The Jewel and Her Lapidary: A Nebula and Hugo-nominated novelette

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The Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran WildeThe Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran WildeThe Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran Wilde

Fran Wilde’s novelette The Jewel and Her Lapidary was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards this year. I listened to the 1.75 hour long audiobook version produced by Macmillan Audio and narrated by Mahvesh Murad.

I loved the setting of this story — a kingdom that is protected by powerful gems which can be heard and gently manipulated by lapidaries, people who have a genetic predisposition for connecting with the gems. Think of them as gem whisperers. The lapidaries serve the royal family, at least until they go mad in later life.

This story is about two young women who are closely bonded to each other. Lin is the kingdom’s princess (referred to as a “Jewel”) and Sima is her lapidary. When we meet them, they are tied up in a dungeon after a coup has just occurred. Something has gone wrong with the gems, the royal family has been deposed, and a neighboring country is on its way to take over. Lin and Sima are the only ones who can save their country but, to do so, they will have to buck some of their teaching and traditions.

The best part of this story is the world-building, which is fairly extensive for a novelette. I loved the modern-day travel journal entries that are interspersed with the narrative and which give insight into the kingdom’s future history. The gem magic, another focus of the story, is also well done and makes for an interesting magic system, though there were so many detailed explanations about how the gems work that I started to wonder if this novelette is a prequel to a larger series. (As far as I know, it is not.)

Fran Wilde

Both the prose and characterization are satisfactory but not brilliant. I admired Wilde’s two heroines for their courage and determination but, though they both spend plenty of time in introspection, I didn’t feel that I knew them well or cared about their fate as much as I wanted to. I wished that I knew more about their backstory and relationship with each other and their parents. Notably, I had trouble telling the two girls apart even though one was a princess and the other was her servant. Wilde failed to give them unique voices.

The plot of The Jewel and Her Lapidary was a problem for me. The first scene, in which we meet the girls tied up in a dungeon, was promising, but it moved very slowly from there. With so much world-building, rule explaining, and character introspection (some of it repetitive), there wasn’t much space left for plot. I believe that the audiobook narrator, Mahvesh Murad, also contributed to the feeling of a plodding plot. Her voice is stunningly beautiful, but her reading speed is slow and there isn’t much inflection in her tone. Regrettably, I have to report that it was extremely tedious to listen to her. (She also repeatedly mispronounced the word “solder.”)

The Jewel and Her Lapidary did not win the Nebula Award and we’ll find out about the Hugo pretty soon. To be honest, this novelette wouldn’t be on my list of nominees but, obviously, a lot of people find it worthy. Though it didn’t thrill me, I would like to read more stories set in Wilde’s gem world.

Published in 2016. The kingdom in the Valley has long sheltered under the protection of its Jewels and Lapidaries, the people bound to singing gemstones with the power to reshape hills, move rivers, and warp minds. That power has kept the peace and tranquility, and the kingdom has flourished. Jewel Lin and her Lapidary Sima may be the last to enjoy that peace.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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2 comments

  1. I’ve been very curious about this novelette since it’s one of the only Nebula and Hugo short fiction nominees I didn’t read. Thanks for the honest take on it!

  2. The most common reaction I’ve seen is “I liked it, but I need more!” I really, really hope Ms. Wilde takes that to heart!

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