I received this book for free from Publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!! This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on October 13, 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss
Lady Truthful will inherit her family’s most valued heirloom on her eighteenth birthday. Until the Newington Emerald is stolen.
Lady Truthful, nicknamed “Newt” by her boy cousins, discovers that to her horror, the people closest to her have been framed for the theft. But Newt won’t let their reputations be damaged by rumors from a false accusation. Her plan is simple: go to London to recover the missing jewel. Despite her best intentions, a young lady travelling alone is frankly unacceptable behavior. So Newt and her aunt devise another plan…one that entails men’s clothing and a mustache.
While in disguise, Truthful encounters the handsome but shrewd major Harnett, who to her amazement volunteers to help find the missing emerald under the assumption that she is a man, Henri de Vienne. But once she and her unsuspecting ally are caught up in a dangerous adventure, Truthful realizes something else is afoot: the beating of her heart.
Truthful has far more than romantic complications to worry about. The stolen emerald is no ordinary heirloom-it is the source of the family’s luck and has the power to yield vast magic. It would be completely disastrous if it fell into the wrong hands. The fate of England depends on Truthful securing the emerald.
I’m a sucker for all things gender bending, so when I heard that Newt’s Emerald would be using this beloved trope in a regency historical setting with bonus magic, I was immediately excited. Not to mention, the author, Garth Nix, is somewhat of a legend – one I had yet to experience. Overall, I enjoyed this book, but it never crossed the line from “good” to “great”.
In Newt’s Emerald, Lady Truthful Newington (our main character) is a young girl about to debut in London’s high society. Her coming of age would also come with the inheritance of the family’s legendary emerald jewel – a conduit for their weather-controlling magic. But tragedy strikes and the emerald disappears – is stolen – right from under their very noses. What ensues is a mystery, a historical fiction in regency London with balls, gentleman callers, and all the pressures of high society, and a slowly developing romance.
Now, all of that might sound like Debby bait, but I was kind of left wanting. I think my first stumbling block is probably the characters. They’re not awful or anything, but just a bit undeveloped. I am a character reader, so I need to really feel connected to them to thoroughly enjoy a book. Truthful (aside from snort-laughing at her name every time I read it) is just a little bland. Charles, her love interest, is first really gruff (and they have kind of a hate-to-love transition, though I felt it was exceedingly obvious), but he very suddenly and dramatically does a one-eighty at the end. The evil characters are mean and evil – to the extent that you almost can’t believe Truthful didn’t instantly know who would have stolen the jewel. The side characters are just there to fulfill roles and hardly felt real. I mean, I hate to use the word one dimensional, but whoops, I just did.
I mean, I do have some measure of respect for Truthful. She’s not a damsel in distress, and she wants to actively help find the emerald – hence, why she dresses up as a boy to find it. She would not be allowed to make inquiries and venture out unaccompanied otherwise. But sometimes she reeked of desperate naivete, and she charged into situations she should have known were not safe. It’s like… I wanted to like her, but every time I was starting to get to that level, she did something stupid again.
While dressed as a boy, she meets Charles, who almost demands to help her in her quest. She’s desperate for help and eagerly agrees – but all the time you know that Charles is lying about at least part of his identity. That already kind of raises a red flag for me, but he also constantly makes disparaging comments about women and about Truthful – because he’s been scorned by love before. Truthful doesn’t take this lying down and feels rightfully irritated by the douche, but you just know where it’s heading. It’s so obvious from the start, and that transition from hate to love feels anything but genuine. He finds out about her deception, but quickly gets over it – and asks for her hand. She’s suspicious of him, hears he’s engaged (as his fake identity), tries to distance herself, then finds out about his deception, and is strangely just instantly happy and not at all angered! I want to believe that has nothing to do with his status, but I didn’t get the feeling the love was deep and genuine yet soooo…
I want to be clear that I don’t think this book is bad, and it certainly had some good moments. If you’re very much into historical romance, and you don’t mind leaps from hate to love, there are enough enjoyable and funny escapades to make this a fun story. But I just lacked the depth. The characters, romance, and plot were too simple for me. And the magic in this world was hardly explored. I did, however, enjoy the regency setting – the writing, superficial shenanigans, and descriptions of the high society world were reminiscent of Jane Austen. I guess I just expected a whole lot more – especially from a well-loved fantasy author such as Garth Nix. It’s like he was trying to write a gender bending, magic-infused Pride & Prejudice but just forgot to add any swoon or real depth. Sad day.