Fran Wilde’s The Jewel and Her Lapidary opens in the wake of pure chaos. The king is dead, and his greatest lapidary, a sort of sorcerer who can control the kingdom’s great magic gems, has betrayed everyone he knows and loves. The Western Mountain forces, led by their ferocious Commander, Nal, are arriving en masse, an invasion so large that the remaining people of the Jewel Valley have no choice but to surrender. The Star Cabochon, the last gem remaining to the Jewel Kingdom, and the only thing with the power to save (or doom) the people of the valley, is missing. Lin, heir to the throne, and Sima, her lapidary, are imprisoned, threatened by death, or worse, if they do not turn the Star Cabochon over to Nal.
If that sounds like a lot to take in all at once: it is. There’s a tremendous sense of tension and frenetic anxiety as the Jewel Valley is invaded and Lin and Sima recognize the betrayal that has occurred—but rather than being pulled into the story, I felt pulled under, drowning in details and struggling to keep up with the various politics, social complexities, and personal conflicts. A story must start with conflict, always, but conflict also requires empathy from the reader if they’re to invest in the story. Because Wilde throws us right in the deep end without water wings, I found myself focusing more on my inability to stay afloat—to understand the political and magical implications of the Western Mountains’ invasion of the Jewel Valley—than the personal journeys of Lin and Sima.