I thought the novel The Jewel by Amy Ewing was going to be very similar to The Selection by Kiera Cass, but I was wrong. I actually liked The Selection in a kind of guilty pleasure way which surprised me because I have never watched a single episode of The Bachelor and the plot seemed fairly similar to what I have heard about that TV show. In each, two attractive girls are swept away from poverty and their family. In the case of The Selection, the main character has to compete for a prince’s hand and therefore get a makeover, training in manners, public speaking, etc. while navigating contestants who may be their enemies. In The Jewel, Violet is sent to a boarding school and trained for her role as a surrogate to a wealthy family. On her graduation, she is given a makeover and thrown into the Auction where wealthy women will bid for her.
Obviously, The Jewel is a much darker story than The Selection where most girls want the opportunity, and even the reluctant ones will do it to help their family, and no one is really forced to stay in the competition. While Violet will live in luxury, she would trade it all to go home to her family, even if that means a hard life of work, but she doesn’t have a choice, to run is to be executed, to stay is to give up her freedom and her body to the woman who bought and controls here, the Dutchess. Therefore, this book suddenly reminded me much more of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Just like in that story, there is an infertility problem, in the case of The Handmaid’s Tale it’s the women religious zealots that have trouble conceiving and therefore force women to become Handmaiden’s impregnated by their husbands who have become the leaders of the U.S. government. In The Jewel it’s the royal women who can’t bear their own children, but at least the surrogates aren’t impregnated by the royal husbands but through the in vitro process. That’s not the only similarity; each woman is marginalized in their dystopian society by being stripped of their identity. In The Handmaid’s Tale, the main character is called Offred, literally meaning “Of Fred” the man she is forced to become a concubine for by the new Christian regime. When Violet graduates from her training, she is called only 197, which is the number ranking she receives at the auction. Even the relationship between Violet and her best friend Raven, also a surrogate reminded me of the relationship between Offred and Moira both are rebels against the system, but it is the friend who experiences the violence and horror more than the protagonist.
There is even a dash of The Hunger Games in The Jewel. The dash comes in the form of Lucien who was the servant who prepped Violet for the auction selecting her dress and styling her hair and makeup. Lucien reminds me of Cinna of The Hunger Games in the way he forms an instant bond with the person he assigned to work with, and each in their own way help both their charge, and help incite a rebellion. Moreover, each of them are strong characters, despite the fact that they are not one of the main characters, their charisma and mystery makes you wish Suzanne Collins had provided more a backstory for Cinna, whereas we get to learn a lot more about Lucien’s life and his motivations.
Yes, there is a silly love story in The Jewel, but even that has a dark twist with the man in Violet’s life also as much of a prisoner as Violet is, despite the fact he seems to be able to interact more freely. Getting back to the comparison with The Selection, not only is The Jewel a darker story, but it is a lot more sexual as well.