Janelle Dazzlepants's Reviews > The Pledge

The Pledge by Kimberly Derting
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Jul 04, 2012

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bookshelves: young-adult, sci-fi, romance, psychic-abilities, post-apocalyptic, paranormal, fantasy, dystopian-fiction
Read from December 23, 2013 to February 27, 2014

** spoiler alert ** The Pledge tells the story of Ludania: a dystopian nation that segregates its citizens not only with walls and physical force, but also through language. All citizens speak Englaise, in addition to a language restricted solely to their social caste. If a vendor looks at a member of the counsel class whilst they speak the counsel language, this is cause for execution. While most people manage to keep their eyes bowed, for Charlaina it's not so easy: she has the ability to understand all languages. Charlaina's parents are aware of her ability and help to hide it at all costs, but they're not aware that her little sister Angelina also has an ability: she can heal through touch.

The first 2/3 of the novel drag a lot, focusing on Charlie's difficulties in hiding her ability and her interactions with friends and boys. She goes to a club with her boy-crazy friend Brooklynn, where she's introduced to a mysterious trio of guys who speak a language she's never heard before. They keep bumping into each other at clubs and on the street, and one of them, Max, takes a special interest in her.

The novel really goes nowhere until the city is bombed by a rebel nation, and Charlie learns in the bomb shelter that Max is the grandson of reigning tyrant Queen Sabara. It also turns out that Brooklynn isn't the vapid superficial brat we thought she was; she's actually a commander of the resistance! The resistance is led by Xander, grandson of Queen Sabara and Max's brother. Citizens of Ludania have been working together to uproot Queen Sabara, in collaboration with Queen Elena from neighbouring nation, Astonia.

Charlie then surmises that the language she'd never heard before is the language of the royals. It turns out that all royals have some sort of magical ability, and Charlaina is a descendent of the previous reigning royal family. Unfortunately for Charlaina, Queen Sabara's ability isn't quite as benign as hers: she has the ability to transfer her essence to the body of another royal, effectively allowing her to live forever in various forms. Sabara discovers Charlaina's existence and royal lineage, and forces her to come to the palace and become her new host body.

Sabara uses Angelina to gain Charlaina's compliance, but Xander kills Sabara before the transfer is 100% complete. With the help of Angelina's healing touch Charlaina manages to survive, but so does Sabara: turns out Charlaina is no longer alone in her own head. Regardless, Charlaina takes the throne and elevates House di Heyse back to royal status, and works to eliminate the caste system and open up Ludania's borders.

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The Pledge was a really fascinating take on a dystopian society. I've read so many novels in this genre and the citizens are usually restricted by walls, socioeconomic status, predetermined factions/castes, soldiers, war, and even glass domes. I've never seen language define the class system! At first it sounded like a silly premise, but after seeing how a girl of the counsel class used her language to shame vendors, I realised it was actually a fantastic idea. I also realised how difficult it would be to lower your eyes everytime someone of a different caste spoke their mother tongue; I know I'd be inclined to raise my eyes, wondering if I'd misheard or if they were actually speaking another language. And BAM! I'd get my head lopped off in the town square.

It was also interesting to see the how this novel blended fantasy and dystopian science fiction. While much of Ludanian society reads like a typical young adult dystopian novel, the royals' abilities and the monarchy remind me of a medieval or Victorian high fantasy novel. I went into this novel expecting an oppressive dystopian society like The Hunger Games' Panem, and wound up with something more reminiscent of the anime Trinity Blood!

Unfortunately those are the only things worth mentioning about this novel. I've tried to write this review about 10 times and have failed everytime. The Pledge was just so mediocre that I can't even find the effort to adequately describe how mediocre it was. Charlie is boring, Aron is boring, Max is boring, Xander is boring, Eden is boring, Claude is boring, Sydney is boring, and once Brooklynn reveals her true identity she too becomes boring. The only people who are remotely interesting are Charlie's parents, Sabara and Angelina.

An epic showdown might have saved this book, but it was just as mediocre as the rest of the novel. Charlie acquiesces to Sabara far too easily, and Xander manages to stab Sabara far too easily. Angelina heals Charlie far too easily, and manages to diminish any of the suffering Aron and Charlie's parents went through with her sparkly magical healing fingers. While Charlie suffers some interesting side effects of the transfer she takes the throne far too easily, and the book ends in the equivalent of "lol so now I'm queen and goodbye caste systems!"

The only thing that surprised me about the ending was how Sabara and Charlie coexisted. I'd expected that Sabara would take over Charlie completely, with Charlie relegated to a tiny corner of her own mind. I thought that Sabara would masquerade as Charlie, pretending the transfer hadn't worked and secretly wreaking havoc behind the scenes. I didn't expect that it would end with Charlie owning her body and Sabara relegated to a tiny corner of her mind.

While I didn't enjoy this book, I am keen to read further to explore what happens to our minor characters and the nation of Ludania. I'd like to know why it was that Angelina never spoke. Did she simply feel that she couldn't speak, or was she physically unable to until her ability fully manifested? And with Eden's ability to project her emotions, is she secretly part of the royal line too? Or is the ability to detect Eden's emotions simply another ability that Charlie has manifested? I wasn't happy with how Angelina magically restored Aron and Charlie's parents to full health, diminishing the pain and suffering they went through to protect Charlie. I'd be interested to see if Aron suffers from horrible PTSD in the next novel as a result of the torture.

I wasn't impressed with how Charlie ascended to the throne so easily, as it's a pet peeve of mine when dystopian novels fast forward to when everything is all rainbows and smiles again. I want to see those initial dark days as the society struggles to adjust and people refuse to leave the old ways. I want to see Charlie struggle to keep Sabara quiet, warring in her own mind against the old royal. I want to see Charlie struggle to maintain relationships as her friends suddenly become her subordinates.

I'm also keen to see what the rest of the world is like. Are the other Queendoms just as oppressive and impoverished, or are their citizens living in flourishing technologically advanced societies with androids and virtual realities? How many Queendoms are there? Do they span the entire globe or just the European continent? And what gives the royals their abilities?

Overall: The Pledge is an interesting concept but it's very poorly executed. 90% of the characters are dull as dirt and for two thirds of the novel the reader wanders around in circles, unable to determine where the story is headed. The ending is anticlimactic and while it does contain a hint of surprise, won't always be enough to draw readers in for the next two books. I'm thankful that this is only a trilogy rather than a longer series, or I wouldn't keep reading.
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Reading Progress

12/23/2013 marked as: currently-reading
12/23/2013 "Trying out the audiobook"
01/13/2014 "Trying to get through a good portion of the audiobook as I clean and pack up my apartment today!"
01/14/2014 "2 hours into the audiobook :)"
02/27/2014 marked as: read
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