Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Jewel and Her Lapidary, by Fran Wilde

★★★★☆ Recommended

(High Fantasy; The Jewel Series) Two teenage girls, Lin, the last Jewel, and Sima, the last Lapidary, struggle to fight the invaders who've taken the kingdom by treachery. (16,850 words; Time: 56m)

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Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2016.578 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: Both girls honor their vows in the end. Sima destroys the invaders, as her master wishes. Lin leads the people to freedom, as her father would have wanted. Both have to struggle to figure out what to do. Sima struggles because her power is weak and she cannot make the Star Cabochon obey her. Lin struggles because no one ever taught her diplomacy nor how to rule. It's Lin who figures out that they need to destroy the ruby and then destroy the mines. Sima figures out how she, and she alone, can set Lin free and then use what power she does have to destroy the powerful gem--and the whole palace with it. At terrible cost, they win their victory.

The framing story works quite well, giving us just enough information to put the story in context. And we realize at the end that some people in the valley probably are descended from Lin.

Con: For whatever reason, there's no big emotional release. I didn't feel much sadness or horror at the death's of Lin's family, nor when Sima died.

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10 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I enjoyed this - it was the kind of story that suggests a much richer background.

  2. Yes, a lot of the novellas seem to be set in large, rich universes just begging for novels to take advantage of them.

  3. I rate it ★★, two less than RSR. I found the gem-based magic confusing and the Lapidary's devotion to her Jewel disturbing, both of which kept me from enjoying the story.

    Magical gem whisperers is a cool idea, but I couldn't quite figure out if the Jewel needed the Lapidary to help wield the magic after the gem was set, so I didn't understand why it was necessary for Lin and Sima to switch places in order to destroy the Ruby Cabochon at the end.

    My sympathy for Lin's predicament eroded each time her Lapidary reminded herself of her vows to serve and protect her Jewel (and this happened more and more as the situation got worse and worse). It seems like Sima did not choose -- but was born -- to be a Lapidary, so her vows made her look like a victim of brainwashing. I don't recall Lin reminding herself of any vows to serve and protect her Lapidary. This extremely one-sided relationship made Sima's sacrifice look more like the result of cult worship rather than a strong friendship.

  4. I agree with the 4 star rating. It is a good story.
    The beautiful cover for this story was done by Tommy Arnold, and captures the story very well.

    There is a lack of emotional resonance in this story for some reason.

    I agree with Eric in that "I couldn't quite figure out if the Jewel needed the Lapidary to help wield the magic after the gem was set". That bit was not clear.

  5. I liked this more than Eric, but less than the rest here it seems. It's almost all world-building and little actual story. Yet I still don't really get the gem magic or the politics. I agree that it didn't quite touch me emotionally in the way that it seems like it should. I think Eric has hit on the reason for it. Because Sima is magically bound to Lin, it made me uncomfortable wondering just how much was true devotion as opposed to compulsion.

    Fran Wilde's website mentions another story set in this gem magic world: The Topaz Marquise at Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

    1. Well, how much story did you want? We've got two people who have to hide, who have to figure out how to prevent the bad guys from using the magical weapons--weapons they themselves can't control, and who then have to escape. I think that's plenty for something that's just a novelette.

      I agree that the worldbuilding seems suited to a novel, not a novelette, and the story does seem small next to that.

      And, yeah, sacrificing your friend who's compelled to obey you isn't terribly noble, even if it was the best thing to do.

    2. Yes, that's what I was getting at... the world-building kind of overwhelms the story. It mostly takes place in one room while you get a sense that well-developed history, politics, geography, and an elaborate magic system are all lurking behind the scenes. I felt like I wanted to know more about the world then what was going to happen to these particular characters.

    3. I see that a lot, especially in short stories. I often give a story just three stars with a comment that it seems like the beginning of a much longer work. In this case, though, the story is non-trivial. I wonder if the author originally planned on a novel, but ended up with something much shorter.

    4. Yes, the story's complete -- unlike some short fiction which really seems like an excerpt. I can't remember another story where I wasn't particularly moved, yet would love to see a longer work in the setting.

  6. With its teenage heroes, cartoonish villain, and frenetic pace, this story reads more like YA than adult science-fiction. On the plus side, there's a lot of action and excitement. On the downside, the prose is choppy and occasionally awkward.