I bought this on a whim as part of a Waterstones deal but put off reading it as it seems sort-of generic-y dystopian-y YA type stuff. However, I read it in pretty much one sitting while I was ill at home last week, and whilst I wasn’t wrong, it’s at least one of the better examples of generic-y, dystopian-y YA.
Plot summary: Sold for six million diamantes, Violet is now Surrogate of the House of the Lake in the centre of the Lone City, the Jewel. Her sole purpose is to produce a healthy heir for the Duchess – a woman Violet fears and despises.
Violet is trapped in a living death, her name and body no longer her own. She fights to hold on to her own identity and sanity, uncertain of the fate of her friends, isolated and at the mercy of the Duchess.
The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Other Boleyn Girl in a world where beauty and brutality collide.
I completely fail to see any resemblance with The Other Boleyn Girl, but never mind.
Sorry for the slightly pompous introductory paragraph, but it’s true. This is good YA, but YA it remains. I don’t mean that to be as insulting as I’m aware it sounds – I did read this in one sitting, after all, and I’ve already added the sequel to my wishlist. It’s just that there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly unique about The Jewel, both in its strengths and its flaws.
It’s almost like a more domestic and lighter version of The Handmaid’s Tale (somebody remind me that I want to read that later, please?). Essentially, the upper classes can’t bear children, so certain members of the lower classes are forced into slavery and then sold to the highest, infertile bidder. Enter Violet. She’s bought by a very high ranking family with plans to use her special skills to ensure their offspring become the next ruler of the Kingdom. And there’s a boy. There’s always a boy. And a rebellion. Ditto the rebellion.
I know, I’m being snitty again. Sorry. Repeat: I did like this book.
I liked that there were quite a lot of interesting subplots. There’s a lot going on, just enough to keep you interested in the threads without losing track of what’s going on. It’s very well balanced in that respect. The characters do seem quite filled out, which is remarkable as there’s quite a lot of them. I don’t think there was a single one that irritated me in a way that they weren’t meant to.
Violet is probably the one most lacking in depth, which sounds odd as she’s the protagonist. However, when you think about it, it’s probably easier to flesh out secondary characters because you can always discuss the main character’s view of them, whereas you’re stuck with trying to demonstrate your protagonist’s personality without specifically stating it. Violet is… fine. Unexceptional, really, until the end where she makes some spectacularly and petty decisions in line with YA characters everywhere.
The thing is, she’s apparently been raised to expect this life for a very long time and has been surrounded by other people, who also expect this life. So how come she’s the only magical, special one who doesn’t want to go through with it? Aside from anything else… well, honestly, at first glance (and second and third!) it doesn’t seem like such a bad life!
The romance is… sudden, instant and forced, but we’ve all ranted about these things before and we know what I’d say here if I could be bothered to say it.
I think I wanted more details, somewhere along the way. For one thing, for a book about pregnancy and surrogacy, sex isn’t even mentioned once. I mean, I wasn’t expecting 50 Shades or anything, but in a book about this topic, the absence is noteable. It seems like the book could have been a little darker and more thorough, but instead a choice was made to keep it a bit fluffy.
The Jewel was saved, for me, by writing that is actually quite good. I never once thought that the dialogue was stilted or felt miffed by a silly metaphor. It’s the kind of writing that isn’t exactly amazing, but at the same time does make you forget that you’re just skimming text on a page, if that makes any sense.
When it gets right down to it, I would recommend this book. It has its flaws, but it’s worth reading. Maybe get it from the library though.