Book Review

Book Review of The Jewel by Amy Ewing

The Jewel by Amy Ewing

I'm not sure why The Jewel got so many scathing reviews on a few review sites, and I'm wondering why I'm an exception giving it a very solid 4 stars, but maybe I got something a little different out of the book than many of the other reviewers. First of all, Jewel is a fairytale dystopian. It's got the glitter of a fairytale (Yeah, that cover made me buy it, lol) and the darkness of a dystopian, all wrapped up together. I am going to address many of the complaints about the book in my review, after giving a synopsis.

The protagonist of the novel is Violet, a girl who was plucked from her family at the beginning of puberty since her genetic code has a particular mutation that gives her special skills. Because of this she gets slated to become a surrogate for the aristocracy, who, for some reason cannot reproduce, or when they do, their babies have deformities and/or don't survive. Surrogates are given special treatment and live in isolation developing their gifts, which are called augaries. The augaries give the novel a fantasy element and resemble magic - where the girls can change the color or shape of something or cause growth. I wouldn't say it's a "magician" type of magic, but more of the type of ability seen in the novel The Red Queen, something that is a genetic aptitude. These gifts are used to cultivate the desired traits in the children born to the elite who live in the center of a 5 ringed world, called the Jewel.

Violet is auctioned off and the novel is about her experiences as she transitions into the plush and privileged world of the Jewel, but in the capacity as nothing more than a slave and with a surprise chance to change the outcome of her life. Violet is surrounded by opulence but something darker is beneath this beautiful surface. There is something else woven into the foundation of this novel that peeks to the surface from time to time and is utterly intriguing. I won't give too much away, but there was a very big surprise in the ending that I didn't expect (and I'm usually pretty good at sniffing those types of things out). There is a lot of potential that is built into this foundation of a first book, that I am hoping will be explored in the other two books of the trilogy.

So, now, on to addressing complaints in other reviews and my own personal take on the little details of the story. First, I read a lot of complaints about the lack of world building. Readers want to know WHERE this book is set (America? Somewhere else?) and also some of the WHYs - Why can the elite members of the jewel not reproduce? Why do some of the girls of the poorer rings develop the augaries? ETC. I don't think you need to know where the novel takes place. It's not needed to propel the story forward. You understand that they are on some type of very large island (perhaps the size of Great Britain?) that is protecting them from "violent and terrible ocean" that threatened to engulf the island and surrounds them on all sides. It's the fairytale side of the story. Who knows or cares why Cinderella has a fairy godmother and what the details are about the kingdom where she lives. Who cares what causes Sleeping Beauty to sleep for hundreds of years. Fairytales don't need that type of explanation. You just get the small details and move on with the story. Perhaps the fact that many dysoptians usually have some sort of history explained so you know why things are as they are is causing a problem for some of the readers of The Jewel. They expect it and get irritated when they don't get it. I just found it interesting and not necessary. It didn't bother me to not know WHY royalty can't reproduce and why the poorer girls can. It's not necessary to know at this point, and perhaps it will be explored in more detail in the later novels, after specific events have unfolded. I think there is a lack of patience and a wanting every explanation right this very second. It's a story. It doesn't have to be a fleshed out history lesson.

The other complaint I see is about Violet herself. Yes, Violet has violet eyes. So what. She also has magical abilities. Does it matter that her eyes are a color you don't normally find in OUR world? You don't find girls with magical abilities either. Yes, Violet is special and scores high on her abilities. Yes, she falls in love "instantly". Yes, she does what she's told and she is not "Katniss" (as in she isn't instantly fighting the system). Sometimes I think that younger readers are comparing novels and characters too much instead of just being absorbed by the current story and letting Violet be who she is based on her experiences. I am always confounded by the characters who are doing things based outside their experiences and I think that Violet is very much who she is and chooses to do what she does, including the "insta-love" based on HER life. You have to realize that she was taken away from her family at about 12 years old and kept isolated (and relatively pampered compared to her previous life that was mired in poverty). There were NO males other than doctors in her training facility. There were NO chances to rebel. In fact, she was forced to watch a beheading of a girl who DID rebel by not hiding and not going to the center after being diagnosed as one of the surrogates-to-be. Imagine being a girl of about 13 and seeing that. How would it encourage you to rebel? I think it would do the opposite. These were just girls that were being well taken care of but also having to experience a great deal of pain and discomfort developing the augaries. They were also kept in a great deal of ignorance and their futures were kept very vague, which isn't surprising when you find out more details.

