The Jewel is the first in a new series by Amy Ewing, and it's a promising beginning. Set in a society where the royalty is a bunch of pampered elitists who cannot bear children of their own, Violet is a surrogate who is expected to give birth for the royal woman who purchases her at an Auction. Violet has no say in her fate; she was chosen after "passing" a blood test at age twelve, taken forcibly from her home and made to live in a holding facility for four years, and at age sixteen, she has been prepped for her role in life. Purchased by the cold Duchess of the Lake, Violet lives in dread of the time when she will be impregnated with the Duchess's baby and forced to carry her child. Even though she lives in luxury during her time with the Duchess, she is at the command and whim of her ladyship, knowing that once her mission is accomplished, she will be sterilized and sent to live in a holding community for the rest of her life, never to marry or see her family again. To say Violet is dissatisfied is an understatement.
Told through Violet's eyes, we see the humiliation she endures, and the desperation she feels at her fate. But more than this, there's a sense of loss--Violet is only sixteen, and her life will be over within the year when she successfully bears a child. Not only is the Duchess cruel, she's almost fanatic, and her reasons for choosing Violet are only for what Violet could bring to a potential child; the Duchess's first child, a nineteen-year-old son named Garnet, has been a tremendous letdown and she will not stand for that happening again. But there's so much more going on: Violet's best friend, also a surrogate, seems to be being grossly mistreated by her mistress, a murder takes place, and there's the presence of a male "companion" for the Duchess's niece, a young man named Ash whom Violet almost immediately falls for. But when a way out of her situation is offered, Violet has to decide if it's worth the risk and if she can give up her new romance.
Violet is immature in her actions at times, but very sincere in her beliefs. She is also loyal and assertive, to the point that she endures cruel punishments from a woman who seems a bit unbalanced in a society that devalues all life except their own. I never really bought into the "romance" between Violet and Ash because it seems pretty superficial and I sense there's something else going on with Ash (who seems to have no problem with Violet risking everything to be with him and expects her to understand his "work"). There's a physical aspect there that normally wouldn't bug me (and does add an additional twist to the story) but it just sort of reinforced my opinion that Violet is immature in her decisions. That same reinforcement exists in her relationship with Lucien, a lady-in-waiting who has chosen to help Violet out of her situation, but really strikes me as more of a bad guy in the long run (and I may end up being mistaken!). But if I keep in mind that yes, Violet has been sheltered and is now in an untenable place with a guy who is showing her attention for herself, I can understand the directions the author is taking and run with it. Less clear to me is the existence of the Augeries, a sort of forced selection ability the surrogates are trained to use which causes them pain and bleeding. We'll see where that plot point takes us.
I really enjoyed this story and the author's writing style pulled me in quickly. In fact, I fell victim to the "one more page" syndrome and ended up staying up much later than I'd planned just to see what was going to happen. When that occurs, I know I've got a winner on my hands. I am already anticipating the next entry in the series!