The Lone City Trilogy by Amy Ewing
Published by HarperTeen
Goodreads Synopsis of The Jewel:
The Jewel means wealth. The Jewel means beauty. The Jewel means royalty. But for girls like Violet, the Jewel means servitude. Not just any kind of servitude. Violet, born and raised in the Marsh, has been trained as a surrogate for the royalty—because in the Jewel the only thing more important than opulence is offspring.
Purchased at the surrogacy auction by the Duchess of the Lake and greeted with a slap to the face, Violet (now known only as #197) quickly learns of the brutal truths that lie beneath the Jewel’s glittering facade: the cruelty, backstabbing, and hidden violence that have become the royal way of life.
Violet must accept the ugly realities of her existence… and try to stay alive. But then a forbidden romance erupts between Violet and a handsome gentleman hired as a companion to the Duchess’s petulant niece. Though his presence makes life in the Jewel a bit brighter, the consequences of their illicit relationship will cost them both more than they bargained for.
This review, like all my reviews, is spoiler-free.
Today, I’m reviewing The Lone City Trilogy, which is comprised of The Jewel, The White Rose, and The Black Key by Amy Ewing. In order to avoid spoilers, I’ve rolled my thoughts on the entire trilogy into one, bite-sized review, which is appropriate for the series because my thoughts on the quality of the writing and plot itself were largely consistent across the three books.
In The Jewel, protagonist and narrator Violet Lasting lives in the Lone City, which is divided into circles by the overbearing royalty who live at the heart of the island in an opulent quarter called, wait for it, The Jewel. Because of inbreeding, the royalty are not allowed to have children, but they ameliorate this problem by shipping in young girls from the Marsh (the poorest circle of the city) to bear their children. The girls chosen to be surrogates must possess the Auguries: the ability to change something’s shape, color, and size with their mind. As presumed, Violet is a surrogate who is purchased by a prestigious royal house and forced to bear their child.
Violet as a protagonist and narrator was quite lackluster and painfully similar to the whopping majority of female dystopian protagonists. She is tall, pale with black hair, and has violet eyes. She loves her family and feels the need to protect them because of the death of her father. She hates the society in which she was raised. She plays the cello, which amazes everyone who comes into contact with her. All these details would make for an interesting character if Violet had an idiosyncrasy that I hadn’t read before. Her character development only served as a device to heighten the stakes and push the plot along. Her personality and inner workings were never developed beyond what was necessary for the reader to comprehend the story. As a lover of character-driven stories, this was largely disappointing.
The same sentiment can be applied to all the characters. There was the best friend named Raven with caramel skin and black hair (is anyone else tired of seeing best friends named Raven?), the forbidden love interest with messy hair and a kind smile, the mean girl who doesn’t understand her privilege, the kind servant who befriends the protagonist, the cruel mistress and her absent, intoxicated husband. These characters possessed so much potential to be rich and intriguing, but they missed every opportunity to become more than just a plot device.
In the second and third book, name-dropping was a serious problem. Violet would mention other characters by name, give us a physical description of the person, and then move on with the plot. This quick introduction gave me the impression that these characters were disposable and unimportant, even though the plot later revealed that I was supposed to love them. How am I supposed to root for a character if there is no development beyond name and eye color? Because I was largely indifferent to most of the characters introduced, I didn’t care about them when the perilous climax came along. Ewing sabotaged a suspenseful conclusion by only leaving me a handful of characters who I knew and recognized.
In theory, the idea of The Lone City is a unique concept: an isolated island, people trapped in their respective circles by looming and impenetrable walls, with a small population of well-bred wealth lounging at the center and sucking in funds from the poorer circles. However, the setting also squandered its potential. There was no sense of continuity between the five circles as if they had five entirely different aesthetics that were entirely incompatible. While the Marsh was aptly named after its muddy streets and poor residents, the Farm was a sunny splash of rolling hills and greenery, which further contrasted with the coal dust and despair found in the Smoke. These different circles all share the same island, and I have a hard time believing that five entirely different environments would be found perfectly contained with no overlap. How did the smell of smoke not travel from the Smoke to the Bank? How are there only hills in the Farm? These basic worldbuilding questions were entirely overlooked and distracted me from enjoying the plot itself.
In spite of my aforementioned critique of The Lone City Trilogy, I did enjoy the books. Analysis through a literary lens perhaps isn’t most appropriate, for I think these books were meant to be consumed for entertainment, and entertainment they definitely deliver. When I let myself just enjoy the book without looking for inconsistencies, the entertainment factor sucked me right in. These books are designed to create an alternate world where we as readers can exist for a little while. The Lone City Trilogy is escapist fiction at its finest: a unique story that, once I turned off my literary analysis mode, was enjoyable to read.
Have you read The Lone City Trilogy? What are your favorite escapist fiction books?
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