In nature, animals with bright and beautiful colors are actually warning you off: "Do not eat or touch me! I will poison you! You will be sorry!" In the literary universe, books with beautiful colors appear to be similarly warning you off: "Do not read me! I will annoy you! You will be sorry!" The prettier the cover, the more likely the book is to be bad. This has been proven by science.*
*AKA, someone told me this once on a forum & I believed them.
Despite the questionable summary and the many reviews suggesting that this book was not for me, I decided not to heed the warning signals and bought the prequel to read - because it was on sale, and because I appear to have a knack for tempting fate and acquiring books I probably shouldn't be reading, but feel compelled to out of a very morbid sense of curiosity. I read THE JEWEL earlier today and it's a hot mess of bad world building, mixed messages, and two-dimensional characters.
It was also unintentionally funny - and surprisingly, disturbingly dark. I mean, here you have a costume dys-trope-ian fiction where girls - teenage and preteen girls - are sold at the auction block so people can artificially inseminate them. They get to wear pretty dresses and sparkly jewelry but they're also paraded around in chains, beaten, abused, and oh yeah - die after giving birth. Cool. Plus, teenagers are also apparently enslaved in brothels where they are groomed to be "companions" (read: escorts/prostitutes) to help young people of the opposite sex learn about love while also being "used" by the older members of the household and teenage and preteen males are also being castrated to be used as "ladies-in-waiting" (read: eunuchs) to serve the surrogates without being tempted by them.
The unintentionally funny bits are how dramatic Violet is, and how she pretty much falls for her love interest, a companion, the moment she sees him, and gets so territorial over him that she stops just short of peeing on the girl he's actually supposed to be romantically interested in and screaming out, "BACK OFF B*TCH! HE'S MINE!" The names are also ridiculous. I mentioned some of the highlights in my previous review, but there's some new winners in this sequel, with gems like Sable, Millet, Sienna, Cobalt, Olive, and Rye. (I think you're forgetting Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme.)
***WARNING: SPOILERS TO FOLLOW***
If you want a quick summary of the previous book and the set-up, I do recommend checking out my review of the first book because I'm not going to be summing up everything again here. There's just way too many new things I want to talk about and discuss, because as dark as the first book was, THE WHITE ROSE says, "Guess what time it is? WTFUCKERY O' CLOCK, OFC!"
Regarding some of the questions I had in book one. Book two, to its credit, answers some of them. I know now why the surrogates can do magic, and why certain types of magic give them nosebleeds and headaches. I'm not 100% sold on that explanation (read: not at all sold on that explanation), but at least the author took the time to try and resolve that. Also, yes, apparently companions are not exclusively male. Girls get taken off the streets and used for "practice" in these teen brothels, too.
One thing that was NOT answered to my satisfaction was the origin behind this world. We get to know a bit of the history behind the Lone City, but I'm still not clear on whether or not this world of theirs is our world or a fantasy world that the author made up. The names of the other countries are different - but in one point of the story, Garnet drives Ash and Violet away in a car. So they have automobiles in this world? I don't recall them having roads. In fact, I was getting an 1800s vibe from this world, so please, tell me how this car fits into this agrarian- and factory-fueled society.
The reproductive aspects of this world still aren't really concrete, either. The author has explained what surrogates are (omg - it's kind of funny, it's so Avatar - and don't ask me to disambiguate, because both Avatar and Avatar: The Last Airbender apply) but not why the royalty rely on them for child-bearing...and what the heck is up with these accelerated pregnancies? In this book, they're saying that someone got pregnant in one day, and the crazy duchess was saying in the last book that she expected Violet to have a three-month pregnancy with one month designated per term??
Now I have more questions - like, still, what is the origin of this world? Why are the surrogates needed for child-bearing? Is this some sort of plague thing? Did the founders contract some sort of auto-immune disease from coming to a land that wasn't their own that directly impacts their ability to produce viable off-spring? If that's the case, why doesn't that impact people from the Bank/Farm/Smoke districts? I'm sure they're not all descended from the same lineage as the surrogate people. Why the heck was there a car? And regarding the end of the book, isn't that girl only 12? Is she really pregnant? Did a 12-y.o. really get pregnant in this book? And why does giving people lobotomies result in psychic powers? How do brains work in this universe? How does anatomy in general work in this universe?
As bad as the world-building was, I still have to applaud the author for going there. I felt so bad for Ash, knowing his history in this book and all the things he went through when he was essentially forced into sexual slavery by his family. Lucien's backstory was awful, too - his father tied him down and gelded him so he could be sold to the royalty as a servant. I felt bad for Raven, too, and Annabelle - oh my gosh, what happened to Annabelle was NOT COOL. Why is it that the heroine gets to make all these idiotic choices, but it's the people around her who suffer? That's hardly fair.
Honestly, at this point, I'm oddly charmed by this fustercluck of a series. THE JEWEL and THE WHITE ROSE are so cheesy and bad, but in a comforting and endearing way, like eating chips out of a sweatshirt hood while you watch Lifetime movies. Yeah, it's not good for you and makes a big ol' mess, but it was fun, right? Right. I had a good time reading through this nonsense, and I still want to find out what happens next, even though I know it will probably be even more ridiculous and leave even more questions unanswered. What can I say? I'm easily entertained.
1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars