Published by Tor.com on May 3rd 2016
This book is marketed as “an epic fantasy, in miniature” and I agree with that statement – to a certain extent. A great deal of time and effort goes in to the magic and world-building, and it pays off, but to my disappointment, outside of the magic gems, there was not much else.
Jewel Lin is daughter to the King of the Jewel Valley. Lin’s Lapidary is Sima, and her father is the King’s Lapidary. Lapidaries have the power to talk to gems and they serve the Jewels. In order to become a Lapidary, you must first have the ability to hear gems talking, and then, you must take your vows; two of which are: a lapidary obeys their Jewel, and a lapidary must protect their Jewel. Those are two of the vows that Sima’s father broke, who went gem-mad, and turned over the Valley Kingdom to the Mountain Kingdom, destroying most of the Jewel’s gems and murdering all of the Jewels – except for Lin.
It is just Lin and Sima alive now in the Court, and the general of the Mountain army is coming through the gates to try to claim her new kingdom and gems.
Two of the things that, I believe, make an epic fantasy are magic systems and world-building. These areas are, unquestionable, where the novella shines. Wilde spends a great deal of time explaining and going into depth for each of these throughout the story.
There are different types of gems (topaz, sapphires, etc.) in the valley, and certain people have the ability to hear these gems talking. These are the people who can later become a Lapidary. When gems talk, they can say positive things, such as: confidence, strong, calm, relax; or negative things, such as: weak, traitor, fear, failure. Unless a person who can hear these gems talking learn to control them with training, they will become gem-mad, and the gems will take control. However, in their training, a Lapidary learns to talk to the gems, and can shut out their voices, and tell them what to do. Jewels wear intricate chains and dress wear that have locations for different gems to be inserted, that a Lapidary has talked to and told it what to say. For example: if a Jewel is tired, the Lapidary will tell a gem sleep; or if a Jewel is a heated argument or stressful situation, the Lapidary will a gem relax.
We learn how these gems work, the relationship and history between Jewel and Lapidary, and the history and workings of the Jewel Valley as the story along. And while the gem magic-system was tab bit confusing at first, once I realized what was going on, it was very easy to grasp, and Wilde releases all this information at an excellent pace and amount. Sadly, outside of gems and world…
Other things that come to mind when I think of epic fantasy are a massive world, complex plot, and large cast of characters. These are three things that The Jewel and Her Lapidary did not excel at.
From what happens in the story, and what we learn, it is very clear that is a massive world that this story takes place in. But, the location of the ENTIRE STORY takes place in TWO ROOMS! That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when you are told how much out-there there is to explore, you want to explore it! And when the author is spending a such great deal of time explaining how gems work, and in the thoughts of our character, when you are stuck in the same two rooms, with a slow-moving plot (and only a 96 page story) – suddenly, everything starts to feel very small and short.
The story alternated between Lin’s and Sima’s 3rd person POV, and when we aren’t learning about gems, we are hearing their thoughts and emotions. Personally, I thought there was too much character reflections going on. I am big on character developed, but this felt repetitive, and out of balance with other aspects of the story – like pacing. At times I was a little frustrated that it was more of what they thought, rather than advancing the plot. However, I will say it did, to my surprise, pay off. When I got to a point where I was telling myself I was not that interested in how a certain character was feeling, that I just wanted to see what happens – when we got to the point where we saw what happens, and I read how that character was felling… well, I got hit with an emotional punch.
As I stated earlier, the plot was nothing special to me. It is good! Don’t get me wrong. But there were no major surprises, no twists and turns; it was very slow; it takes place in two rooms; and in the entire span of the story, the actual plot is rather short. The novella is already only 96 pages, and without the in-depth magic (good) and redundant character thoughts (bad), this would have been a short-story.
Is this an epic fantasy in miniature? I’d say that the magic-system is (I actually, would have loved to learn more about the gems and how else they could be used), and for how short the novella is, defiantly the world-building too. Outside of that though, nothing in the story spoke “epic fantasy” to me. Compared to the quality of the gems, everything else felt out-of-balance to me. And for what the plot has to offer, it felt stretched out.
I think this felt more like a short story of an already established world, that an author would write between novels. Where we know the major characters, and have seen other areas of the world, so we can focus on only one to two characters and a single location.
This story is a quick read, and I’d read it just to learn how the gems work. But if you are looking for a true epic fantasy in miniature, check out Sunset Mantle by Alter S. Reiss.