{Review} THE ESSENCE by Kimberly Derting

O P E N I N G   L I N E:

   HE APPROACHED RESPECTFULLY, cautiously. Warily.
   She'd always been capricious, his queen. But of late, she was nothing less than unpredictable.
   He knew why, of course: The new queen of Ludania.
   He waited twenty paces from the throne, as was customary. She would speak first. Until then, his lips remained tightly sealed.
   When at last he heard her voice--like the chords of a song, lovely and melodious--he knew her mood. Tolerant. Magnanimous.
   Yet he couldn't suppress the trepidation that always quivered in his belly during these brief encounters.
(pg. 1, US hardcover edition)

If you previously skipped the first novel in The Pledge Trilogy because people were calling it that now-dreaded word, dystopian, rethink your decision. That word has disappeared, and the series is now full-on fantasy. A lot of people who read THE PLEDGE had a mixed reaction because they don't like their dystopian and fantasy to mix, and they were mixing hardcore in the book. People loved it or hated it, and there was little in-between. If you didn't like Kings and Queens and Kingdoms, you didn't like THE PLEDGE. Readers saw those reviews and stayed away from the book. I personally loved THE PLEDGE. I love Kings and Queens and Kingdoms! Princesses, Knights in Shining Armor, I say bring it on. And, again, this series isn't truly dystopian. The first book just happens to feature a tyrannical ruler. So give it a try, ignore that chatter...you might be surprised!

THE ESSENCE can technically stand on its own, though there's a lot of backstory you miss if you ignore the fact that THE PLEDGE came first. If you haven't read it yet, check out my review of THE PLEDGE instead!
Otherwise...you can't blame me for the 
spoilers you're about to encounter!

THE ESSENCE begins a short time after THE PLEDGE ends. Charlie has claimed the throne and begun changing her queendom for the better. Sabara's essence still rests within her, however, and it's a constant battle for Charlie to remain in control of her body and thoughts. It doesn't help that she can hear Sabara's cutting words, which create doubt and make Charlie even more uncertain about the life she's building than ever. Charlie is busy dissolving the class system and creating equality, but not everyone agrees. There are protests and uprisings against the new Vendor Queen, and a new form of civil unrest is brewing. At the same time, Charlie must now prove that she deserves to wear her crown. A Queen's Summit is coming, and she has a lot of customs to learn if she wants to get in with the queens of neighboring queendoms and bring her country into the new age. But first? She has to make it to the summit without being assassinated!

One thing I liked so much about THE PLEDGE was that it was gritty and edgy. Kimberly Derting doesn't flinch from hard topics in THE ESSENCE, either. For example, she took the modern day horror of school shootings & blended it seamlessly into a fantasy novel. Horrifying, yet well-done! It's a fresh look at a topic in a new environment, and showcases the civil unrest and lengths naysayers will go to in order to squash the idea of equality before it can get off the ground. Charlie is just as strong this time around, though she allows doubt to sway her. She's uncertain about the role she's taken on, and her fears feel very natural. Becoming a teenage queen is daunting in and of itself, but to deal with everything Charlie is going through at the same time? I'm surprised the girl didn't have a nervous breakdown!

This time around,THE ESSENCE is told in multiple perspectives, which becomes essential as characters break away from one another and chronicle different events going on. We get a closer look at Brooklyn, who goes from being Charlie's best friend to a fierce warrior in her own way. She plays an integral role in the saga, and I loved seeing more of her in this book, though I wish her POV tense had remained the same as Charlie's. It was a little jarring to go between tenses, though it did help distinguish who was talking at the time.  I was sad, however, to see so much less of Max this time around, since he and Charlie are separated for much of the novel. Have no fears...he'll be in more of THE OFFERING!

If you're expecting a book as action-packed as THE PLEDGE, you may be disappointed. THE ESSENCE moves slower and focuses on building reader awareness of several ongoing struggles. It's more political and expands Charlie's world. There's still a lot of danger present, and the fantasy is now at the forefront of the story. THE OFFERING will once again pack a powerful punch, however, and I can't wait to share my review with you in January. I think that the trilogy as a whole is solid and worth reading. I hope you will as well!
C O V E R   D E S I G N:

THE PLEDGE is still my favorite cover in the series. Maybe it's the styling of the cloak (Such a thing for cloaked people, IDEK!), maybe it's the way the title repeats and breaks down in the background with fewer letters, maybe it's the coloring. IDK! The first book is my favorite of the three.

I still like this cover, though. I like that she's still cloaked, but she's unmasked now, no longer hiding. This cover is red. Red for blood, red for being noticeable. It stands out, unlike the first book, which was all about being stealthy.

She looks very determined on the cover, too, doesn't she? Charlie has to have nerves of steel if she wants to continue on this path!
O F F I C I A   I N F O:

Author: Kimberly Derting
Release Date: Jan. 1, 2013
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry / Simon & Schuster
Received: Purchased

“Danger, dread, mystery, and romance” (Booklist) continue in the second book of The Pledge Trilogy, as Charlie’s reign is under siege from the most unusual of enemies. 

At the luminous conclusion of The Pledge, Charlaina defeated the tyrant Sabara and took her place as Queen of Ludania. But Charlie knows that Sabara has not disappeared: The evil queen’s Essence is fused to Charlie’s psyche, ready to arise at the first sign of weakness. 

Charlie is not weak, but she’s being pushed to the brink. In addition to suppressing the ever-present influence of Sabara, she’s busy being queen—and battling a growing resistance determined to return Ludania to its discriminatory caste system. Charlie wants to be the same girl Max loves, who Brook trusts, but she’s Your Majesty now, and she feels torn in two. 

As Charlie journeys to an annual summit to meet with leaders of nearby Queendoms—an event where her ability to understand all languages will be the utmost asset—she is faced with the ultimate betrayal. And the only person she can turn to for help is the evil soul residing within.