Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Pledge

The Queen rules over Ludania with an iron fist, forcing its inhabitants to make a pledge to protect her over all others. This entails turning in anyone speaking against the Queen or contributing in any way to the Resistance. She has also implemented a unique way to separate the classes and ensure that upward mobility is impossible: limit each class by the languages they are allowed to speak. Charlie is a Vendor class girl who has always had the ability to understand all the languages and knows the importance of hiding it. If anyone ever found out and turned her in, she would swiftly be put to death, as is the punishment for any infraction no matter how small. When a mysterious boy takes interest in her after he notices her strange ability, she is drawn into a political struggle between the aging Queen looking for an heir and the young revolutionaries fighting for equality. What is Charlie's place in all this? Can she make a difference in this power struggle?

I picked this up on a whim and I was surprised how good it was. I was expecting a mediocre dystopia because many of the ones I've read lately have been lackluster and disappointing. The Pledge does a lot of things I haven't really read before and compares to adult dystopian novels as well. The big totalitarian government in this case is run by a woman, which isn't typical. It's usually a Hitler-esque dictator or Big Brother, but rarely a tyrannical, manipulative queen. Her male heirs are viewed as essentially useless because the magic, the power, and the respect of the other countries are dependent on a female heir. This is the opposite of how we historically viewed the genders in power and as heirs, and it's even a perspective not seen in science fiction very often. The Queen is seriously creepy and will do anything to ensure her own safety and the prolonging of her reign, including torture and executions. Her ingenuous solution to any kind of revolution is segregating her subjects by the language they speak. The lowest classes only speak one language and each class above that speaks their own language and all of those underneath them. There is literally no way for anyone to move up in this caste system and they don't enjoy any real freedoms. The Pledge of the title is particularly chilling because the inhabitants are forced to put their monarch above anything in their lives. They are expected to turn in dissenters or troublemakers or run the risk of being executed themselves. I was impressed with the world building and how sociopathic the Queen was.

The ensemble cast is interesting and kept my interest. My favorites are Charlie, her little sister Angelina, and the evil Queen. Charlie puts her family before herself and doesn't whine about how sucky her life is. Unlike many YA book heroines, she prefers her working class home and life to anything else, even when circumstances allow her to choose to change her lot in life. I wanted to give her little sister the biggest hug because she was so sweet. Angelina doesn't speak and has the amazing ability to heal. Without saying anything, she can convey everything she is thinking and feeling and she has a wonderful relationship with her sister. Max, the main love interest, was just ok for me. He wasn't annoying or abusive, but was a little bossy and didn't have much of a personality. The romance was really secondary to the dystopia and didn't overpower it.

The Pledge is a fast paced dystopia that featured some unique concepts and some surprises along the way. I'm not sure if this is the first in the series, but it works very well as a stand alone novel. I would recommend this to fans of the Hunger Games and Delirium.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

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