I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Jewel and her Lapidary by Fran Wilde
Published by Tor.com on May 3 2016
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The nitty-gritty: An original world-building idea that just didn’t get off the ground for me. Perhaps a novel might work better?
I was excited to check out a shorter piece of fiction by Fran Wilde, whose Updraft I really enjoyed, and so when Tor.com announced The Jewel and her Lapidary, I jumped at the chance to read it. Wilde proved in Updraft that she knows how to come up with unique and imaginative world building ideas, and this novella is a great example of her creative mind. But as cool as the world-building was, Wilde’s idea is a big one, a world where magical gems dictate the safety and well-being of the people who use them, and unfortunately, this big idea felt stretched thin in a less-than-100-pages novella. I wanted to understand the intricate machinations of the gems, but there just wasn’t enough page-time to fully grasp Wilde’s concepts.
Jewel Lin lives in the Jeweled Valley with her lapidary Sima. Lapidaries are people who are able to hear and speak to the gems that the society uses in their daily lives, and their main job is to protect the Jewels (royalty). Sima was assigned to Lin when she was only a baby, and so the two girls have grown up together and have become very close. When the story begins, Lin and Sima wake up in an underground pit, after having been drugged by Sima’s father, the King’s Lapidary. All the girls know is that they can hear screams and crying coming from above. Clearly, something has gone horribly wrong. Before long, they discover that the King’s Lapidary has broken his vows and has killed all the Jewels in the kingdom. Their peaceful valley is in chaos, and an enemy from the Western Mountains has invaded and is eager to take possession and control of the valley’s precious gems, as well as Lin, who is the last remaining Jewel.
But Lin is not the type to give in so easily. The canny girls devise a plan to thwart the evil invader Nal, hoping to restore peace to the people of the Jeweled Valley.
I loved the story of a close friendship between two young girls. While Sima is more or less in a subservient position, Lin treats her with respect. After all, Sima’s abilities with gems are extremely valuable, and the kingdom would not be able to function without the talents of the lapidaries. Sima is devoted to Lin, especially since lapidaries are required to take vows to protect their Jewels. Sima literally wears her vows on her body in the form of metal bracelets and other types of body ornament. Gems are incorporated into these pieces and aid in helping Sima keep those vows. Each gem has different functions. Some are calming gems, others can evoke more negative emotions, but it’s up to the lapidaries to control them. In one scene Sima must break her vows in order to save Lin, and she does that in a literal way by removing her bracelets.
Wilde’s story has some emotional moments that I loved, particularly between the two girls as they come to realize that their lives are in grave danger. But unfortunately, that emotional content wasn’t enough to carry the story, which for me just wasn’t engaging enough. The novella is only 96 pages, but it took me longer to read this than other full length novels, for some reason. Nothing much really happens in The Jewel and her Lapidary, so inventive world-building aside, I found myself struggling to immerse myself in the story. I don’t necessarily need lots of action in my fantasies, but I grew tired of girls’ internal dialog, especially when it came to Sima, who is constantly reminding herself of her vows, even as she breaks them. Sima repeats those vows over and over throughout the story—A lapidary must protect her jewel and A lapidary must obey her jewel—and after a while it became tiresome.
The way the gems are used in this society was so confusing to me, and even after taking careful notes while I was reading I still can’t explain in this review just how things work. I was fascinated by Lin’s veil, which prevents her from getting married against her will. It was an idea I loved, but I had the hardest time imagining what the veil looked like. It’s described as being made of metal and completely covering Lin’s face, and for some reason I just couldn’t picture it. The cover art doesn’t help at all, since she’s not wearing it.
The entire story is framed as if the events happened long ago, as each chapter begins with a blurb from a travel guide, encouraging travelers to visit the famous sites in the Jeweled Valley. It was a cool idea, but it didn’t quite come together for me. Again, I’m going to have to blame the length of the story. Wilde’s ideas need more space and time, and I wanted a longer tale that could fully explain why this world was important enough to warrant tourists coming to visit.
I did read that the author is working on more stories set in this world, which is awesome because it is fascinating. But as I’m reviewing just this novella, I have to say that it left me wanting more. Hopefully future stories will delve deeper into the way the gems work, and despite my less than positive review, I am curious to read more.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.