Author: Kimberly Derting
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Publication Date: November 15, 2011
Series: The Pledge #1
Links: Amazon | Goodreads
Source: Galley Grab
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.
If the first thing that I noticed about The Pledge was the awesome world, then the second thing was the points of view. The main character Charlie's point of view is written in the first person. Most of the chapters are spent in her point of view. There are also three other points of view within the story, in order to show the reader further bits of the plot as it unfolds. These are told in the third person. I'm not sure if the jump back and forth works for me. I have mixed feelings as to whether I'd have preferred it if all of the points of view were written in third to make it more uniform. The transitions aren't particularly fluid, but I may not have liked Charlie as much in the third person. It doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the story, but does sometimes feel awkward.
Charlie is a heroine who is mostly smart. There are a few things that she doesn't really pick up on right away. It's easy to say that she maybe should have, but we as readers do know a little more than she does. I find her to be likable even though she occasionally irritates. Her language comprehension means that she usually knows more than people think she does. She loves her family and friends. Her best girl friend Brook is a flirt and a little bit of an attention whore, but there's a lot more to her than that. Aron is the boy next door and the other best friend. He carries the girls' bags and gives Charlie little gifts like extra pieces of silk cloth from his father's store. He's protective. It's not safe to walk alone, so they all walk together. Max is the hot, mysterious guy who speaks a language that Charlie has never heard before. Charlie finds this intriguing, but also worrisome.
For a while, the situation with the two boys was making me angry. It looked like a love triangle would ensue. And not a good one, but rather one of the infuriating ones in which a girl ignores her amazing and loyal best friend in order to become instantly hip-fused to some mysteriously hot, dangerous guy who she barely knows. I told myself that if it happens that way then it would ruin what is a potentially amazing book by making the heroine into a cliché. Though in this case the hot, dangerous guy is at least interesting and has not expressed any desire to eat Charlie alive, imprison her, or kill her. So that's a plus! And the way that things turn out did end up working for me. But there is a noticeable shift in character inclusion that aids in allowing this. I would have preferred more scenes that included Aron and/or Max so that their relationships with Charlie could be more clearly explained, explored, developed, and defined.
The pacing of the book is fast. There's not a lot of actual fighting, but there is a lot of conflict. The country is at war and danger is always a possibility. Charlie and Brook hang out at some places that aren't exactly safe. Sirens sound, alerting people to get to shelters for potential bombings. People get hanged for the slightest offenses. It's a lot of tension and madness and some chaos. The world building is done really well. I think that the setting Derting has created is pretty brilliant. And it is a bit darker than what I was expecting, due to the nature of magic that the queen possesses. There are some themes going on within this book that I thoroughly love to see explored - class distinction, language barriers, Babel type stuff in which people are divided into linguistic groups.
The way that this book ended, it could easily be a stand alone read as there is closure strong enough that it should solve any existing conflict. Goodreads shows it as a series, though, and I assume that is because it was mentioned someplace that more books would be written. For the purposes of this book, though, closure is pretty complete. So if you aren't into series or cliffhangers, this one won't leave you with unresolved issues.