Genre: young adult / dystopian
Young adult RBC 2014: A book with music
Tomorrow, Violet Lasting will be gone forever. While living in Southgate holding facility for the last four years, Violet had her every whim catered for: the best clothes, food, the chance to learn and excel at the cello – everything but freedom. Born into the Marsh, the lowest ranking and poorest of the five circles (The Jewel, Bank, Farm, Smoke and Marsh), she’s one of many other Marsh girls born with a genetic make-up that makes them perfect surrogates for bearing the children of The Jewel’s Royalty, who are themselves incapable of bearing anything but defective offspring. Taken away from her family at puberty, Violet has seen nothing but Southgate’s walls for years. Today is her final chance to say goodbye to her family forever. Tomorrow, she becomes Lot 197, destined to be sold to the highest bidder at the annual Auction and a life in The Jewel, surrogate mother to another woman’s child.
At Lot 197, Violet is one of the most valuable of all the 200 girls up for Auction this year. Bidding is fierce as the Royal and most noble families of the Jewel vie over who will possess this violet-eyed, cello-playing girl with near perfect scores in the Auguries – talents that enable all surrogates to manipulate colour, shape and growth. Bought by the Duchess of the Lake, Violet becomes embroiled in complicated court politics and nasty family feuds, with all the surrogates finding themselves in a competition to bear the next future Electress.
When Violet meets Ash, Companion to the Duchess of the Lake’s niece, she finds someone who she’s finally able to be herself with in this vicious world. Forced to meet secretly, with the threat of execution constantly hanging over their heads, their time is limited as lives are at stake and the day looms ever closer when Violet will lose control over her own body …
I won’t lie: I needed another book from Waterstones to complete an offer they were running, and I picked The Jewel because of its stunning cover. The US cover is nice and all (see left), but no competition, especially considering that the UK has used violet themes in the model's dress on the cover, and made use of some gorgeous foiling and detail as embellishment. I think I probably read the blurb before I bought it, not that I remember – I’m highly superficial like that – but I’m glad that on this occasion, the contents more than matched the packaging.
I recently (semi-ruthlessly) cut my ‘Best of 2014’ running list in half from 20 to 10, with one author securing a double entry, and the best of the rest making Honourable Mentions. The Jewel has thrown a spanner in the works and completely messed up my shortlist, leaving me thrilled yet devastated. This was a wholly unexpected gem of a read (no pun intended), taking young adult dystopian fiction to new heights of depravity. I’m reminded of Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy where individuals’ personalities are ‘matched’ to a job and life partner, as well as the more glamorous settings of Kiera Cass’ The Selection, where girls from various stations in society are shortlisted to a televised reality show where the Prince will choose his future queen. Dystopian novels are linked by their society’s need to control all aspects of their citizens’ lives, but The Jewel takes this to new, literally invasive, heights. I’m left appalled, yet unspeakably compelled by this world that Amy Ewing has created. There aren’t words to describe how well she’s done her job.
I’m fond of Violet. She isn’t lured by the appeal of the life she’s being offered, unlike lots of the other girls. While there are times that she may enjoy the luxuries that she’s been given, it’s through a more ‘why not’ attitude, rather than one where she’s accepted this as her fate. She’d give up everything in a heartbeat if it meant she could be with her family again, even if they are dirt poor. Her feelings towards the Duchess are often scathing if sometimes confused, though she’s learnt not to rebel too often for her own state of wellbeing. I’m not quite so fond of Ash, but Annabelle, Violet’s maid, is sweet.
There’s only a little over a month left of 2014 and so I imagine this is going to be one of the last times I say this: if you only read one (more) book this year, then make it The Jewel. It’s a stunning debut by what I hope will be a successful and prolific author. With a cliffhanger ending, I hope that we see more of Violet and her life in the Jewel. It could have made for a brilliant standalone, but it would then have needed a different direction and probably more words added to the not-insubstantial 369 pages. We’re left with an intriguing plot twist and Violet is going to start questioning everything all over again. I know that there’s an e-book-only title on the horizon featuring Raven’s story (Violet’s best friend from Southgate) and so I hope it’s not long before news is released of more books to join The Jewel. What a fantastic read to round off the year.
Image courtesy of Book Depository.