Lin wakes up in a pile of freshly murdered bodies, with a madman screeching overhead and an army on the way and magic all around and gems—which are different from Jewels—and magic threatening everyone sanity and oh my!
There’s nothing wrong with dumping someone in the middle of a narrative, but it takes a judicious hand to fling someone into a fantasy world that doesn’t even operate by normal fantasy rules. Wilde’s hand falters at first, holding back too much context in favor of advancing the urgency and plot. I don’t have enough context for the simple things–what does the world look like? How do the gems and Jewels and Lapidaries interact? What exactly is this veil Lin puts on and what does it look like?–to fully immerse myself in the story. It’s not until a bit later that all the pieces come together and I get a a clear picture of the what and how. After that turning point, though, it’s strong to the finish, especially as it concerns the main characters.
Lin and Sima, the titular Jewel and her Lapidary, have a touching and tense relationship both as individuals and as members of their respective classes. This is an interesting dynamic not often explored, that of the lady and her handmaiden. It’s a fruitful one, too, one marked by inequality as well as mutual privilege, and by an intimacy rooted in but also transcending the political. There is further balance/imbalance between Lin and Sima because while Lin is the Jewel, a princess of the ruling royal family, Sima is actually the one who can hear and command the magical gems. Sima is bound to Lin by magically-enforced oaths of loyalty, as well as love and friendship.
This goes against every fantasy convention there is, to have the most powerful not also be the rulers. It’s a fascinating concept, and I wish the novella had spent more time on it. Still, the gist is clear: (nearly) absolute power corrupts absolutely, especially in the case of Sima’s father, who goes literally mad with it.
We also know from the outset, by way of the “guidebook” entries that pepper the narrative, that there are no more Jewels and no more gems. This, too, is unusual, since most fantasy is concerned with unearthing long-lost gems (both literally and figuratively—David Eddings, anyone?) and using them, not finding a way to keep them from being used. But Lin and Sima have to try, since to do otherwise is to risk the enslavement of their people. How they succeed—and fail—is the meat of the story. That’s something I always appreciate, since to me the most important thing is not the ending, but how you get there.
This is a worthy addition to what I can only hope will be Wilde’s growing body of work, and if you liked Updraft you’re sure to like this as well. (And at $3, how can you go wrong?) Wilde seems to be an author who brooks no cliches, taking even the simplest ideas in new and exciting directions. She stumbles here with initially providing details, but corrects herself in time to make a compelling and unusual story.
The Jewel and Her Lapidary comes out tomorrow, May 3rd.