The Jewel by Amy Ewing
Series: The Lone City #1
Published by HarperTeen
Published on: September 2, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
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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.
Violet Lasting is a Surrogate. She lives in a world where blue bloods can no longer produce viable offspring, but before they begin to die out, a doctor discovers a genetic quirk that fortuitously exists most frequently in the lowest caste of their society, a quirk that allows the girls who have it to carry a royal child to term.
And so it is mandatory, on pain of death, for every girl to be tested upon reaching puberty. If the girl is a Surrogate, she is taken from her family to be raised, groomed, and educated for life in the Jewel.
But being a Surrogate means more than simply having a womb capable of playing host to a royal baby.
The first time I coughed up blood, I thought I was dying. But it stops after a year or so. Now I only have the occasional nosebleed.
Being a Surrogate also means being able to manipulate the three Auguries: color, shape, and growth. Having command of the first (and easiest) Augury means being about to change the superficial aspects of something like . . . wait for it . . . color. Same goes for the shape and growth Auguries, but the interesting thing here is that the royals who purchase their Surrogates at the Auction intend for them to use their gifts specifically on their child.
Kind of cool. Kind of creepy.
Kind of dangerous for the Surrogate . . .
Or at least that was my early impression. Anything that causes severe headaches, nosebleeds, and coughing up blood cannot be good for you. BUT. Like I said, only the lower class has this ability, and everyone knows poor people have no power, so the upper classes are free to use them as they see fit.
I actually thought this was a very clever premise. Anyone who has taken any kind of History of England (or any Western European country) knows about the weakness and illness that began to plague the royals, b/c of all the inbreeding. And in this inexplicably dystopian, presumably post-apocalyptic (b/c “Lone” city) world, who’s going to stop them from abusing their power and exploiting the peasants?
No one, that’s who.
There were lots of interesting little details that made this story stand out for me:
- Iron bars in the shape of roses on the windows of the facilities where the girls lived until it was time for their Auction.<——beautifully ironic.
- The use of real folk songs—I cannot hear or read the lyrics of “The Water is Wide” without getting goosebumps.
- The flashback to the girl getting her head chopped off for trying to escape becoming a Surrogate gave me goosebumps too:
The girl was wild, long black hair tangled around her face, framing eyes of a brilliant, almost shocking, blue. There was something fierce and untamed about her appearance. She couldn’t have been more than a few years older than me.She didn’t fight of struggle against the two Regimentals restraining her. She didn’t cry, or beg. She looked strangely peaceful. When they put her head on the block, I could swear she smiled. The magistrate asked her if she had any last words.“This is how it begins,” she said. “I am not afraid.” Her face saddened, and she added, “Tell Cobalt I love him.”Then they chopped off her head.
- Violet’s first cello performance . . . YEP, more goosebumps.
- I’m sure there’s probably some female version of the male occupation of “companion” in this world, but in this story, it’s the male version in the spotlight, which is still terrible, but also refreshing somehow.
- I saw that twist at the end coming, but it was still a very cool twist.
BUT . . . there were even more things that were either strangely familiar, or did not work for me at all:
- The “inexplicable” and “presumably” parts of the world-building. We’re given no explanation for the lack of any other cities, or how this one manages to have marshland in concentric rings with the rolling hills and vineyards of farmland. Mighty convenient that . . .
- Violet’s eyes are violet. This is a personal peeve of mine, b/c NO SUCH THING. No, not even Elizabeth Taylor. Her eyes were very, very blue, NOT purple. So. Unless it’s an alien or some type of Fae creature, if it has violet eyes, I’m going to roll mine.
- If a noun isn’t named for exactly what it is, or some obvious attribute—industrial part of the city is called Smoke, farm part of the city is called Farm, Violet has violet eyes, etc.—it’s named some other animal, vegetable, or mineral. Raven and her twin brother Crow. The royals are all named after precious gems, or in one case, rare and expensive wood—Ebony. It’s weird and distracting.
- Lucien is Violet’s very own Cinna. And yes, I realize that “Lucien” is not an animal, vegetable, or mineral, but he is also property, and I have suspicions about what his real name is.
- The Surrogates have their own version of District Twelve’s three-fingered salute.
- The “It only takes one small stone to start an avalanche,” and, “one crack spreads until the whole wall crumbles,” lesser versions of, “It only takes a spark.”
- For a smart girl, Violet is incredibly dense sometimes. View Spoiler »Ash is a freaking “companion.” What does she think he’s doing with Carnelian? AND how does she not consider the possibility that she could be pregnant with her own child after her shenanigans with Ash? ALSO, she doesn’t seem to pick up on the fact that the girl whose head she saw get chopped off was Lucien’s sister. « Hide Spoiler
- The insta-love. It’s not as bad as most, but it is still, undeniably, insta-love.
So yeah, there were problems. But overall it was an entertaining read with a great premise—I finished it in an afternoon—and I’ll definitely read the next book. Amy Ewing’s The Jewel is a solid first installment in her The Lone City series. It combines fantasy and dystopian elements to create an interesting new whole, so if either of those sub-genres are your thing, I’d definitely check this one out.