The Jewel (Jewel #1) by Amy Ewing

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 Jewel Front Cover (HarperCollins)

The Jewel Front Cover (HarperCollins)

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.

 

Splintered by A.G. Howard (Audio Edition)

I’m a sucker for Alice in Wonderland stories, especially those that act as continuations or sequels. I’m especially fascinated by those that focus on the more macabre and surreal elements. The examples that come immediately to mind are the Tim Burton film (natch), American McGee’s game “Alice: Madness Returns,” and the classic Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers video for ” Don’t Come Around Here No More.” Cake, anyone?

audio

Cover for Splintered (Audio Edition), Amulet Books

I don’t remember now how Splintered came to my attention…did I see an ad for it? Was it recommended on Goodreads or Amazon? Not sure, but it caught my eye. I was in need of a new audiobook (yes, I listen to audiobooks at night after my eyes get tired from reading all day) so I bought it.

THE PLOT: Teenage Alyssa Gardner is a descendent of Alice Liddell, THE Alice. Unfortunately, every female in the line eventually goes mad, including Alyssa’s mother, who has been institutionalized since Alyssa was five. Alyssa’s neighbor and crush, Jeb, has family issues of his own, but he’s always been there for Alyssa…until recently, when he hooked up with his new girlfriend (the school’s version of Paris Hilton).

Like her mother before her, Alyssa has started to hear insects and flowers talk, and her research on the family curse inadvertently breaks a pact her mother had made to keep her safe. Now Alyssa is heading down the rabbit hole with Jeb in tow since he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But they get more than they expected when they meet Morpheus, a mysterious yet familiar character who has an agenda of his own.

MY TWO CENTS: I am not a teenager nor a particularly young adult, so I’m not going to get involved in a “Team Jeb versus Team Morpheus” type debate. I will say this, though: Morpheus is like a mixture of some of my very favorite fictional charactersa generous helping of the Phantom of the Opera (musical version), a sprinkling of Jareth from the movie Labyrinth, a couple spoonfuls of Julian from L.J. Smith’s Forbidden Game trilogy, and a dollop of Captain Jack Sparrow to finish him off. There’s also something of a glam rock star about him.

So, yeah, I LOVE Morpheus. I love him as a character. It might be partially because the audiobook narrator, Rebecca Gibel, does such a good job with his voice. I’m not sure her Cockney accent is spot-on, but it’s close enough to capture the right feel.

I wonder if Gibel’s reading also contributes to my intense dislike of Jeb. Everything he says is so controlling and sometimes demeaning to Alyssa. For example, when he gets the word that she’s trying to score a fake passport, he barges into her house, accuses her of being mean to his girlfriend, and demands to know why she’s “acting out.” He KNOWS that Alyssa spent the day visiting her mother at the asylum, which must be hard for her no matter what happened there. And oh, yeah, Jeb is on his way to prom with the girl he’s moving to London with. Jerk. I don’t like Jeb. I NEVER get to like Jeb, no matter what he does.

Gibel’s reading may make Alyssa seem slightly weaker than how she comes across on the written page. I don’t really fault Gibel for that; she’s trying to give emotion and drama to her reading, so when Alyssa is frightened or uncertain, that’s magnified in the audio.

BOTTOM LINE: I liked the book well enough to also purchase a paper copy so I can really absorb it, and I’m looking forward to the upcoming sequel, Unhinged. For me, though, the big draw is definitely Morpheus. I look forward to finding out what his next plans are for Alyssa, and what charming velvet hat he wears while manipulating her.

TEACUP RATING: I’m going to do something a little different…stars are so overdone! So I’m going to award teacups from now on instead. I’d give the story itself 3 to 3½ teacups, but Morpheus gets a whole teacup just on his own, which brings the total to 4 to 4½ teacups.

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