Friday, October 03, 2014

Review: The Jewel by Amy Ewing

Title: The Jewel (The Lone City #1)
Author: Amy Ewing
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: September 2nd 2014
Pages: 358
Genre: Young Adult dystopian
Source: BEA 2014
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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.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I wasn't sure what to expect from The Jewel. It was pitched as The Handmaid's Tale meets The Selection, which I thought was a really strange combination - the first makes me think of a thought-provoking story and feminist message, while the latter was kind of objectively horrible but still really entertaining. The Jewel ended up being more The Selection and less The Handmaid's Tale, but that's not necessarily a bad thing - the worldbuilding and morals aren't as strong as they could be, but it was definitely an entertaining read.

The concept is pretty standard for dystopian YA, but I thought it worked, although that might just be because I haven't read too many dystopians. The set-up is pretty basic, but what really made this world stand out to me (other than being dominated by women, which I'll talk about later) are the Auguries. I'm not usually a fan of fantasy elements creeping into another genre, and if I'd known about them in advance, I probably wouldn't have read the book, because anything paranormal usually just isn't my thing. But in The Jewel... it totally works. Somehow, the magical powers of the surrogates are woven seamlessly into this world, and they were fascinating to read about.

Asides from the Auguries, though, the worldbuilding does need some work. There is no explanation of how the world got to this point, which is kind of important when you're writing a dystopian set in a world so completely different from our own, I would think. Along with that goes my complaint that the whole idea of the female-dominated society is not explored enough. I absolutely love the idea of exploring what would happen if the women, instead of the men, like in The Handmaid's Tale, were in charge of buying these surrogates to carry their children. The gender dynamics in The Jewel is definitely interesting, because royal women are the ones who rule this world (or country, or city, or wherever we are), but other women are literally sold as objects. This background could have provided such a great way to explore gender roles and their implications, but that just doesn't really happen; we just don't get enough insight into how this world works on a larger scale and how it came to be this way.

The characters also could have been more complex. Violet is an okay character, but her feelings could have been explored in more depth. The Duchess is an intriguing character, and I hope we will get to see more of her in the next book. Ash is a very underdeveloped character; he is such a disappointing love interest. I understand that Violet is lonely and that he is the only one who really sees her as a person, but still, I just couldn't handle the amount of insta-love. Ash barely has a personality, and the two of them don't have enough chemistry. This is especially problematic because Violet's love for Ash is supposed to be one of her bigger motivations in the novel, and such a meh love interest did not seem worth risking so much over.

That being said, I did really enjoy The Jewel, even if I can't really pinpoint why, exactly. There was just something addicting about the story. I wanted it to keep on going and going, and was so disappointed it ended so quickly. The writing is simplistic, but asides from the underdeveloped characters and worldbuilding, I didn't mind, because it worked to tell this story; it was simply a fun read.

I know my review sounds very negative, and stylistically, I had a lot of issues with The Jewel. But, to be honest, just like with The Selection, I didn't really care - both are fun reads, and nothing more, and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm kind of sad the aspect of the female-dominated society isn't explored more, but other than that, The Jewel is an entertaining read. Don't go into this looking for anything more, but if you just want to be entertained, The Jewel is perfect escapist reading!


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