Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Pledge by Kimberly Derting

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry (Simon & Schuster)
Pages: 323
Series or Stand Alone: Book 1 in The Pledge trilogy 
Summary: In the violent country of Ludania, the classes are strictly divided by the language they speak. The smallest transgression, like looking a member of a higher class in the eye while they are speaking their native tongue, results in immediate execution. Seventeen-year-old Charlaina has always been able to understand the languages of all classes, and she's spent her life trying to hide her secret. The only place she can really be free is the drug-fueled underground clubs where people go to shake off the oppressive rules of the world they live in. It's there that she meets a beautiful and mysterious boy named Max who speaks a language she's never heard before . . . and her secret is almost exposed.
Charlie is intensely attracted to Max, even though she can't be sure where his real loyalties lie. As the emergency drills give way to real crisis and the violence escalates, it becomes clear that Charlie is the key to something much bigger: her country's only chance for freedom from the terrible power of a deadly regime.

I picked up The Pledge because it was getting some online buzz and it was available as soon as my library processed it. Also because I'm greedy when it comes to new young adult books. Sue me. At least my problem is library-based and not bookstore-based. Otherwise, I'd be entirely skint and the books would have kicked me out of my house entirely, instead of the slow edging out that they are accomplishing right now.
But I digress.
After I had avariciously ripped it off the top of the shelf, I noticed that someone had blurbed about this book being dystopian. I'm wary of the dystopia trend, not because I don't enjoy that type of book--The Hunger Games trilogy includes some of the best young adult books ever and I'm a fan of both 1984 and Brave New World--but I fear overdoing it. I do not want to get to a point where I hear the word dystopia, proceed to shudder from overuse, and then write it off as something I'm no longer interested in. The good thing is, I'm not there yet. I went to start both Ally Condie's Matched series and Megan McCafferty's Bumped series last year and realized that by the time the third installment in each came out to play, I wouldn't remember a damn thing about the first one. So, I've yet to read any of them. Why did I decide to pick up this one, even though it's a trilogy? The summary told me it was different than the love-based utopias of recent times, so I decided to give it a go, even though I'm entirely aware that I probably won't remember it by the time the second one comes out, let alone the third. Hey, you never know. Maybe this review will help in that area.
The Pledge takes place in the tumultuous country of Ludania, where a queen rules over strictly language and employment divided social classes. Charlaina, or "Charlie" as she is known throughout the novel, is a girl of the vendor class that spends her time in school, with her best friends Brooklynn and Aron, and helping out in her parents' cafe. There is something special about Charlie however: she can understand any language she encounters, including tactile ones. There is something even more special about Charlie that even she is not aware of, a secret that takes an uprising, her parents' kidnapping, the actions of surreptitious prince, and an underground rebel movement to reveal. Charlie must use her newfound knowledge to stop the queen's tyrannical everlasting reign over Ludania and rescue her parents from torture and death at the hands of royalty.
After reading The Pledge, I found that it read more like a cross between fantasy and dystopian. The concept of the future that exists in Derting's work was very interesting. Rather than create a futuristic, shiny existence, Derting places her characters in a setting that is practically feudal. Ludania has a rigid class structure--so rigidly separated by language and employment that citizens are not allowed to understand or even acknowledge a language that does not belong to their socio-economic set. To do so was punishable by death, placing Charlie, who could understand every language thrown at her, in extreme danger. The country is led by Queen Saraba, one fierce bitch that has been around for centuries. Rather than bend to the mortal curse of dying, Queen Saraba places her life's essence in the young, healthy bodies of other members of royal bloodlines by means of a pledge. This way, she can continue to rule long after her physical body (or bodies, as the case may be) has perished.
While the romantic relationship between Charlie and Max suffers slightly from the instant-love malady so often pursued by paranormal/dystopian/fantasy authors, I didn't find it so ridiculously immediate that I rolled my eyes. It just happens quicker than I would have liked it to, but I suppose in a book where so much is happening, you can't expect the characters to wait to fall in love with one another. Shit's going down. Shit's getting real. The nice thing about the romance in this book was that it isn't all consuming--Charlie is attracted to Max, Max is pursuing Charlie, they do get together (spoiler alert, although come on, you knew it was going to happen)--but they are both far more concerned with the fact that their country is going to absolute shit. Charlie's number one priority is finding her parents and keeping her four-year-old sister Angelina safe--thankfully. If this book turned into a "Well the world is crumbling down, my parents are missing, and my sister and I are in danger, what can I worry about other than trying to attract Max, this mysterious stranger who keeps me safe?" novel, I was probably going to put it down. That's a lie. But I'd be complaining right now.
One drawback I came across was the lack of information pertaining to Brooklynn, Charlie's best friend that has been harboring her own secret, and Xander. I wanted to know more information on how Brooklynn became involved in the resistance movement and how Xander came to start it. I'm hoping that these characters get more book time in the next installment, which I'm sure is slated for sometime next year in the way future.

Overall, The Pledge by Kimberly Derting had a thoroughly fresh take on the dystopian concept. I'm definitely interested in the rest of the series, I want to see what happens in Charlie's world now that she's queen!

Rating: 4.5 - very good.

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