The Jewel by Amy Ewing

the jewel by amy ewing The Jewel by Amy EwingBuy The Jewel
Special price $13.67 Regular price: $17.99
Publisher: Harper Teen
Format: Hardcover
Reviewer: Melissa on March 31, 2015
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Wealth, beauty, and royalty are synonymous with the Jewel unless, of course, you’re a girl like Violet Lasting. For Violet and the other surrogates, the Jewel means servitude. Born and raised in the Marsh, Violet has been trained for the last four years to work for the royalty. However, when she arrives in the centre of the Lone City, she quickly learns the brutal truth behind the Jewel’s sparkling façade: cruelty, backstabbing, and violence are the dominant way of life among the royals. Over the course of Amy Ewing’s debut novel and the start of an exciting new, dystopian trilogy, The Jewel, Violet must accept the ugly realities of her new life and attempt to stay alive. When an unlikely friendship presents her with a chance she never dreamed of, Violet clings to the hope of a better life – until an unlooked-for and completely forbidden romance changes everything. Suddenly, Violet is embarking on a new kind of danger, one that might cost her far more than she can stand to lose.

I first heard about The Jewel while attending Frenzy Presents at the Harper Collins Canada offices last summer. When they described Ewing’s novel as The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Selection, I immediately knew it was something that I had to read because they’re both books that I love. Now that I’ve read the first book in the Lone City trilogy, I’m happy to say that it’s well worth the recommendation. It’s a fast-paced book, the kind where once you pick it up, you really don’t want to put it down. Plus, while takes it in a decidedly not religious direction, Ewing adds in a lot of comparable elements from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian masterpiece, including the necessity for surrogates among the city’s elite, the revolutionary sentiment, and the threat to Violet’s – and other surrogate’s – safety at every turn. For those who love The Selection, the comparison is less apt unless you count the strong friendships that develop between the surrogates while they live in the holding centres, learning how to be a surrogate and the sparkling, jewel-like descriptions of the makeup and clothing worn by the Violet, the other surrogates, and the royalty. If these qualities aren’t the recipe for a good YA, dystopian novel, one that honours the giants in the genre, then I don’t know what is.

Although the people at Harper Collins Canada made some decent comparisons to spark my interest in this novel, there is more going on in The Jewel in my opinion. Readers of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre may see an allusion to the way governesses never quite fit into the households in which they lived and worked. Just like Jane was neither an equal to her master, Rochester, nor to the other servants of the household because of her education, Violet lives a precarious existence. The Duchess of the Lake strictly controls her life and any luxuries she receives are always under the threat of being taken away. At the same time, she isn’t equal to the castle’s other servants – she has her own lady’s maid – and is viewed, primarily, as a vessel for the Duchess’ future daughter. In addition, there are story angles involving doctors and the surrogate system at large subjecting surrogates to cruel experiments and dehumanizing rules to improve upon their normal child carrying capacity and to reduce them to nothing but their fertility, which is, perhaps, an allusion to the Holocaust and the Nazi’s treatment of their captors. Finally, there are also allusions to Romeo & Juliet because of Violet and Ash’s forbidden love. Basically, if you like digging through a text to find an author’s influences, there is going to fruitful ground here.

Some reviewers on Goodreads have likened The Jewel to nothing but a rip off of The Hunger Games or complained that the relationship that develops between Violet and Ash is instalove. Personally, I saw the friendship that develops between Violet and Lucian, the lady’s maid who prepares her for the auction, as more akin to an allusion to Cinderella’s fairy godmother than a rip off of Suzanne Collin’s character Cinna. Reading Lucian as only a Cinna in disguise is a disservice to the former’s character because Cinna never offers Katniss the possibility of freedom from participating in the arena as Lucian offers a way out to Violet. While works alongside the revolutionaries and is a friend to Katniss, Cinna never explicitly develops a plan to keep her safe. Instead, he helps the revolutionaries make Katniss into the revolutionary symbol that other people in the districts can get behind. While I disagree with the claims about Cinna and The Hunger Games, there is some truth to the instalove claim, which may annoy some people in the YA community. Normally it would annoy me as well, but because Violet and Ash meet in an unusual way, they both find – in one another – someone who sees them for who they are for the first time in their lives since being selected as a surrogate and a companion. In a situation like this is it any wonder that love comes swiftly?

While I wish that Ash had been introduced into the story a little earlier to enable a more realistic timeline for his and Violet’s relationship, I think that The Jewel shows a lot of promise for the rest of the books in the series. (That ending…did not see that coming!) Plus, Ewing shows that even seemingly ridiculous characters can have a lot more going on than meets the eye, which is something I appreciate. I can’t wait to read the next instalment.

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