The Jewel has an absolutely gorgeous cover, similar to its HarperTeen family members The Luxe and The Selection. If you put a glorious ballgown on the cover, it’s probably going to catch my interest (and that of its target market, teen girls). So how is the book behind the cover?
THE PLOT: Like many dystopian novels, this world is divided into levels: the Marsh (the poor), the Smoke (factories), the Farm (food production), the Bank (merchants), and the Jewel (royalty). But royal women can’t bear their own children, or aren’t allowed to. Instead, teen girls from lower levels are tested to see if they have the power of the auguries, magic that allows them to change an object’s appearance and even make something grow. If positive, the girls are taken from their families and farmed to become surrogate birth mothers for royalty’s children.
Violet is one of these girls, and she’s about to be sold at auction. She’s purchased by the Duchess of the Lake and forced to leave behind her name, her friends, her family, and her entire identity. Supposedly, once she has borne the Duchess a child, she will be sterilized and sent to a quiet area to live out her life with other surrogates.
There are many catches to this scenario, though, including: Violet will have to bear a daughter and make the fetus develop quickly to beat all the other royal women trying to match a daughter up with the son of the Exetor. Using the auguries to that extent causes nosebleeds, dizziness, fainting spells, and maybe even death. The Duchess is cruel, using physical luxuries as both carrot and whip to ensure Violet’s cooperation. Finally, Violet meets a boy who’s as much of a slave as she is, but a forbidden love develops. Is there any scenario where Violet can ever be a person in her own right?
MY TWO CENTS: I felt that too many things were going on in this story. Segregated society, forced surrogate mothers, magical powers, weird feuding royalty…it’s not like it was difficult to keep track of what was happening; it just felt like a lot of elements thrown together.
I’m also trying to figure out what this book might be saying about the empowerment (or lack thereof) of women. On one hand, the Lone City seems to be run entirely by women; men seem to play a very minor role. Surrogates are even artificially inseminated. On the other hand, the royal women are all gossipy, backbiting, and devious. Their power is based on negative behavior. The surrogates have all the power to produce future generations of royalty, yet they are completely powerless to choose pretty much anything for themselves. So what message are we to take away?
Despite these concerns, The Jewel is immensely readable. While it’s true that the message is ambiguous, and Violet doesn’t have the strength or intelligence of a lot of her dystopian heroine counterparts, the writing really sucked me in. I just wanted to keep reading. I didn’t want to put down. Plus, it ended on a serious cliffhanger (with some elements that I saw coming, granted), so I’ll be looking out for the sequel.
In some ways, The Jewel reminded me of VC Andrews books like Heaven, Dawn, and Ruby. A poor but talented teenage girl is catapulted from poverty to the very heart of wealthy society, but of course the price for bountiful food, sumptuous living arrangements, and glamorous clothes is measured in self-esteem instead of money. Her foster mother can be kind, but only to achieve her own ends, and is abusive more often than not.
BOTTOM LINE: While not great literature by any means, the writing drew me in. I’m officially calling it a guilty pleasure. If you like VC books, you might want to give this one a try. I’ll definitely be waiting for the sequel.
TEACUP RATING: Out of five teacups, I give The Jewel between three-and-a-half and four.
ON SALE DATE: The Jewel is available now in hardcover and eformats.
Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.