Series: The Lone City
Published by HarperTEEN on September 2014
Genres: Young Adult
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The Jewel means wealth. The Jewel means beauty. The Jewel means royalty. But for girls like Violet, the Jewel means servitude. Not just any kind of servitude. Violet, born and raised in the Marsh, has been trained as a surrogate for the royalty—because in the Jewel the only thing more important than opulence is offspring.
Purchased at the surrogacy auction by the Duchess of the Lake and greeted with a slap to the face, Violet (now known only as #197) quickly learns of the brutal truths that lie beneath the Jewel’s glittering facade: the cruelty, backstabbing, and hidden violence that have become the royal way of life.
Violet must accept the ugly realities of her existence... and try to stay alive. But then a forbidden romance erupts between Violet and a handsome gentleman hired as a companion to the Duchess’s petulant niece. Though his presence makes life in the Jewel a bit brighter, the consequences of their illicit relationship will cost them both more than they bargained for.
The Jewel was completely different to what I expected when I first picked up this book and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Underneath the glamour and pretty dresses of this debut dystopian novel by Amy Ewing is an undercurrent of systematic human abuse, forced surrogacy and political exploitation that makes this book anything but the fluffy read the cover would suggest. This is the 2nd YA novel I have read recently that included forced pregnancy in teenage girls and I find the very idea confronting though for this reason alone I think its worth an avenue of exploration in a futuristic/dystopian genre.
The book centres around our protagonist Violet and the book starts with the ominous line:
“Today is my last day as Violet Lasting”
From there the story takes you on a journey of a teenage girl, now only to be known as Lot #197, who was ripped from her family upon puberty and taken to a special boarding school for future surrogates to learn how to control the auguries (magic manipulation, though magic is not really a central focus of this novel) along with etiquette and how to be a proper “seen but not heard” surrogate for the aristocracy who live in the Jewel. The Jewel is one of 5 areas in this city which is cut off from the remaining world, and this particular zone houses the wealthy land and business owners plus the political rulers. All the surrogates come from the very poorest region – The Marsh where poverty and hunger are rife. To some this selection to be a surrogate and live surrounded by wealth and beautiful things seems a small price to pay, though many of these young girls can sense the wrongness of this even if they can’t verbalise or pin point what exactly the problem is with the exchange.
The political slinging matches and the world building in this novel is excellent. There is no brain dump of information on how things turned out the way they did but slowly as the story evolves you get a general idea, though there is still enough mystery to ensure your audience will rush out to buy book two. The verbal and nonverbal exchanges between the ladies with surrogates in this novel just brought the book to life. I found myself reading over the comments and text quite slowly making sure I picked up any nuances and hints I was meant to get out of the dialogue. I could never quite tell whether or not the Duchess of the Lake, Violet’s owner, was meant to be seen as the good guy or whether she too was a villain. The fine line, subtlety and shades of grey in some of these characters was extremely well crafted.
The downside of this story was the unfortunate instant attraction and ridiculous romance between Violet and Ash. Ash is not even mentioned until over half way through the story and in all honesty I couldn’t really see the need for him at all. If this was meant to be a bit of a star-crossed romance then his intro into the Lake family could have happened from the get go instead of so late in the plot surely? While Ash seemed lovely it definitely dampened my enjoyment for this novel and I wasn’t that disappointed with how things ended up during the finale of this book.
Probably the best part of this novel was the very last page of this story where I was totally taken off guard by a major plot twist and I can’t wait to find out how this changes things in the sequel. While this book is by no means perfect I think it stands out from the crowd of YA debuts and is worth getting your hands on a copy.