title: The Jewel
author: Amy Ewing
buy it: Amazon Goodreads B&N
rating: 4/5 [in the genre] or 7/10 [all books I’ve ever read].
recommended for: People who love Victorian court drama. Fans of dystopia who are looking for something dark, strange, and lavish. Fans of Kiera Cass (The Selection) and Tahereh Mafi (Shatter Me).
will i read this author again?: Yes!
will i continue the series?: Oh my god cliffhanger give me now.
My Ratings Explained
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.
take home message
A sinister tale that builds a wildly unique premise into a web of intrigue and plots, with Violet caught horribly in the middle. With Victorian sensibility and modern grit, The Jewel is a shocking beginning to what promises to be a thrilling series.
the basicsA decent amount of people seemed to hate this book but I couldn't disagree more. I found myself liking this book more and more as I read on. This isn't a unique phenomenon for good books, but I actually remembering thinking to myself as I turned pages, "This is really good. Wow, this is awesome." This is the kind of book where the world carries a huge amount of weight. The Jewel is the center of a walled city embattled by the raging ocean; the royalty live there, and the rings around it house the farmers, bankers, factory workers, and poorest of the poor. And among those poorest, there are girls with strange powers, taken from birth to be surrogates for the rich. Yes. They are trained to carry rich women's children and auctioned off. If that doesn't sell you, the world is inhabited by rich characters with complex personalities and developed back stories. Violet herself is an idealistic, compassionate character who instantly captured my heart. On the reverse, the Duchess of the Lake is a consummate witch (hem) possessed of profound cruelty and crippling self-doubt. Violet's life in the Duchess' household is fraught with political intrigue, underground plotting, and a dangerous romance that tugs quite a bit on the old heartstrings. I lingered long over the last page, because I knew I was setting myself up for a restless wait for the sequel.
plot . 5/5The premise of this book creates instant tension. There are so many mysteries. Why do the surrogates have magical abilities? What is the Jewel like? How will the surrogates be treated there? The pages open with Violet and her friends pondering these questions. Then they are quickly thrust into the auction, where they are decorated in jewels and presented like prize dogs while a room full of women promise higher and higher prices to buy them. Buy them. Violet is snaked last minute by the Duchess of the Lake, who brings her to a palace that is as much a prison and delivers her mission: you are to use your abilities to make me a child better and faster than the children of the other women, so that my daughter can marry the leader's son. What follows is a blur of parties and gatherings, gossip and doctor's appointments, delicious court intrigue and murmurings, and it's soon clear that something sinister is going on. A surrogate dies, a plot is brewing, and Violet feels greater danger for her life and freedom. Don't let the gorgeous cover fool you; this book is dark and twisted and delves deeply into issues of class and humanity.
Her solace is Ash, a bought friend for noble debutantes. Their love is swift and melodramatic. And for once, I don't care. Violet and Ash are so young and harried by their environment, no wonder they lunge into the arms of the first person who lets them escape. Perhaps it isn't the real love they profess, but it's not uncommon for people in crisis to form strong attachments instantly. Always looming is the day when Violet will be impregnated and forced to devastate her body to produce the Duchess' miracle child. All these threads culminate in a startling conclusion that made me want to throw the book at the wall, because I wanted more right now.
concept . 5/5It's weird and all the more brilliant for it. Imagine an isolated community in which the royalty have become so inbred that their children are born dead or deformed. Their saviors are surrogates, gifted poor girls whose magical talents can heal a royal child in the womb--can even make them better, stronger, give them blue eyes or perfect lips. What results is modern slavery. The surrogates cannot choose to leave; to flee is death, and danger to their families. They are owned as property by the royals, who treat them as servants at best, who abuse them at worst. Surrogates are paraded like property, leashed in public, and pitted against one another like prize dogs. Ewing does an amazing job of making this strange world vibrant and vividly horrifying. Overlaying the main plot is a blur of court intrigue, which as a lover of gossipy Victorian novels, I adored. The political intrigue also becomes hugely important as you begin to realize the Jewel is fractured from within by factions and underground movements. Book one grazes the surface, but promises an explosion to come. The setting in a claustrophobic striated world adds a sinister atmosphere and a tension that pervades the whole novel.
characters . 4/5Violet is vague and naive. She's been raised that way. Her holding facility taught her magic and cello, but kept her in the dark about pregnancy, romance, and life as a surrogate. Understandably, she's a frightened doe out of the box. She's lovable because she's sympathetic in her position, but she's also compassionate and harbors a quiet defiance that grows over the course of the book. Sure she's a bit lost and confused much of the time, but what do you expect of a sheltered child thrown into a strange environment? Her relationship with Anabelle, her cheeky mute servant who talks by a slate, was beautifully sweet and really endeared her to me. And though her friend Raven is somewhat underdrawn, Violet's fierce loyalty to Raven, the risks she takes for her, showcase her inner strength. The Duchess is perhaps an even better character, violently tempered but with an inner fragility and desperation. Good name is everything to her and she's fueled by a disappointing past to reclaim her station through a good marriage--which means that her child means everything.
Ash the love interest wasn't my favorite, but still felt real. He was instantly smitten with Violet but also protective of his heart, not afraid to rage at her for her wavering and secrecy. Lucien the mysterious male lady-in-waiting and keeper of secrets was difficult to pin down but in a good way. I knew he claimed to want to help Violet, but his personality was largely mysterious, which actually increased the tension of the plot because I could never tell whether he was genuine. I also loved Garnet, the Duchess' drunken insolent son. Even though he was rarely present, he dominated every scene he entered. All the characters were fascinating in their own way, particularly some of the other noble women, and I loved assessing them like pieces in a chess set.
style . 3/5The style was probably the least impressive element of this book. It wasn't bad by any means, but there was nothing striking about it. It was solid. Violet's voice was relatively distinct but not particularly dynamic. There weren't any pages I dog-eared, which is usually a sign that there were no particular line that grabbed me. It didn't diminish my enjoyment of the plot at all--it was a really fascinating story--but it didn't enrich it either.
mechanics . 5/5A great deal happens in a relatively short book, so I give credit to Ewing for her pacing. It's tight as a spring. It lingers where it needs to, speeds ahead when it needs to. Some readers will probably dislike the longish scenes full of courtly gossip, but I'm a child of Oscar Wilde and I found them hysterical. I'd like to know a little bit more about the world and its magic--it's not very well explicated--but I also enjoyed the book fine without knowing all the whys.
Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.