly relevant to our own day-to-day lives.
I think that there a lot of interesting discussions that can arise between educators, parents and younger readers on the inherent fallacies on trying to keep up with the Joneses, and I would strongly encourage people to take advantage of those discussions.
Holy cliffhanger batman. Ewing has written one hell of a cliffhanger, and I can't wait to see where she goes with it. There are going to be so many possibilities, and I can't wait!
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
My one issue with The Jewel was the the romance that developed between Violet and Ash. They go from cautious greetings, to being madly in love with each other, in what felt like a very short timespan.
It was a classic example of insta-love, and I really think the story could have been stronger without their relationship complicating things. However, I will concede that in many ways, the romance between Violet and Ash is less about the physical aspects of wanting someone, and more about reinforcing the lack of normalcy that Violet isn't privy to in her day-to-day life.
Their relationship is a reminder of the humanity that these girls are routinely having stripped away from them, day-by-day, and I suspect that it's going to be the impetus that drives Violet to fight back in book two.
(Which seriously needs to come out already!)
Violet Lasting's journey from a young girl who goes along with her inevitable fate, to someone who challenges public convention and rebels against the norm, is one that will absolutely inspire readers both young and old.
I recommend this book for YA fans of Kiera Cass, and for older readers who may have enjoyed Marget Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.