Saturday, February 4, 2012

Review: The Pledge

Title: The Pledge

Author: Kimberly Derting

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Part of a Series?: First in series

Goodreads 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.

Derting had a major identity crisis while writing The Pledge. She created an unholy combination of high fantasy and dystopia with, arguably, some smatterings of pure chicklit. To be clear, genre hopping is not bad. I like it when books try to do something fun and creative. The Pledge was not particularly fun and not even close to creative.

Is this book set in an AU or what? This is the first dystopia that really doesn't explain how everything went to hell in a handbag. That possibly contributed to my growing lack of comprehension about what setting Derting was creating. I can deal with queens and royalty and what not. However, I could not get past how little was explained (or insinuated) about the origins of the dystopian society. I didn't need Derting to explicitly say, "Well, this war happened, and this government fell, and this monarchy rose, etc. etc." No, that would've been overkill. I was thinking it would've been better if the author had taken a page out of Margaret Atwood's handbook on providing just enough clues to give the reader a picture. I didn't get anything like that so I resorted to just letting myself get blasted with unintentional anachronisms. For example, Charlie wears a tunic but there are electric lights...and cars. Whoever created the New World Order in the past must've had a thing for Medieval garb. Also, can I just ask a question in general? Was this really a dystopia? Dystopias typically are based more in reality than fantasy. Even fantastic dystopias like The Hunger Games or Enclave have obvious foundations in the real world. So if Charlie's gift of tongues is magic oriented, where does that leave The Pledge? Is it wrong to tag this as a dystopian book? IMO, dystopian books should not broach the topic of takes away from the believability.

Personally, I love becoming invested in characters. I wanted to attach myself to Team Charlie so much! I've always had this little dream of becoming a polyglot (I'd learn Swahili, Korean, Russian, some obscure Arabic dialect, and Dutch), and have I ever read a book about a protagonist who could understand EVERY language in existence (can Charlie speak all languages though? I don't think that point was ever explained)? When I originally read the book summary several months ago, I practically died with excitement. Sadly, Charlie disappointed me on all accounts. First off, she is such a Mary Sue. Did anyone pick up on that? She's kind, protective, intelligent (except when it comes to the important stuff), and uber boy crazy. Apparently, she also is eerily similar to Derting's other protagonist as well...although I can't say if this is true or not since I haven't read The Body Finder. For someone so perfect, Charlie spends a lot of time internal monologuing about how unhappy she is with whatever situation she's gotten herself into. This story was completely focused on Charlie, despite the narrative switches to the other minor characters. I felt Derting included the secondary chapters as an afterthought, which really hurt the story in general because it left the supporting cast a little washed out.

Last point, I swear. Here we have a plot that had so much potential: a girl can understand languages finds out she might be the key to a nationwide revolution. Yet nothing in this book gave me a true WTF moment. Spoilers follow. Max is a prince? I got that "subtle" clue about five chapters before Charlie figured it out. Charlie's the long lost princess? That was obvious from the moment Sabara mentioned her hunt for trying to find a replacement body. Angelina can heal people? That isn't even a plot twist! That's Derting failing to introduce this concept fluidly. The tortured boy who doesn't get a name until the last paragraph in the scene is actually Aron? My question in response is who else could it be? Nothing Derting included in this book had a wow factor capable of eliciting any major emotional response.

If anything, I'd read the sequel just to see how Derting stretches the plot. But nothing about this first installment begged for a series continuation to me.