Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Jewel by Amy Ewing

Don't be fooled by the pretty cover sparklies; THE JEWEL is actually pretty messed-up. Violet lives in a dystopian city that's organized like the nine circles of hell, with the Marsh, or the slums, on the outer rings; and then Farm, the agricultural; Smoke, the industrial; Bank, the financial; and in the very heart of the city is Jewel, where are the filthy rich members of royalty reside.

Violet was born in the Marsh but has been raised in relative luxury since puberty because she has the power of "Auguries," or magical abilities which mean her womb is perfect for breeding more members of royalty in the Jewel. This is called being a "Surrogate." When the Surrogates come of age, they are auctioned off in 200 lots, with the last ten being the most desirable of all. Violet is #197, because her magical abilities are so potent.

With her new owner, the Duchess of the Lake, Violet now resides in the upper crust of society, receiving expensive gifts, pretty dresses, and fancy feasts - but of course it all comes at a cost. She's treated as an object, paraded around on a leash, and artificially inseminated against her will multiple times, because she's essentially a bejeweled incubator, and not an actual human being. Since this is a YA dystopian, obviously there's a forbidden romance subplot and obviously she is the chosen one who will save humanity of themselves while making out and dressing up and getting into catfights with rivals.

THE JEWEL really made some of my friends angry, which, ironically, made me want to read it even more. I can see why, to be honest. The concept of surrogacy in a YA series is so odd, and it was done so badly in this world because the world-building leaves so much to be desired. Is this our world, or a completely different one? Why can they do magic? Why do they have nosebleeds and headache when they do magic? Why can't the rich people conceive? If the rich people can't conceive, why do they need specially trained people to teach them how to have sex and make out? Oh, yes, this book has teen escorts, called "companions" who basically teach the young royals how to seduce and be desirable, with the understanding that they sleep with the older members of the household. What.

Furthermore, what are they inseminating the Surrogates with? Is it just the women who are infertile? Why not the men? And if the men are too, where are they getting the sperm from? Are there male donors who are similarly imprisoned? Why don't we see them? And also, what does Surrogate training consist of, because Violet seems remarkably uninformed about sex and pregnancy.

Also, the names in this book are ridiculous. Violet's siblings are named Ocher and Hazel. Her friend is named Raven and she has a twin brother named Crow. The members of royalty have names like Sailor Moon villains, like Beryl (an actual Sailor Moon villain fyi), Carnelian, Garnet, and Sapphire.

I feel like there was a lot of potential in this book to be great, but considering the subject matter revolves around prostitution, eugenics, lobotomies, and reproductive rights, the tone feels deceptively - almost insultingly - light with all the descriptions of pretty dresses and luxury items, and the weird and totally unconvincing romance between Violet and Ash. It is compulsively readable and reasonably well-written, but I felt like it really glossed over the serious issues and that was not good. HUNGER GAMES and HANDMAID'S TALE were good because they had fully developed worlds (for the most part) and didn't shy away from the grievous consequences of insurrection. THE JEWEL tries, but the emotional disconnect and lack of atmosphere really put a damper on the horror factor.

My library has a copy of book two, THE WHITE ROSE, so I'm going to read that and see if this book develops more in the sequel. So far, I probably wouldn't recommend this to anyone unless they enjoy costume dys-trope-ian YA fiction like THE SELECTION that revolves more around romance and boys than social commentary.

1.5 out of 5 stars

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