I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with these books. Well, maybe not hate… that’s a strong word. Let’s just say that there are things I disliked.
Here’s what I liked.
Elements of this series reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but on a smaller scale to make it more acceptable for a YA novel. The concept of using young girls as surrogettes for royal babies is quite compelling. Ewing took the idea of a dystopian society to a whole other level by putting the girls in mortal danger, both by competing royals who will kill any surrogate who gets in the way of producing the next heir to the throne, and by revealing the inevitable fact that surrogates die after giving birth. This gave our heroine something to fight for, which gives me reason to like her…
But not as much as Ewing probably hoped her readers would.
Here’s the first problem I have with this series…
Other than her drive to fight the system that the Royals have created, their is no reason for me to like Ewing’s heroine, Violet. I’m sure other readers like her, but I can’t seem to. Maybe by the third book? Here’s hoping…
But for now, I just find her annoying. I’m constantly reminded that she is a sixteen year old because she chooses to act as such on a regular basis. I get that she has been secluded for most her life, but she doesn’t need to throw herself at the first boy who is nice to her, who is also only the second boy she meets (after Garnet, and Lucien doesn’t count… He’s like a father). It’s a lot like Octavia in The 100, where as soon as you set Violet free her hormones just seem to go crazy. She’s also a bit too whiny and clingy for my liking. She’s also a bit prejudice… and I know what your going to say! I love Austen’s Pride and Prejudice so shouldn’t I like a character that’s similar to Elizabeth in her prejudice against the rich? No. Not this time. Violet is quick to judge Garnet, who actually becomes one of the most interesting characters and a total sweetheart. She is also constantly putting down Carnelian, despite the fact that Ash defends the poor girl. Right from the start you can tell that Carnelian just wants someone to like her, but Violet goes out of her way to constantly put her down just because she’s royal. It just annoys me how Violet seems to think her word and opinion is fact, when she is just as naive as he rest. I like how Ash points out that even some of the Royals suffer from the system; that Violet can’t choose who to save based on her prejudice logic.
But enough on Violet. There are other characters that I enjoy far more that make up for her.
Even though he is barely in the first novel, Ewing sets him up to be an interesting ally in the second novel. I will say that there still isn’t enough of him in the second novel, but at least he makes an exciting addition. While Ash, Raven and Violet are on the run, I was always happy whenever he popped up for a page or two to help them. His loyalty is endearing, especially since it’s like we’re watching Garnet make real friends for the first time. I love the fact that he shattered Violet’s prejudice, and also the potential cuteness between him and Raven. And yet, he’s still playing his part by marrying a member of the jewel despite his dislike for the plan… I hate that he still needs to prove his worth to the others by accepting marriage, but it makes for a great character arc!
I also really like Ash, but only in the second book. The first novel made him seem as needy as Violet. Every other word that came out of his mouth had to so with his need to be understood and accepted, but he never really elaborated! We only knew the basics: he’s a companion, he wants someone to like him for who he is and not because he’s being paid to seduce them, Violet ‘gets him’. Blah blah blah.
The second book gave us so much more back story! Everything that happened with his family, at the companion training grounds, how the people of the jewel treated him once they owned him… it was all just so heartbreaking, and it explained why he was so attached to Violet.
To segue from that, back to the concept of a dystopian society, I have to say that I really enjoyed the fact that the surrogates weren’t the only people being sold, tortured, sexual abused, and prone to death. Knowing that the companions were forced into sex with their mentor at the training facility and by the ladies of the households that buy them is truly disturbing. And then Ewing tops it off by telling us that girls were kidnapped and brought to the companion training grounds for practice?!
And then you have maids being tortured and killed by the Royals without so much as second thought or inkling of remorse. I like the fact that Ewing is not afraid to kill any character she chooses.
And then you have those being treated like slaves in the outer, lower circles (the marsh, the smoke and the farm). They do everyhing to provide for the people of the Jewel and the bank, and yet they get little in return.
Ewing really did a number on this novel! This is certainly a dystopian society that should scare the shit out of people. There’s no winning; your life is hell no matter what! I can’t decide who has it worse… it’s all just so horrible! The disturbing layers Ewing explores of this futuristic society really makes you question the way we live now and how that might evolve.
Now here is my biggest pet peeve with this series…
I don’t like the concept of the Auguries. I don’t like the magical element of this story, even less so when we discover the the history of the island and the ancestry of the surrogates.
I know what you’re thinking…
I’d you read my review of Victoria Aveyard’s novels, you know how much I liked the use of powers in that series. Shouldn’t I be okay with it in this series?
Sorry, but I’m not. I really think this storyline is stronger without it; it’s already crazy enough with all the layers of the dystopian society, as well as their plans to overthrow the Jewel with the Black Key. Adding magical powers to the mix just made me roll my eyes. I wanted this to be a more relatable story so people can see this as a disturbing possibility for our future. But as soon as you add magical powers, the story loses its hold over me. Why can’t it just be a simple gene mutation that made it impossible for jewel woman to have babies? Blame it on their surrounding environment for all I care. Just use a scientific excuse. Why do the surrogates need magic to bake the babies faster!? Aren’t miscarriages and the murder of the competition enough to keep you reading, AND more believable? And then there’s the experiments that make Raven able to read people and sort of see the future? I’m mean, really?! Couldn’t we just keep it to regular old torture that seriously messed her up psychologically? And why is it just the surrogates who have powers?! What about the men who originally inhabited this island? Why didn’t they have powers that they passed on to their male ancestors? And why use auguries anyways when the rest of the members of the lowers circles seem to get along fine as normal humans? The companions, farmers, servants, ladies in waiting, and the rest of the men and women from the lowers circles seem to be able to fight in the revolution well enough without powers. Stick to brute force if you want to make a real impact!
And now the surrogates can control the elements?! I agree with the gentleman at the secret meeting who called Violet a witch; now they’re a bunch of Wiccans? GAHHHH ENOUGH ALREADY! Just start a revolution with swords and guns! I can’t handle your waves, flames, twisters and vines!
So now you see why I have a love/hate (dislike) for this series. There’s characters I love that develop and grow, and then there are characters (well, character) that never change and remind me too much of bratty teens who have no business leading a revolution (with all the responsibility that is being put on her shoulders, you’d think she’d at least try to grow up a bit). And then there are general story elements I enjoy and others that I could do without. A dystopian society gets a huge thumbs up, but unnecessary magic is a buzz kill.
Nevertheless, I’ll be reading the third book when it comes out. The Jewel and The White Rose were good enough to get me hooked to this series. The good seems to out way the bad; despite the things that annoy me, I still want to find out how this revolution ends. I hope my negative rants haven’t discouraged you Book Babies from giving Ewing a chance. They’re entertaining enough, and they have elements of originality that will make you smile. Overall, they fit the bill for a good YA series.
So enjoy, Book Babies! Try not to be as critical as I was!