Book Review: The Jewel by Amy Ewing

Saturday, September 20, 2014
Title: The Jewel
Author: Amy Ewing
Genre: young adult, dystopia
Series: The Lone City #1
Pages: 358
Published: September 2014
Source: Book Expo America
Rating: 2/5

The Jewel means wealth. The Jewel means beauty. The Jewel means royalty. But for girls like Violet, the Jewel means servitude. Not just any kind of servitude. Violet, born and raised in the Marsh, has been trained as a surrogate for the royalty—because in the Jewel the only thing more important than opulence is offspring.

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.

I knew early on that The Jewel and I were not going to be bookish best friends. But we were cruising along to a comfortable acquaintance -- the kind where I would smile companionably if I were to see The Jewel walking down the street --  when the instalove romance hit. That's when I knew that all The Jewel and I would be to one another was ambivalent and disappointed. In the span of a few pages, the few pages it takes our lovers to meet, The Jewel went from aggressively adequate to le boring. 

There are a few interesting things happening in the book before it derails into Instalove Central. The city's severe stratification -- both socially and geographically -- is an intriguing setup for the characters to operate within. The rules governing the society itself can be confusing until it's almost too late to care, but this dystopia can sometimes feel like the successor of The Handmaid's Tale it calls itself. The general feel of some characters can feel... very familiar (Cinna, is that you? Prim, what are you doing here?) but Ewing fashions main character Violet into more than she first appears. 

The things that work against the book are glaring and annoying. The names of the characters -- Ochre. Garnet. Carnelian. Ametrine. -- are silly, verging on ridiculous. I can't take a character named Ochre to be anything more than words on a page; he never felt real, like many of his compatriots. It doesn't help that Violet is really the only fleshed out character, but these other ludicrously-named people only serve to jerk me out of whatever worldbuilding Ewing was trying to create.

However silly the names or non-dimensional the side characters, it really is the romance that wrecked my read of The Jewel. It is boring to read two people "fall in love at first sight." Not only is it not believable, it just kills the story. Love is more than attraction and availabilty. You never get the sense that Violet and Ash represent more to one another than a chance to make a choice. They don't know each other, not really, and thus makes it impossible for me to care about them as a pair. I did not ship it because this ship is nothing more than a hollowed-out, weak hull. It sinks, it doesn't swim (mixed my metaphors BUT YOU GET THE POINT.)

I don't know if I will pursue this series. I was interested in Lucinna's machinations and the Duchess's mysterious motivations, but I need more from the principal character than love for her sister and longing for a man she barely knows. The interesting world and society can only take you so far into a book. The cliffhanger is evil and ends on a terrible point so I may be not be immune to trying the second book. Just know that The Jewel takes cues far more from The Selection than The Handmaid's Tale.

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