Book review: The Jewel by Amy Ewing

A harrowing read that deals with the subject of surrogacy as a form of servitude, in a society that is dominated by wealthy and privileged royals unable to bear children of their own. 

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The Jewel by Amy Ewing (UK edition first published in 2014 by Walker Books Ltd)

The blurb of this book describes Amy Ewing’s novel as being, and I quote, “The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Other Boleyn Girl in a world where beauty and brutality collide.”

In reality, it feels a little more like Suzanne Collins meets Margaret Atwood.  That said, despite the similarities, Amy Ewing’s The Jewel is probably one of the most interesting dystopian Young Adult fiction novels I’ve read this year.

In fact, once the book actually diverges from the more familiar aspects of The Hunger Games, The Jewel ends up being a pretty engrossing novel that tackles a subject I haven't seen explored in the Young Adult fiction genre as of yet.


Not just that though, it deals with the surrogacy as a form of servitude in a society that is dominated by wealthy and privileged royals unable to bear children of their own.

It’s not hard to find yourself compelled by this book given that it starts off with the protagonist’s ominous declaration: “Today is my last day as Violet Lasting.”

That sentence is the start of our protagonist’s hellish journey, in which her name, identity, agency over her own body and freedom of choice is stripped away forever. This, all in the quest to continue the royal line for a royal Duchess who can’t carry a child of her own.

The Lone City is divided into 5 districts: The Jewel, The Bank, The Smoke, The Farm and the Marsh, which is the poorest in the circle. As you can tell, Hunger Games vibes at first.

Violet Lasting is just one of the many girls who finds herself being whisked off to be sold at an auction to become nothing more than a broodmare/baby incubator for the Duchess who purchases her.

What makes matters worse is that in the Jewel (which houses the various royal lines), rivalry is rife amongst the royal houses. The quest to produce the first child, in order to be closer in line to the throne, is a vicious one - Duchesses will resort to drastic tactics (even murder) to get what they want.

This means that not only are they surrogates, but they have to watch their backs all the time as one of the best ways to eliminate a threat, is by killing off the surrogates to ensure that pregnancy is no longer a possibility.

To top it off, these surrogates are in high demand because they have special gifts (known as auguries) that can enable them to manipulate colour, create something from seemingly nothing; and most importantly, enable objects to grow at a very rapid pace.

It’s when she meets another captive and loses her best friend to the surrogacy programme that Violet decides that she has had enough and would rather risk exile and even death, than be stripped of her identity and free will.

The Jewel is the first in a trilogy, one that I found myself enjoying a lot more than I thought I would.

What makes this book stand out is that it doesn’t shy away from highlighting the barbaric practices of this form of slavery.

This book is brutal in its depiction of the suffering that Violet and others like her have to endure. It excels at juxtaposing images of the Jewel as a magnificent place, all the while highlighting its cruel policies, politics and underhanded tactics to maintain control of the city.

While I found the romantic element of this novel annoying (simply because it falls victim to the instant love plot device), I found myself really gripped by the story and heroine’s plight to not just fight for herself, but for others in the same situation.

If you’re looking for a book that features a strong heroine fighting for agency, equality and for the right to make her own choices, this book is one that I’d definitely recommend. I can’t wait for the sequel.


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