Review: The Pledge by Kimberly Derting

Sunday, November 13, 2011
Title: The Pledge
Genre: dystopia, young-adult, fantasy
Series: The Pledge #1
Pages: 340 (Nook ARC from the publisher)
Published: November 2011
Source: publishers via S&S Galley Grab
Rating: 3.5/5

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.

The Pledge was a struggle for me to read through, in several ways over several days. For all that I enjoyed the story while I was caught up in it and reading, once I'd set it down for the day, there would be a definite lull before I felt the urge to pick up the novel once again.  I just expected more from this author and this novel, if I am being honest, for in several aspects Ms. Derting's world is a shallow reflection of the possibilities for the story. With the world rigidly segregated by class and by speech and led by a maniacal body-jumping Queen, The Pledge definitely has a fresh and unique spin on the current and oh-so-popular dystopian trend for young-adult novels going for it. And I personally found The Pledge  not to be wholly a dystopic young-adult novel: the fantasy/magical elements are strong and a central part of both the novel and the characters themselves. 

The first area I was slightly disappointed in were the characters. For me, nearly 100% of these characters fell entirely flat. I felt like the third person omniscient point of view used for the Queen/Max/etc. did me no favors either: I had a difficult time investing in the story from such a removed perspective on the characters. The only first person narrative was for the main character and I disliked the shifts between - very disconcerting to read. Charlaina, the almost milquetoast heroine, never inspired true sympathy with me and her irritating insta!love situation with OBVIOUS love-interest Max did her no favors either. She never stood out to me: I didn't get (that) irritated with her, I didn't love her, I didn't want to hang out with her - my typical associations and categories for female leads. She's kind and unselfish, yes, but where's the personality? The vim, the pop, the individuality? Charlie was largely no different from a thousand other young-adult novel protagonists, and it felt like a chance wasted. The only stand-out about her is her hidden talent with languages, and her relationship with her mute little sister. Charlie's two best friends - Aron and Brooklynn - also fall victim to this same lack of dimension, Aron in particular. Brooklynn, the carefree and careless boy-crazy sexpot, gets the benefit of a nicely-done plot twist to flesh her out more, but Aron remains the same cardboard cut-out for the duration. 

Now, for another of my letdowns for The Pledge, the love-interest Maxmillian. I either wanted to kill him half the time, and spent the other 50% of his screen-time just trying to figure out the motivation of the character could possibly be. He's a trope-ish and cliched dark-haired mystery man with a hidden agenda who is inexplicable drawn to Charlie. I'm really, really weary of the whole overdone and lazy excuse of the"inexplicably drawn" line for young-adult romances: is it too much to ask for two characters to meet as friends and then gradually segue into a mature, believable relationship? Apparently, yes yes it is as I could never discern the reason why Max became so quickly and vociferously attached to young Ms. Hart. I felt very little chemistry between Charlie and Max as well. No pop, no sizzle and no line of dialogue really convinced me that these two were supposed to be with one another. I guess I liked them both well enough, but together they did not shoot sparks together. I honestly like them both on their own, independent - but that's probably my knee-jerk reaction to their oh-so-special instalove.

As stated earlier, I felt Ms. Derting's worldbuilding left a lot to be desired, for me personally. Her world is set in a time described only as, "After the Revolution of the Sovereigns" but hardly any details about what that event/war was about are ever provided. Even in the present day of the novel, with the Queen facing even more rebellions, etc., no more details are provided for why the country is the way it is. It just bothered me from the outset - Icrave a well-rounded novel with a vibrant setting always. Barely sketched outlines seem to set the foundation of the country of Ludania, and I craved more setting, more substance for the locale/Kingdom/city themselves. The little details of life in Ludania are sometimes supplied: there are normal-ish pasttimes that readers can identify with: dancing, illegal drinking/drugging) to tie along with the more outlandish (read: magical) elements. I just missed the bigger picture details that Ms. Derting failed to include. Her country of Ludania never comes to life, never seems or feels like a real place to the reader and that is a shame. "The Pledge" from which the novel takes its name/series takes its name, is the required daily obeisance each person of the country must person as well as a reminder of their respective places in society - only the Queen is worth saving, protecting and pledging.

I did love the language/communicative aspect for the novel. Sadly, Derting didn't go so far as to truly create and vocabularize the three languages of Ludania (Termani - the language of the elite/nobility, Parshon - the Vendor/serving class language and lastly Englaise - universal) - that we know so far - but relied on italics to stress the different languages. Derting does an adequate job of using words to isolate her classes/characters: this is a country of no trust and little love, where fathers turn in daughters and sons turn in mothers to the secret police. I liked some stuff from the novel well enough (words are power/distinction, matrilineal descent, but there was never enough detail or information for me to really feel completely satisfied with the story. It just felt half-done, or half-plotted out at points (Sydney? What as the point of her addition to the story? Xander - why did he turn? Why did "she" let him? No reasons provided!) and incomplete. 

I also felt vaguely disappointed by the ending. It felt sadly lackluster and almost dull after the 300 page build-up of raids, bombs, shelters, secret police, secret deadly abilities. . . but, if anything, this is the most forgivable of my problems with this novel - for there are to be two more sequels. If Ms. Derting doesn't fill in some holes, answer some questions, provide some information on her world's past/current situation, I'm going to be a very disgruntled reader. After all that, why is this still a 3.5 out of 5 stars? I did fully enjoy the style of the novel itself - Ms. Derting is a more than able wordsmith and I hope her next effort doesn't founder in the other aspects of her writing. It's also a fast-paced action novel, and I found the varied advenures kept me reading when the characters failed to do so. I will continue reading this series to find out what happens - and to see if Max, Charlie, Brooklynn and Angelina grow on me a bit more.


  1. it worth it to read this? I've read mixed reviews so far.

  2. I would read it, yes. I would wait for a paperback copy though. I'm glad I had an ARC to read through because I had so many issues with it. I will still buy and read the sequels, but they can definitely wait.

  3. I am sorry the end is a disappointment. I hate that....


  4. Me too, Mary! I just have to hold onto hope for better from the sequels :D

  5. Have you read the Body Finder series? If so, how would you think the Pledge is compared to that series? I read the first two and had to stop because I found that the writing wasn't too great, and the romance took a front seat even though it wasn't really the point of the plot. Just wanted to know if the Pledge has the same problems?


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