Violet Lasting is about to become Lot 197, a child-bearing commodity for the wealthy of her city who reside in the glittering confines of the Jewel. Previously ruled by four houses and now by an Elector and Electress, it has long been known that the Jewel is barren – or at least that children borne by the elite don’t always turn out as planned – and the ladies of the district now use surrogates from the poorer parts of the city. Violet is such a surrogate. Sold, by a significant amount to the Duchess of the Lake, she finds herself surrounded by beauty, wealth, cruelty and death. Destined to carry the child of a woman who plots to bring down the very society she inhabits, Violet finds herself lost, if not entirely alone…
The world that Amy Ewing has created in her debut novel is a small yet striking one, although it brings little that seems truly unique. The glittering castles and concerts halls, combined with the many Duchesses, Countesses and Ladies bring to mind a corrupted Wonderland (not at all dissimilar to the one created by Frank Beddor in The Looking Glass Wars) while the outer districts, inhabited as they are by scruffy children and the indentured poor bring to mind the streets of Victorian London. It’s not a bad juxtaposition, although hardly original with the Jewel itself being of far more interest than the muddy streets of the common folk. Still, most of the action takes place in the home of the Duchess with Violet spending only enough time outside the walls to understand that things are not as pretty as they might appear.
Violet herself is likable enough. She is clearly uncomfortable with her lot in life and shows admirable backbone when faced with the conniving coldness of the Duchess of the Lake yet she lacks passion. She is keen to escape the story that fate has written for her but does little bar sit around and wait to be rescued. When she meets Ash, a young man whose lot in life is as steeped in exploitative servitude as her own, she is believably swept up by her feelings, having had nothing to do with boys previous to her arrival in the Jewel. Ash is also very readable, not to mention a bit more interesting than Violet thanks to his own back story, but their relationship develops over half a dozen short scenes into what can only be described as the dreaded instalove.
The relationship that actually keeps The Jewel alive is that between Violet and The Duchess. The Duchess is a marvelous creation and by the end of the book has emerged as a multi-faceted villain who readers will both love to hate but occasionally find themselves pitying. The scenes between the two women spark with mutual contempt and bitterness. It is in these scenes that Amy Ewing’s writing comes alive and they kept me reading to the last page. Another arresting character is Lucien and I sincerely hope that the small amount of back story pertaining to his character is not all we get.
The Jewel is not an unimpressive debut, it flows well and the writing is compelling enough but it suffers a little from style over content. The descriptions of the glorious homes, verdant gardens and beautiful music overwhelm a plot in which very little actually happens. As in Lauren De Stefano’s Wither, the relationship that Violet finds herself in seems to be there for the sake of having a love interest and felt forced, despite the attractively troubled Ash. Additionally, the strange powers that Violet and her fellow surrogates seem to possess are so vaguely described that they become almost an irritation.
The Jewel is the first in a trilogy and while it is certainly flawed there is a lot to encourage readers to return for book two, not least curiosity about Violet’s fate the promise of more from the Duchess of the Lake. Amy Ewing has the start of a very good story in The Jewel , it’s just a shame that she took a whole book to outline the bare bones. Here in The Mountains of Instead, we recommend this title to those who enjoyed Eve by Anna Carey or De Stefano’s Chemical Garden series, The Jewel has potential to be better than both but reaches nowhere near the dizzy heights of The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood), which it has been compared to and which, if you enjoyed this, you should really pick up next.
This review was brought to you by Splendibird. The Jewel is available now. Thank you to the publisher for providing us with a copy of this title to review.