The Jewel and Her Lapidary
By: Fran Wilde
Published: May 3, 2016 by Tor.com
Page Count: 96 pages; paperback
The Rundown: “Buried beneath the layers of a traveler’s guide is a hidden history: two kingdoms, powerful gems, and the even more powerful Lapidaries 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.”
Don’t Get Strung Out by the Way I Look: The cover shows two young women in medieval garb surrounded by a group of enemy soldiers. The foremost of the women wears metal bands around her arms and head, marking her status as a Lapidary. The cover functions well enough, accurately summarizing the conflict: the capture of the princess by enemy soldiers. However, it doesn’t do enough to distinguish it from the mass of other fantasy novels. A design featuring protagonist Lin’s sick chain mail might be more appropriate.
What a Wonderful World: The story centers on a kingdom which rules the Jeweled Valley, which is home to mines full of magical gems. These gems make the kingdom a target; fortunately, several large gems have been bound to render the valley impervious to attack. The jewels are bound by special people known as Lapidaries, who are born with an ability to control the jewels’ magic. In The Jewel and Her Lapidary, a traitorous Lapidary frees the jewels that protect the kingdom, resulting in a foreign invasion.
The Good Guy: There are two protagonists, the princess Lin and her handmaiden, a Lapidary named Sima. Lin has been raised since childhood to be married to a foreign prince. As a result, she was never trained in military strategy and diplomacy. When all of the other royals are murdered, she alone must figure out a way to protect the valley. Sima, though a skilled Lapidary, is untrained; after all, she is the servant of someone who exists to serve a marriage alliance. Does she have the skill to bind powerful jewels, now that her princess requires it of her?
The Bad Guy: Lin and Sima are shocked to find that the commander of the invading armies is a woman, whose name is Nal. Nal is cold-blooded, winning the Jeweled Valley through treachery rather than skill. She wants to marry her young son to Lin, thereby gaining control of the kingdom by the citizens’ love of the princess.
A+: The general premise of the story is sound. The protagonist is an unskilled princess suddenly thrust into a harsh reality, and she’s completely out of her depths. In particular, the imagery of the bridal veil that she has worn since she was a child being replaced b a veil of chain mail was evocative.
F-: Too much of the novelette was spent discussing the rules of gems and Lapidaries. This story is less than one hundred pages long, and at least the first third of it is spent setting up the rules of the world, which are needlessly complex. Look, most readers of fantasy—hell, anyone who’s played an RPG– will be familiar with the idea of magic gems. Quickly establish that your story features gems, only Lapidaries can understand them, and flesh out the characters and plot. Nobody wants to read a book where the first thirty-odd pages are just worldbuilding.
Does it Represent…
Women: The two protagonists and central antagonist are all women. I particularly liked that the story portrayed the negative consequences of raising someone with just the view to marry them off. Nobody thought Lin and Sima would take the role of defenders of the kingdom, so they didn’t bother to prepare them for it.
People of Color: I don’t think so?
LGBT People: Nope.
The Disabled: Well, unbound jewels can drive people insane. But if you’re looking for a realistic depiction of mental illness, you won’t find it here.
Recommended for: To be honest, if you want magic gems, just go watch Steven Universe.
My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars