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.

Review: The Fire Opal Mechanism by Fran Wilde

Review: The Fire Opal Mechanism by Fran WildeThe Fire Opal Mechanism (Gem Universe #2) by Fran Wilde
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Gem Universe #2
Pages: 208
Published by Tordotcom Publishing on June 4, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books

The Fire Opal Mechanism is the fast-paced and lively sequel to Fran Wilde's The Jewel and Her Lapidary
Jewels and their lapidaries and have all but passed into myth.
Jorit, broke and branded a thief, just wants to escape the Far Reaches for something better. Ania, a rumpled librarian, is trying to protect her books from the Pressmen, who value knowledge but none of the humanity that generates it.
When they stumble upon a mysterious clock powered by an ancient jewel, they may discover secrets in the past that will change the future forever.

My Review:

Information may want to be free, but there are always people and institutions working to keep it caged and under their control. At first, that argument seems to be the central tension in The Fire Opal Mechanism.

This turned out to be a whole lot more relevant to the present than I originally expected. Which was both wonderful and frightening, as it was published 4 years ago and therefore written several months at least before that.

But the impulses that move both the Pressmen’s and the Librarian Ania’s resistance to each other are always with us. Even more fascinating, those motives and that resistance turn out to be a bit of misdirection from the real problem that Ania and her reluctant ally-turned-friend, Jorit, need to resolve.

In whatever time period they can manage to solve it.

Escape Rating A-: At first, and for a rather long time thereafter, it seems as if the core of The Fire Opal Mechanism is about the freedom of information versus the censorship of it. And yet, at the beginning – the beginning that Ania and Jorit observe and not the place where they personally start – that wasn’t actually the case.

There’s more to unpack there than the reader initially has a clue about. The conflict seems so obvious. The Pressmen – the people who belong to the cult of the Great Press – have come to the last university in the Six Kingdoms to set information free by confiscating all the books and feeding them all to the machine that will literally chew them up and spit them out as part of the all-encompassing Compendium of Knowledge that the machine is producing.

That initial conflict turns out to be a bit too simplistic once Ania sees the Pressmen blow something into people’s faces that causes them to forget who they are. That the same substance erases text whenever it falls upon a book adds to those doubts. Which are stripped away entirely when someone picks up a copy of the Compendium and watches as the print turns from a faithful reproduction of an original – now consumed – work to an overtly propagandist interpretation that spouts the Pressmen’s view of history.

Which is when Ania, with Jorit tagging along, learns that the clock mechanism she has been clinging to for comfort and safety can take her and her companion back through time. Back to the origins of the Pressmen and their conflict with the universities.

Where she discovers that what she is experiencing in her present is a corruption of a past created by the Great Press that has been erased by that same object. And that the Great Press itself is the biggest and most dangerous corruption of all.

In this year of 2023, when book bans are everywhere and governments daily attempt to rewrite history to make their favored groups feel better about themselves in both the past and the present, it’s easy to become invested in the narrative of the brave librarian fighting the forces of evil repression the Pressmen represent – especially for a librarian.

But that’s far from the whole story. Just as The Fire Opal Mechanism loops Ania and Jorit back to the beginning of the conflict, it also wraps the story back to the history of the Gem Universe as a whole as experienced in the first book in the series, The Jewel and Her Lapidary.

That shifting and sifting through time changes the story from its initial, overt conflict about information wanting to be free to being a bit more of ‘the truth will set you free’ because it’s only once Ania and Jorit learn the truth about the Great Press and the origins of the Pressmen by traveling to the past that they are able to find the explosive and cathartic solution they very much need in the present.

That their harrowing journey together bonds Ania and Jorit in their own mutual truth is the sparkling icing on a very tasty and thought-provoking little book-cake.

I decided to read The Fire Opal Mechanism now because I just picked up a copy of the third book in the Gem Universe, The Book of Gems. I was planning to dive right into it, believing that I had already read the first two books in the series, only to discover that while I adored The Jewel and Her Lapidary, I hadn’t actually read this second book. So I immediately set out to rectify that situation and I’m very glad I did. The Book of Gems awaits!

Review: The Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran Wilde

Review: The Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran WildeThe Jewel and Her Lapidary (Gem Universe #1) by Fran Wilde
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Gem Universe #1
Pages: 96
Published by on May 3, 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

From Fran Wilde, the Andre Norton and Compton Crook Award-winning author of Updraft.

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.

The Jeweled Court has been betrayed. As screaming raiders sweep down from the mountains, and Lapidary servants shatter under the pressure, the last princess of the Valley will have to summon up a strength she’s never known. If she can assume her royal dignity, and if Sima can master the most dangerous gemstone in the land, they may be able to survive.

“The central fantastical idea is pretty cool… nicely written… I suspect the world it’s set in might yield more fine stories.” – Locus

My Review:

I was looking for something with some adventure – with either a fantasy or SF bent. And I was looking for something short. Which left me trolling the backlist because I knew I’d find something good that would take care of all my wants – at least of the brief and bookish type.

Which led to me The Jewel and Her Lapidary – along with a few other gems.

So much story gets told here. Through the dynamic between Lin and Sima, and their own internal dialogs, we get just enough background to understand why they and their kingdom has come to this terrible pass – and just how little anyone would expect them to do about it.

They are supposed to be royal, young and submissive. Coddled youngest children considered too weak and too female to do anything but submit to their fate as conquered property of a warlord. Too cowed to do anything but obey and be subjugated – along with their people.

Instead, they fight back. Not as warriors, because they are neither of them that. But with what weapons they have. Brains, cunning, the underestimation of their enemies. And love. Love for those who came before them. Love for their country. Love for each other.

This is a story of triumph not by conquest but by endurance. And it is absolutely a gem. It’s also about gems. And about power and control and love and sacrifice and a whole lot else – packed into a tiny, sparkling package. Like a gem.

Escape Rating A-: This story is probably the shortest epic fantasy ever written. And it doesn’t seem to sacrifice anything for its tiny length. Not that I wouldn’t have loved to have had more backstory and character building and setup and everything – because I always want more of all of those things. And not that I’m not hoping to get more of those things from the next book in the series, The Fire Opal Mechanism. Because I certainly am.

However, we learn what we need to learn about the Jewel Lin, her Lapidary Sima, how they found themselves and their kingdom in the terrible situation that they are in – and just how much they will have to sacrifice to save what they can. This is one of those stories where there really is a fate worse than death – and it’s a fate that these two young women are determined to prevent at all costs.

This is an epic where the victory is not in a big battle with brave warriors – but instead won by quiet sacrifice – all alone in the dark.

This story, short thought it may be, still manages to be complete and heart wrenching in and of its tiny little self. And that’s pretty awesome.