The number of little books that I've knocked out lately without writing them up has me feeling kind of chagrined--especially since I'm not deleting them from my Kindle until I blog them. Now, of the 250 books on my Kindle, only about 3 are finished, but still; I have housekeeping to do. So let's send out a few little reports, shall we?
The Jewel and Her Lapidary, by Fran Wilder. The title doesn't give you a lot of info to work with, but the cover is much more on point. Lin is a Jewel, a princess in a kingdom that is protected by magic gemstones. Her faithful servant Sima is a lapidary, who has the magical ability to hear and sometimes talk to these gems. Between the Jewels and their sworn servants, the Valley has been safe for hundreds of years.
But a lapidary has gone mad and Lin's family has been slaughtered. Invaders are coming, and the only protection the kingdom has left are two teenage girls who know their duty but have never shouldered a burden like this before.
This book is full of little things to love--the clear-eyed look at the power structures in this kingdom, the very real danger in the magic system, and especially the relationship between Lin and Sima. It's short--a novella--but it never glosses over the layers of truth behind so many things. Sima is devoted to Lin, but she is also bound to her service, both by custom and law, and by the very dangerous realities of the gems she can hear speaking. Lin is called upon to be a leader in ways she never had been and never expected to be, and this happens at the time when she has the least support. The same system that gives the Valley the protection of the gems is dangerously dependent on a wild magic that can drive a person mad. There is a heft an thoughtfulness to this slim book that you don't see every day, at all.
The closest thing I might come to calling a weakness is that it can be a little confusing. I think this might be a me-thing, though--I really require direct lines to be drawn between the things that happen in the world and the reactions that people have. When characters make emotional decisions or experience revelations, when someone's actions make another character realize something about them, I need it spelled out. I do not do implication very well. And there are moments here where characters are undergoing a lot of internal struggles that are described as a process, but not from the source. There were moments when I couldn't figure out what Lin was realizing, or what Sima was tempted to do.
Again, this is a big weakness I have in general--it's why I can't read plays, and I suspect why I will never get along with really literary fiction. Even around that, though, this was a great, scary, kind of shocking story. And the teasing hints of the future--the little epigraphs from a guidebook written years after the events we're reading about--were an amazing touch.
I really need to read more of these Tor novellas--I'm just so glad they exist.