Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Jewel

The Jewel

Amy Ewing
For ages 14 and up
HarperCollins, 2014   ISBN: 978-0062235794

When she was twelve Violet, like all girls in the Marsh, was tested to find out if she was a surrogate. To her great distress her test was positive and so she was taken from her home in the Marsh and was sent to live in the Southgate holding facility, one of four such places in the Lone City. Violet has spent the last four years at Southgate learning how to control the three Auguries, which for some unknown reason are only found in the bodies of girls who live in the Marsh, the outer ring of the Lone City. The Augeries are three abilities that allow the surrogates to change the physical properties of things. Using the Auguries they manipulate the shapes and colors of objects, and some girls, including Violet, can even make things grow.

    The Lone City is made up of five concentric circles, each one of which is enclosed by a wall. The outer ring, the Marsh, is where the laborers live. The next ring is called the Farm and it is where food is grown. Next comes the ring called the Smoke, which is where the factories are located. This ring is followed by the Bank where the shops are, and finally there is the Jewel, which lies at the heart of the Lone City. The wealthy, powerful and privileged women of the Jewel cannot, for some reason, bear healthy children. So they buy surrogates to carry their babies because surrogates can, thanks to the three Auguries, make sure that the babies are born healthy. In fact the surrogates, to some degree, can control what the babies will be like when they are born. In short, thanks to the surrogates, the people of the Jewel can customize their future children.

   Some girls are happy that they are surrogates. After all, at the holding facilities they get good food to eat, nice clothes to wear, and they are treated well. They are told that the people who will buy them will take care of them and that they will never have to worry about their future. Violet is not one of these girls. She hates the idea that she has no choice about being a surrogate. She would happily give up the comforts she is being given if she could just go back home to live with her mother and siblings.

   Violet’s time at Southgate has now come to an end. She gets to see her family one last time and then she is sent to the auction house. Before she is shown to the potential buyers, Violet is dressed and made up. While she waits to be taken into the auction room, Violet enjoys her last few minutes of freedom, her last few minutes of being Violet Lasting. Then, as Lot 197, she is taken before the women of the Jewel to be sold.

   Violet’s Auguries are strong and she is therefore a very high ranking surrogate. The bidding for her is fierce, the sums getting unbelievably high. The Electress, the wife of the ruler of the Lone City, even bids on Violet, but in the end, the Duchess of the Lake is the one who wins the auction, and Violet’s new life as a surrogate begins.

   When they are in the holding facilities, the surrogates are not told much about what their new life is doing to be like, so Violet really has no idea what to expect when she arrives at the Duchess’s lavish house. She soon discovers that the surrogates are treated rather like pets. Leashes are put on them when they are taken out, and they can only speak when spoken to. They are expected to show off their music or dancing skills for their mistresses on command. Worst of all, the surrogates are used as pawns in the power struggle that is boiling just beneath the surface in the Jewel, and there is nothing that any of them can do about it.

   In this fascinating and one-of-a-kind story, we are taken into a world where the class structure is rigid, and where some members of the population are forced into a form of slavery that is unbelievably cruel. It is fascinating to watch as Violet comes to understand what is happening in the Jewel, and as she tries to figure out what her true place is in the unjust world that she calls home.