If Endgame was supposed to be like The Hunger Games, and The Iron Trial was supposed to be like Harry Potter, then the buzz for The Jewel was that it’s like “The Selection meets The Handmaid’s Tale“. In fact, a lot of the pre-pub reviews on GoodReads mentioned it as seeming to be “like The Selection, only better.”
I can see that. The US cover (not the one here – I read the UK version) certainly reminded me of The Selection, but nicer. And the book description conjured images of a dystopia full of beautiful dresses and an opulent lifestyle, with a huge gap between the rich and the poor. (It’s not really dystopia anymore, is it? It’s already happening now.) I was hopeful that The Jewel would be all that The Selection could have been, but wasn’t – showing its dystopian/political landscape better, and actually exploring the issues brought up by the dystopia instead of focusing too much on the romance aspect of the story. And for the first part of the book, it did that very well.
I loved it. Like most YA, I could probably poke lots of holes in the paper-thin worldbuilding, although I chose not to (where’s the fun in that when you can overlook it to enjoy the nice story instead?). I liked that it successfully portrayed how horrible the world was, right from the start, showing the girls that were to be surrogates being shipped off to be auctioned and sold to the highest bidder. These girls, born from the poorest circles of their society, had the abilities to use “Auguries” which allowed them control over the color, shape, and growth of things. This made them the perfect surrogates to the royal families that couldn’t have their own children (why, this was not explained, ugh).
Violet had a perfect score for the third Augury – growth. While it was in fashion to favour color and shape, the Duchess of the Lake purchased Violet due to this strength of hers. The description of Violet’s life in The Jewel (the royal, or richest circle of society) and the other women there – both the royals and the surrogates – really kept me going. Everything – from the parties she had to attend, to the doctor visits and the scheming of the royal women – were horrible, but not unbelievable. Even the royal women, who were the “villains” of this book, weren’t entirely unsympathetic, or predictable; the Electress, who was the only woman originally from a lower circle, was just as vicious as the ones born and bred in The Jewel, while the Duchess, in her moments of weakness, showed that she had thought more of the plight of her surrogates than expected.
And then, the romance. My main question here would be – was it necessary to have a romantic subplot? Really? The book was doing well as it was! But no, Violet HAD to meet some handsome guy and fall in INSTALOVE. WTF, Violet. WTF, Amy Ewing. Is this the same Violet from the first two-thirds of the book, even? Because THAT Violet wouldn’t have risked so much just for a freaking make-out session with someone she hardly knew. (Plus, if this book HAD to have a romance, I really would have preferred a slow-burn romance between Violet and Garnet, the Duchess’ son, but that’s neither here nor there, I suppose.)
Another unnecessary thing is the whole mysterious-disease-caused-the-royals-unable-to-have-babies part. Because if it’s there, it needed to be EXPLAINED. And it WASN’T. And that annoyed me, somewhat. I would have believed that they chose not to (or weren’t allowed to) bear their own children for stupid religious/”purity” obsessions like in The Handmaid’s Tale, OR if they just wanted to use surrogates because the Auguries promised better, stronger, more beautiful offspring. That would have been enough for me – I didn’t need some vague reference to some vague disease and then not explaining more.
So, was it better than The Selection? Yes and no. I enjoyed it more than The Selection; it’s a better dystopia, and addressed the complexities of the world more. But the romance part of the book is equally frustrating, without being as entertaining. Without the romance angle, this would have been a 4.5 star (out of five) book for me. With the romance, I’d have to dock a star, leaving it a 3.5, although I rounded it up to 4 stars on GoodReads.