I don't know quite what I was expecting from THE PLEDGE by Kimberly Derting, but it more than lived up to my expectactions. Yes, more than. I think initially, I wanted to read this because 1) I like dystopians, and 2) The concept intrigued me. But I don't think I realized that it was also leaning more fantasy than sci-fi. This isn't completely a dystopian, so dystopian-readers can read this book and will quite possibly love this. There's a twist of fantasy that I didn't see coming. Yes, the government is corrupt, but no, this isn't some super-futuristic society where the government has an all-seeing eye. The world-building is exceptional. Derting creates an accessible world that is easy to envision, especially for those who might not like dystopian novels. After all, there's a kingdom and a QUEEN. That alone makes this unique. (The addition of princes and princesses is one of the biggest reasons I'm looking forward to 2012 dystopian debut THE SELECTION by Kiera Cass). Or maybe it's just that I associate kingdoms and a thread of magic with fantasy, not a grim, realistic future.
Now, this book is going to be REALLY hard to talk about because I don't want to spoil anything, but I can at least equip you with the basics, right? THE PLEDGE takes place in a realm that is always ruled by a queen, never a king, as are the surrounding borders. However, this is a dystopian, so the kingdom isn't full of lightness and rainbows. In fact, the introduction to the book is chilling and shows just how far the queen will go to retain her hold on the throne. It literally sent shivers down my spine and set the tone for the rest of the book. The queen is pure evil and steals scenes. Her citizens obey her every command to the point where it is a part of their every day pledge (Kind of like how in the USA, we have the Pledge of Allegiance):
My breath is my pledge to worship my queen above all others.
My breath is my pledge to obey the laws of my country.
My breath is my pledge to respect my superiors.
My breath is my pledge to contribute to the progress of my class.
My breath is my pledge to report all who would do harm to my queen and country,
As I breathe, I pledge.
Seriously, how creepy is that pledge? It really sums up a lot about social classes, too. The queen is obeyed above all, followed by country, followed by class. This is a world where citizens may only speak their birth-tongue or Englaise, the one language spoken by everyone. If a superior speaks in a tongue that is not one's own, heads must be lowered and eye-contact must not be made, or the punishment is death. The main character, Charlaina, harbors a powerful secret that can make it hard to remember this rule and in one mistaken moment, changes the course of not just her own life, but of everyone around her.
This book is brilliant. It keeps readers on pins and needles. There's no other book quite like it. THE PLEDGE is dystopian, but also not dystopian, so it may appeal to those not normally into this genre--especially if they're big on fantasy. It's not all fun and games, either. The book can be dark and gritty as it explores themes such as torture and ruthlessness. It's also heated with unexpected romance. Character development is fully fleshed out to the point where readers will even care about secondary characters. Derting also manages to throw several twists and turns at readers. The first, about halfway through the book, I never saw coming, the second one, I totally did, and the third, I did shortly before the author revealed it. I never got bored and had a lot of trouble putting this book down. Whenever I had to work or eat, all I wanted to do was slip back into this world and never let go. My sole complaint is that THE PLEDGE is the first in a trilogy, so I don't know how it all ends, but even so, my love of this book makes me happy that there are two more so that I have a lot of new reading ahead of me in the future. The book ends on just the right note, too. It ties things up (perhaps too fast in one instance) and doesn't drop an evil cliffhanger, though it does open up a new path that will make readers eager for more in the future.
[This entry is part of Bookish Ardour's Reading Challenges' Dystopian Challenge of 2011. See how I've done so far here.]