Review: The Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran Wilde

Posted by DarkChaplain at 8/29/2016
Buried beneath the layers of a traveler's guide is a hidden history: two kingdoms, powerful gems, and the even more powerful Lapidarys who bind them. Lin and Sima, caught in a web of intrigue and deceit, must find a way to escape the traps set by the past and save their kingdom.
An epic fantasy, in miniature.
The tagline "An epic fantasy, in miniature" is true in a way, but also worked to the story's detriment in my opinion. I had to go over it twice, and both times similar things annoyed me about it. Here's my review.

The Story:
"Buried beneath the layers of a traveler's guide is a hidden history: two kingdoms, powerful gems, and the even more powerful Lapidarys who bind them. Lin and Sima, caught in a web of intrigue and deceit, must find a way to escape the traps set by the past and save their kingdom.
An epic fantasy, in miniature."


The Review:
The Jewel and Her Lapidary is a very brief story. Now, I don't have anything against that in principle, but in this case I don't think that the author handled the limitations of the format well. Ms. Wilde certainly has some great ideas that I'd like to see explored, or would've liked to see explored here, but they fell noticeably short as a result of the story's short length and odd priorities.

In a nutshell, the plot is about the noble "Jewel" Lin and her "Lapidary" servant Sima, who are captured while the King's Lapidary is overthrowing his master to hand the magic jewels of the kingdom to an invading force. With Lin and Sima being the daughters of both king and betrayer respectively, there is quite a bit of emotional dilemma right off the bat. Throughout the story we are told of the strong bond between Jewels and their Lapidaries, and Sima struggles all throughout with maintaining her oaths to Lin without betraying or forsaking her - which leads to quite a conundrum when Lin orders her to leave her behind and wrapped in magically-weird chain garment that'd somehow prevent Lin from being married off to the invading general's son.

That part I found intriguing and enjoyable as a concept. But then we also have the magic gems which apparently speak to Lapidaries, and without training this drives those skilled individuals mad - which, despite experience and training, apparently happened to Sima's father. Sadly, this isn't explored nearly as well as it needed to be. The powers of the Star Cabochon, Opaque Sapphire and the other, less powerful jewels in Sima's care, weren't well developed. A lot more could have been done with them - but then I also accept that the story was more about the mistress/servant/friend/sister relationship between Lin and Sima than the actual magic of the setting. It served the plot in places but took the backseat to the characters' distress.

I wouldn't have had too much of a problem with that if, throughout the story, snippets from a tourguide book (written far in the future) didn't hint at a much wider, more interesting setting than the book focused on. Almost the entire story takes place in the King Jewel's palace, or in captivity (with three different instances of being caught, no less). There were so many hints at a greater whole of which we only see a tiny fraction that I got frustrated.

On top of that, I struggled with the repetitive nature of various phrases and terminology. Calling the royalty Jewels and their bonded servants with mystical powers Lapidaries is a cool idea, but when you get actual magic jewels, gems and lapidaries, things get quickly out of hand. Having Sima constantly think "A lapidary must/musn't do X or Y", over and over and over, made me sick of reading the same words over and over and I have to wonder just how much of the word count was taken up by the same concepts. Sure, it hammers the inner turmoil of the servant home, but at some point the reader understands that and wants it to be expressed differently.

Then there was a glimmer of romance between Lin and Sima, which was dropped almost as soon as it arose. While I can easily put it down to the stress of the overall situation, being in captivity together and not having anybody else to rely on or support, it felt like a missed opportunity. The moment could have broken the master/servant relationship, for example, or shaken up the ending in some fashion.

The ending twist at least I thought to be quite imaginative if cruel and grim. It was exciting, if very abrupt in terms of pacing. Something was missing there, but thinking about it, it brings Sima's dilemma to a satisfying conclusion. However, there were a bunch of things that were left open, or abandoned, that left me wondering. It did not feel like a complete story in a sense; it deserved more room to maneuver and develop its unique ideas. Epic fantasy in miniature indeed, and that makes me a little sad.

The Jewel and Her Lapidary on Goodreads

About the Author

I'm known as DarkChaplain across the internet, and call myself a passionate gamer and book enthusiast. I have been blogging mostly about games for a couple of years, but finally found my way to reviewing a different medium: Books. Honestly, I prefer that job so far.
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain


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