A tyrant regime, a secret that could change everything AND a forbidden romance - what's not to love? But as I attempt to formulate my thoughts into coherent sentences, I'm seeing a re-occurring trend: the evil queen wasn't frightening, the big secret didn't blow my mind, the characters were lack-lustre and the forbidden romance came out of left field. In short, I'm left feeling quite underwhelmed by almost every aspect of this book.
The world-building was virtually non-existent. Having been subjected to several history lessons from Charlie, it was easy to deduce that The Pledge is set in the far-off future, yet it was never really touched on whether society had regressed into a time without technological advances, or if it indeed did possess some futuristic technologies. Charlie does mention that people of her status can't afford the luxury of electricity or motorized vehicles, and the resistance does have access to some heavy artillery, but then Queen's army is armed with swords? And everyone is forced to wear a passport, which is scanned at various check-in points to verify the owner's citizenship (which I assume uses some type of computer-technology to cross-reference the information) and Charlie attends dance clubs and is drugged through a stamp to her hand, but those who have committed a transgression are subjected to a public hanging in the middle of Town Square. The mix of the new with the old was never fully explained, and it left me unable to visualize the world in which Charlie lives. I kept picturing everything happening in a medieval setting, only for something futuristic to interrupt my vision and leave me confused.
The characters lacked depth and personality. Charlie was a nice enough protagonist, in that she didn't annoy me, but she didn't stand out in any way. She mostly catered to the whims of her best friend Brooklyn, who I thought was terribly selfish, and spent the book having things happen to her, versus making things happen. Her insta-love interest, Max, showed up out of the blue and seemed to be "intrigued" by her for no good reason, and her attraction to him was based solely on his physical appearance; I felt no chemistry between them. I was secretly hoping for her long-time, super protective, best friend, Aron to show up as the third player in a love triangle, but other then carrying her bag to school, he didn't seem to serve much of a purpose. The evil queen was supposedly someone to be feared, but the constant references to her body's frailty had me unable to imagine her as anything but a cranky old woman. The other supporting characters were more of the same, in that I didn't dislike any of them, but none of them left a lasting impression on me - none of them stood out in any way and I'll be surprised if I remember any of their names tomorrow.
The pacing was decent, but the action was mild and the excitement was always short lived. The plot twists were surprisingly predictable (meaning that I kept thinking, there's no way Derting will make it this easy for me to guess what's going to happen next), and the plot moved in a fairly straight-forward manner. Charlie's interactions with the members of the resistance showed that she was neither for, nor against, their views (how surprising), and so her choice at the end completely blindsided me (and not in the good way; it was more in the lines of...did I miss something?) - when did she decide where she stood on things?. The ending tried to be dramatic, but fit into the predictability of the rest of the plot. It did leave a couple questions unanswered - why didn't Angelina speak? What good is Charlie's ability, and will she learn she has other powers? - both things which might be answered in the sequel, but frankly, I don't care enough to find out.
Needless to say, I was really stoked about this book, especially since I got a free ARC from a giveaway through Presenting Lenore. You know me and my undying love for dystopias. Unfortunately, The Pledge did not fulfill my hopes. It had some good parts and some rather obnoxious parts, which I will attempt to enumerate somewhat in this review.
A society based on discrepancies in language is a very interesting idea, especially since, in some senses, this has been done in real cultures, such as how Russian royals used to speak in French. Intriguing, too, were the seemingly magical powers possessed by Charlie and the Queen of the realm. Why do only women have the capability to have such powers? I don't know, but, heck yeah, strong women! Actually, one of the few things I really liked about Charlie is that she spoke almost entirely in Englaise, because she didn't see the point of making things hard on people. Why not speak so everyone could understand?
While I liked the language differences, I had trouble accepting that people were incapable of ever learning a language they were not born with. This just isn't how language works so far as I know. Not being allowed to speak an upper crust language, I get, but being incapable of ever learning or speaking it?
Another thing I really didn't like was what transpired in one particular scene. Charlie and her best friend Brooklynn go to an illegal nightclub, despite being underage (woo, doubly illegal!). When let in, they receive hand stamps, much like clubs now have for those below the drinking age, only these are laced with drugs to loosen people up. Charlie feels some ill effects from hers, so she decides to wander around the building and finds a secret hallway. Discovered by a mysterious, vaguely creepy, secretive guy, she lets him put something else on her hand (supposedly to help, but what does she know?!?) and falls asleep trustingly. To be fair, nothing untoward occurred, but I just want to say that no one should ever do this. Charlie is a bad role model!
While the overarching plot had some interesting things going on, the romance running through it was just completely stereotypical YA and barftastic. The words describing any encounter between Charlie and Max are reminiscent of such works as Twilight, Personal Demons, or Hereafter. Here's a sample scene of the two of them, just after their first makeout session: "I was still shaking when I finally turned my head away, ending the kiss. It was the hardest thing I'd ever done. My lips felt swollen and raw, and achingly cold in the absence of his" (265). The hardest thing she ever had to do? Really? Come on.
At this juncture, I do not know if I will be trying the sequel; I may have to just to figure out why a sequel needs to exist, as this seems to have wrapped up the existing plot threads. For those of you who enjoy melodramatic teenage romances complete with instalove and some dystopian business, The Pledge will satisfy your every desire.