The Heir

I think we are all a little tired of authors and filmmakers who take one good idea and stretch it out across too many books or films, am I right?  I mean look at The Hobbit!  One good book was stretched into three poor movies due to greed.  In order to stretch this single story across three, new plot-lines and characters were added that weren’t even in the original Tolkien story.  Frankly it made me both sad and angry.  Even books that aren’t made into movies seem to be following this trend of going on too long.  In TV shows the expression for that is ‘jumping the shark’ based on the show Happy Days which kept running long after Richie and Fonzie were growing old and most plot-lines had been explored, so they came up with the ridiculous episode where Fonzie jumps over a shark while water skiing, hence ‘jumping the shark.’  Ugh.

So how does this relate to my current book review for The Heir by Kiera Cass?   Well, when I saw that the author had written a continuation of her Selection series which already was three books long, I felt that this was another example of trying to capitalize on the popularity of the first three books by created another related series in order to maximize profit and fame.  Well I was pleasantly surprised that this first book of the new series was better than I expected.  I should have known better as I had also doubted the first series, thinking from the description that it would be like the book version of The Bachelor.

The Heir takes place twenty years after the events of the first series.  American Singer married Prince Maxon and the central character of this book is their daughter Eadlyn.  Eadlyn is actually a twin, but because she was born a few minutes ahead of her brother, she will be the next ruler of Illia even though she often wishes otherwise.  It is understandable that such a responsibility would weigh heavily on anyone, but to add to the pressure, she will also be the first female ruler.  Perhaps that’s why she is very guarded and fiercely independent.

However, her parents decision in the first series to remove the Castes, a system whereby people’s ability to work in certain jobs, live in certain neighborhoods and who one could date or marry hasn’t turned out exactly as expected.   it was this Caste system that to me made the first series dystopian fiction, this one is less so, but since I already reviewed the first series, I am including this on the blog too.  There are pockets of uprisings throughout the nation, so the Queen and King decide that in order to provide a distraction to give people something positive to focus on, they will have a Selection, such as the competition that brought them together in the first place.

It is strange in The Heir that Eadlyn knows almost nothing about her parents’ Selection as it had such repercussions for the country.  Even if her parents never shared the story, as those of us who read the first series know, the whole things was written about in newspapers and magazines, documented by photographers and filmed for TV weekly during the competition, so how could she be so unaware of the details?  This is a Princess who studies her country’s history and protocols and she never came across any of these details?     A note to anyone yet to read this book, I would suggest rereading or skimming the first books before starting this series as other characters from the original series are in this one, but so much time had passed since I read it, I couldn’t remember which of the women had been good or bad in the original Selection to match them up with their lives in this new series.  Even America herself who was such a vivid character in the first series is never even referred to by that name, she is simply the Queen or Mom to Eadlyn, which is a bit of a shame that she is relegated to taking such a back seat to her daughter in this one.

I do find it strange in both series that this competition that appears in both series, The Selection, seems to old-fashioned, yet the story takes place post modern times since they have all the same technology…yet some of the activities during the Selection are balls, taking tea, strolling the gardens, horseback riding, etc. which seem like something out of the 1800’s, yet the Princess wears some modern clothing, likes pop music, etc. so it’s a bit jarring sometimes.

What was unexpected to me was how Kiera Cass conveys in a very real way what it must be like to be royalty who must struggle between being in the public eye and guiding their people, and trying to have private thoughts and feelings while during their duty.  Maybe that’s why so many of us even in modern times as so fascinated by royals such as Kate and William, while seemingly a modern couple they are also an anachronism.  Also, how in this electronic age do they maintain a private life?  And what is it like to be born into royalty knowing that your birth dictates a very narrow path for your life?    Eadlyn’s struggle with all of this feels pretty real and that’s what took this book out of The Bachelorette  territory and into something more interesting.






The Jewel

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.

The Selection

The Selection by Kiera Cass has a premise that’s part, The Bachelor, part Wool, and part Sever and part Cinderella. America Singer is a Level 5 and while she loves her artist family, they struggle to support themselves. Her life would be much easier if she was a Level 2 or 3, as they have wealth and status. Still, she can’t complain as her boyfriend, Aspen, is a Level 6 which means the servant class. Aspen gives up his own food to make sure his sisters and mothers have something to eat. America doesn’t much care that he is a lower caste than her, even though her life would be even harder, but her mother would. America’s mom has ambitions for her beautiful and musically talented daughter, so America has kept her relationship hidden for two years.

Then a letter arrives about the Selection that changes everything. The U.S. is now the nation of Illyea. When the country was not able to pay its debt to China, it went to war first with China and then later Russia, until a man named Gregory Illyea was able to pull the nation back together and thus the country was renamed for him. The nation is ruled by the royal family, his descendants, and Prince Maxon must find a bride. The Selection is a matchmaking process where a lottery is first held to pick girls from each province, despite their caste anyone could be the next Princess. America has no intention of filling out the forms despite the pressure from her mother, until Aspen tells her she deserves a better life than what she will have with him and wants her to enter so he will never need to have doubts about whether he held her back. America’s mom bribes her by saying she can keep half of all the money they make performing music, which America sees as a way to start saving to marry Aspen.

Before the lottery Aspen breaks up with America as he says he can’t bear to see her hungry to going without, then America is selected in the lottery. All of the girls selected receive payments to their families and between the extra money and wanting to get away from her broken heart, America decides she will try to play the game to stay away from home as long as she can. Life in the palace isn’t easy though, the competition among the girls can be brutal, and the royal family is vulnerable to terrorist attacks on the palace, but the biggest danger is the Prince himself as slowly America forms a bond with him. She tells him about the love she left at home and admits she is only there for the food and the money, but makes a pact to be his friend and help him with the Selection by coaching him about the other girls, etc.

It seemed like a good plan until the friendship veers into something else, just at the same time that Aspen shows up at the Palace in his new job as a guard.

I actually don’t want The Bachelor, so I was surprised that I liked this book. I found the caste system to be interesting and a bit reminiscent of the Levels in Wool. The contest aspect of the Selection, complete with the televised interviews even has shades of The Hunger Games. However, the book most reminded me of the Chemical Garden series in the way that the main character begins to feel something toward the man who keeps her in a gilded cage.