So, taking in Violet's experiences, you can't be all that surprised that she "instantly" falls in love with a companion - a boy who is also being used, in a similar fashion (which is another commentary on the world of the Jewel). She hasn't been around boys, other than her brother, when she was a child. She hasn't had anyone see her as HER, as a human being, instead of some vessel to be shown off and paraded around, rewarded and punished not unlike a dog. I think their relationship has a deeper meaning - two young people who are desperate to be seen for who they are, who are immediately drawn to what is essentially TRUTH. This isn't just an insta-love type of thing. It's showing human nature and our innate desire to connect and be seen for who we really are and for a search for truth and reality. They are both real in a world of fakery. It is a metaphor. Of course they are drawn to each other like moths to a flame. And Violet is very inexperienced and sheltered. No one has taught her anything about boys or those types of strong emotions. The only experience she has with love is from her family, who she desperately misses, and that love was given to her as a child and at her brief meeting before the auction. Ash is a boy whose only value is in his body and a life that is a lie - always telling someone what they want to hear. Human beings need love and affirmation to properly function. It's built into our souls. Bring together two hungry beings and you have Violet and Ash. ;-) I do think it could have been handled better, and I see MOST of the complaints about The Jewel centered around the underdeveloped and yet instant relationship between these two. I think when you look at it as a metaphor though and the character's histories that it's more palatable. You have to see it as part of the fairytale portion of this story vs. the dystopian.

Another complaint I see is that readers cannot understand just what is so horrible about Violet's life. She's pampered, she has a lady-in-waiting, wonderful food, beautiful clothes, a lovely mansion to explore. Readers are complaining that Violet is so privileged and they just can't connect with her always going on about how awful it is -and that they would practically volunteer for that life themselves. I can only say that I don't think the readers with this complaint have any understanding of what it means to not have freedom. There were slaves in history that lived privileged lives. I'm not talking about the ones bending over in the cotton fields. I'm talking about the ones that were given beautiful clothes, wonderful food, living in beautiful estates and living a fairly pampered life (whether it was during the Roman empire, or during another time in history - or even the women kept in the lavish harems in some of the Eastern empires). The problem wasn't the luxurious lifestyle, the problem was that there was NO CHOICE and NO FREEDOM. That is what Violet rails against and it's what I'm sure many of the complaining readers just do not understand because they have never experienced that type of lack of freedom. It's oppressive. It totally weighs on a person's soul, no matter the wonderful surroundings. And of course Violet is compliant and isn't trying to escape at first. First of all, she doesn't know anything else. The novel is actually very realistic in how it portrays Violet as compared to a lot of dystopians or similar books. I don't think people get it that in real life, there are a lot of people in situations and they don't try to escape or change things because they either don't know how, don't have the resources and tons of other reasons that are complex. Anyone who has studied psychology or abuse will have a better understanding of why Violet is not an immediate heroine. I think Violet's reactions are portrayed very realistically and that makes the story better, not worse. Violet is not a superhero...and yet you see small slivers of growth, as well as things that I am sure will be fleshed out more in the future, like the knowledge that the augaries are limited only by psychological reasons, not physical reasons.

I also believe the characters are not one-dimensional as many other reviewers are saying. I just think these readers are missing the mark and not seeing the depth to this story, perhaps because it has so many fairy tale elements when they are expecting a hard-core dystopian. Maybe the glitter is distracting, or their isn't enough action and fighting and whatnot and it seems that there is no growth because it's slow growth. Just to explain a little more where I see depth - take the duchess who purchased Violet. There is a LOT that is only hinted at that I hope the author takes time to develop even more. The duchess comes across as an evil, cold and calculating, intelligent woman. She is a murderess and doesn't seem to have done a very good job raising her spoiled son. There is much more to her though. You see hints of tenderness and longing. You see there is something more underneath that sharp exterior. She collects books (the reason isn't fleshed out, but she cares about the history of her people) and has a fondness for a particular fairy-tale. She's waited 19 years to purchase another surrogate and there are other complex emotions wrapped up in that woman like the fact she didn't end up marrying the Exetor (sort of like the president / king of the society). She is evil, but there is a kernel of something more in there. You just know something happened to make her the way she is, when she had the potential to be something else. The only characters I see portrayed as one-dimensional are the men in the Jewel, other than Garnet, the Duchess's son, and he only gains a previously hidden depth, later.

There are a lot of interesting things that have a great deal of potential for the next two books in the series and the first book was thoroughly entertaining. I read it all in an entire sitting on a Sunday (dinner was a little late, LOL) and immediately went to look for the 2nd book, which thankfully there was a review copy available - woohoo!! Give The Jewel a chance. It has more depth to it than I think many realize, a very interesting premise, and was just plain fun to read. You cannot really compare it to The Selection or any other YA novel out there as I've seen so many trying to do. It's only like The Selection in that they all have pretty dresses. Nothing else is the same. Now, do understand, this is no Red Rising -gotta save the 5 stars for books like that that blow me away, which The Jewel didn't, but don't misunderstand - it was a lot of fun and I did love reading it. The Jewel is a quick read that's meant to entertain and for me that's just what it did. It's a solid 4 stars and I can't wait to read The White Rose (the 2nd novel in the trilogy)!!!

 

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