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There are a lot more action, character development, and world-building in the second book (Jewel and Her Lapidary being book one) and I’m here for it. Initially, it seems like there’s little to do with the time where gems could sing and there were those who could wield their power. We get a look into an all-too-possible future where a group, known as the Pressmen, seek to control knowledge by destroying all books and replacing them with their own Compendium.
This isn’t an uncommon theme in dystopias and it’s one that always sparks something within me. This is probably because I have quite a sizable hoard of books and I would certainly fight to keep them, and keep books of all kinds accessible to everyone! Reading about this sort of thing definitely instills me with rage and panic.
In this particular work, the Pressmen are collecting books to feed to their massive printing press which runs on the ink of words which have already been printed. The group plays on the fear of the public – they’ll recruit anyone they can and eliminate those who stand in their way. They offer a message of false equality; they seek to create a Compendium which will be free and accessible to all, to create a world where Knowledge is not kept behind the walls of schools, barring those who can’t afford it. On the surface, this is appealing to many, especially those who can’t afford higher education. However, the Compendium created by the Pressmen is one that can be changed and altered; it’s a book where one group controls the contents and can alter and delete as they see fit. Spooky!
Ania and Jorit find themselves reluctantly working together to fight the Pressmen and save what few books they can from the jaws of obliteration. By hiding in the clock, they discover a gem that transports them back in time. This is where the story connects back to Jewel and also gives an overview of how the Pressman gained traction and power. We get a better understanding of the powers of the gems and how they’re not as extinct as the population believes.
I like both of the characters and I enjoy that, so far, each book has a duo of ladies as the main characters. In both cases, I was getting some low-key romantic vibes too. Considering this book is much longer, we get a better look at the lives of Ania and Jorit and I think more of their personalities come through along the course of the story.
We also get some perspective from a former student turned Pressmen. His chapters give a lot of insight into the inner workings of the group and he has his own dealings with magical gems too. I liked the mix of character perspectives as well as the glimpses into different time periods of this universe.
I definitely recommend this series if you're looking for a couple fantasy novellas with a unique magical element - Wilde also has a couple of shorts in this universe too!
The Fire Opal Mechanism is the second novel in the Gemworld series. I was a little conflicted about this novella. On the one hand – I desperately wanted to see more of this world. On the other hand, I wasn't quite over the heartbreak caused by The Jewel and Her Lapidary (a brilliant novella, but one that hit me on an emotional level). The world has changed since the time of The Jewel and Her Lapidary. Gems and lapidaries have all but faded out of existence. And in their place, a war has been waged. One against books and academies. Shudder the thought, I know. Ania was the librarian at one of the last standing academies. And she's determined to save as many books as possible from the Pressmen. The Pressmen are the big bad in this novella – they're the ones going after what they consider 'private knowledge' and trying to force into the public. By taking books and destroying schools. There's more to it than that, of course. Meanwhile, Jorit is just doing what it takes to survive. She's always done what it takes. That is, until she met Ania, where everything changed for her.
The Fire Opal Mechanism took the story told in The Jewel and Her Lapidary and brought it to whole new heights. It had a different material focus – books and words over gems and lapidaries, but it was still extremely powerful. Books, determination, passion, and time travel are all major elements in this novella. And I couldn't have been happier with their inclusions. This was a fast-paced novella, one whose heart I couldn't sympathize with more if I tried. I was surprised that the focus changed slightly. From gems to books. Granted, gems still play a part in this new (and arguably darker) world. Just a different role than I had expected. Despite that, I greatly enjoyed the portrayal. Ania and Jorit's adventure and attempts to save the written word were powerful and fascinating. I loved so much about this. Starting from their emotional ties to their pasts, to their determination to keep going forward. And admittedly I also appreciated just how different these two are, and how they came together despite it all. While I loved everything about The Jewel and Her Lapidary (and found myself moved by it) I feel like I was more emotionally compelled by this tale. Perhaps it was the subject of books that really brought it home for me. No matter the reason, I'm happy for it. I don't know if there will be more to tell from Gemworld, but I certainly hope to see more of this unique and magical world.
When the Pressmen come to the Far Reaches looking to confiscate all the books so they can form their Universal Compendiums of Knowledge, librarian Ania seems to be the only holdout, wanting to protect the knowledge her books hold rather than give it up to some faceless group to decide what garners passing along to the masses.
Meanwhile Jorit, branded a thief, is looking for a way out of the Far Reaches, and teaming up with Ania seems to be the best option she has. While barricaded in the library, hiding from the Pressmen, Jorit and Ania discover a clock powered by a powerful jewel. Just when their time is up and their discovery by the Pressmen is near, they’re transported to the past. While there, they discover what has lead the Far Reaches to its current present, and hopefully helps them find a way to preserve the future.
The Fire Opal Mechanism very much reminded me of Rachel Caine’s The Great Library series with the idea of this great power, this kind of omniscient presence making decision for the populace as a whole.
Knowledge for all—and access for all to that knowledge—is an ideal concept, but it’s negated when that knowledge is controlled and parceled out by a single entity. When someone determines what it is, exactly, that people are allowed to read. Almost like pushing their own agenda in lieu of letting people decide for themselves.
It’s an interesting concept and, for the most part, Fran Wilde does a great job of exploring it within the confines of a rather short story. I just felt like there was a little bit lacking in regards to seeing how the past has influenced where the story begins in the present.
I haven’t read the first book in the series, and while this story certainly stands well on its own—no issues following along whatsoever—I feel like the connection between the books plays a much more intrinsic part of opening up the story and really appreciating what occurs here.
I’m very interested in giving the first book a read and putting the references together to form the whole picture. As it stands, I give Fran Wilde much credit for giving us such a contemplative story that asks readers to think about what they’re reading and maybe appreciating where it comes from just a little bit more.
The Fire Opal Mechanism revels in the power of words to shape generations, detailing a world where books are being stripped of their sentences under the guise of the greater good. It’s a powerful story with many layers, beginning with a conversation on knowledge and who gets to access it. NOTE: I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.
'The Fire-Opal Mechanism' is a really enjoyable short story about a last librarian, a knowledge-devouring organization, and accidental time travel, along with a cute lesbian romance to tie it all together. If you like magical gems, have thoughts about the destruction of books, or want a story about resolving the sins of the past in the present, this is very worth reading.
This is a beautiful puzzle of a novella, an updated spin on Farenheit 451 with a fantasy setting and time travel. As always, I really savored Wilde's prose, and her overall authorial vision is quite enchanting.
Would recommend for fans of fantasy, time travel, hero librarian stories, and f/f romances.