4 out of 5 stars.
I received an ARC.
Spoilers for the first volume.
This is another series of YA books that focus on women’s reproductive rights. Hooray! I am still not sick of this premise and I do not know if I will ever be.
In this society, the royal elite are sterile and need surrogates to bear their children. The inhabitants of the poorest area of the city occasionally have daughters that have mental powers. These girls are kidnapped from their families and trained to be surrogates for royalty, they are schooled to improve their abilities and then auctioned off to the noble houses. Violet is one such girl, and her mental powers are more powerful than most. This makes her a very desirable surrogate and she is auctioned off to one of the 4 most powerful houses in the kingdom.
The ruling couple have just had a baby boy and all the nobles are anxious to have their own baby girls to offer as prospective future brides. Violet’s owner (the Duchess of the Lake) is anxious to win the race and wants Violet to use her powers to grow the baby faster than nature can. Violet gets caught between her need to rebel against the people who think they can steal her life and her need to survive the vicious and bloodthirsty Jewel (the part of the city that houses the powerful and wealthy).
Violet’s only friend in the house is Ash, the man her mistress bought to train and seduce her niece. They both know what it is like to have their futures controlled by the rich elite. Violet’s close friend (Raven) from school is right next door, but they are not allowed to have any contact. Raven’s condition is quickly deteriorating the longer she is with her mistress. Violet has nothing to do with her time but sneak secret meetings with Ash, hope she does not get assassinated like some other surrogates, and wait until she is impregnated.
At the end of the first book, Violet has been offered a chance to escape. At the beginning of the second book, she manages to get out, along with Ash and Raven. They have to travel out to a hidden rebel base, dodging soldiers until they can reach the relative safety of the rebels. Then all they have to do is topple the unfair, oppressive system.
One of the reasons I like these type of dystopian fiction that deal with women’s issues is because it usually breeds strong female characters. They may be oppressed, but they are willing to punch and kick their way out of the holes they have been placed in. It is also really satisfying when their oppressors get beaten down. REALLY satisfying.
The plot unfolds rather predictably and anyone who has read enough of these books can guess what is going to happen. I kept reading despite this because I found the premise so compelling and the stakes so high for the characters. The world building was convincing and brutal, so I want the emotional catharsis of watching it get torn down.
Violet is a bit of a stock dystopian heroine: in love, tough and resourceful, but because of the political intrigue in the book, she has to be sharper than some other characters would. Outright rebellion could lead to death as quickly as complete acquiescence, so Violet has to walk a thin line between pleasing her mistress and being able to live with herself.
These books are not a sophisticated philosophical treatise on ethics, but do bring up some interesting questions about the ethics of surrogacy https://web.stanford.edu/group/womenscourage/Surrogacy/moralethical.html. They are a quick and fun read that grab you quickly. I am looking forward to reading the third.