Review: The Book of Gems by Fran Wilde

Review: The Book of Gems by Fran WildeThe Book of Gems (Gemworld, #3) by Fran Wilde
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Gem Universe #3
Pages: 142
Published by Tordotcom on June 20, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books

“A glittering tale of academic jealousy and ancient artifacts, The Book of Gems is a pulse-pounding adventure.” ―Katherine Addison, author of The Goblin Emperor
Some truths are shatterproof...
It’s been centuries since the Jeweled Valley and its magical gems were destroyed. In the republics that rose from its ashes, scientists craft synthetic jewels to heat homes, power gadgetry, and wage war.
Dr. Devina Brunai is one of these scientists. She also is the only person who believes true gems still exist. The recent unearthing of the Palace of Gems gives her the perfect opportunity to find them and prove her naysayers wrong.
Her chance is snatched away at the last moment when her mentor steals her research and wins the trip for himself. Soon, his messages from the field transform into bizarre ramblings about a book, a Prince, and an enemy borne of the dark. Now Dev must enter the Valley, find her mentor, and save her research before they, like gems, become relics of a time long forgotten.
More books in the Gem The Jewel and Her LapidaryThe Fire Opal Mechanism

My Review:

The Book of Gems is the third book in the Gem Universe, after The Jewel and Her Lapidary and The Fire Opal Mechanism. This entry in the series brings the action back to the place and the history where it all began, the Jeweled Valley.

In that first book, the titular characters, Jewel Lin and her Lapidary Sima, sacrifice themselves in their attempt to save the Jeweled Valley. While their attempt is not exactly in vain, it is a bit of a pyrrhic victory. They destroy what they love in order to save it from, literally, the ravening hordes who intend not merely to destroy it, but to use its power on their way to saving the world by destroying that.

The Fire Opal Mechanism is the story in the middle, as the history of this world has gone on its not so merry way, down the path that Lin and Sima tried to prevent. Or at least did their level best to keep the power of the singing gems from powering the destruction of the world.

They didn’t exactly fail, but they certainly didn’t succeed, either. In this second book it’s up to their descendants to divert the tide – or at least to set their less than powerful selves against the onrushing storm.

Now the story has both come full circle and done a strange turn into Motel of the Mysteries, but one not nearly as much fun. Because that tyranny has come and finally gone, leaving in its wake a dearth of true historical documentation and a whole lot of scholarly inquiry about things that perhaps shouldn’t be inquired into. Resulting in seemingly innumerable academic and archaeological expeditions to the Jeweled Valley to dig up things that should remain buried, even as the academics seem to be doing their worst to bury each other’s careers if not, actually, each other.

In the midst of this furious excavation, the Jeweled Valley is being slowly but surely uncovered, as it waits a bit impatiently for Lin and Sima’s descendants to save it one more time. Or at least to save their world from the force that has been waiting within. Or both. Definitely both.

Escape Rating A-: I originally picked up The Jewel and Her Lapidary because I was looking for a short bite of the SF/F reading apple and Tordotcom always delivers. I stuck with the series because that first book was just so damn good, such a perfect epic fantasy in an amazingly succinct little package, that I couldn’t resist seeing what happened after Jewel’s rather cataclysmic ending. Not that it didn’t have a slam-bang, bittersweet ending for itself, but the world clearly had plenty more stories to tell.

The second book, The Fire Opal Mechanism, kept me enthralled because it was just a little too prescient, all the while managing to be both different from the first while still following the same threads.

This third book does a lovely job of bringing the saga full circle while still telling a story of its own that yet manages to tug on those very same threads – as well as some of the same heartstrings.

All the books in this series are stories about power imbalances, very specifically the vast, sweeping power of tyrannies to control and rewrite history and belief vs. the tiny, subversive but ultimately enduring power of families and family stories to keep the truth alive in spite of the odds and the power of the state to stop them. At the same time, there’s also a bit of the “Mother Nature bats last” trope, as in this ending, the singing jewels and their imbued power have been hunted down and corrupted and yet are still waiting for their chance to rise once more.

The form that each story in the series has taken have also differed, and this entry in the series is very much a story about academia, both dark and light, the viciousness of its politics and policies and the single-mindedness of its pursuers in their intellectual pursuits. And in this particular entry in the series, the power imbalance between an untenured lecturer and the head of their department. This facet of the story had a surprisingly similar vibe to Malka Older’s The Mimicking of Known Successes, which I utterly loved.

So even though it doesn’t seem like there will be more stories in the Gem Universe – at least for a while, I do have the sequel to Mimicking, The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles, to look forward to. And, very much like the way the drama in The Book of Gems plays out, doesn’t that title just scream academic obfuscation? Which is always fun to see knocked down, just as much as it was in The Book of Gems.