"Words had become the ultimate barrier. The law made it criminal to communicate in anything other than our birth tongue or Englaise. Anyone who showed any aptitude toward language was executed. Persecution kept anyone else from trying.
Yet even if everyone was equal, I would still be on the outside, because I understood all languages. And my ability didn't end with the spoken word. I could decipher all manners of communication, including those that were visual or tactile."
Ludania was once briefly ruled by rulers chosen by its people. That was after the Reign of Sovereigns had ended in bloodshed and violence, and a President had been elected. But the other countries had not accepted this situation as they were all ruled by queens and they refused to trade with Ludania. Because of this, famine overcame the land.
Finally a new queen was found, one who conquered the country and installed herself as queen of Ludania. It was at this point that the class system was imposed. The people were divided into Servants, Vendors and Counsel, each speaking a different language. A common language, Englaise is permitted to be spoken by all. It became illegal to speak the language of another class and in this way the class divisions were strengthened. The penalty for speaking another language was immediate death.All citizens of Ludania are required to recite the pledge, in which they pledge to worship their queen and remain loyal to her and to the country.
Ludania is now ruled over by Queen Sabara who has a death grip on the country. Queen Sabara rules by virtue of her magic power and has lived for centuries by taking over the body of a younger woman. Since no one can rule except a queen, and no royal female has been born in the last two generations, Queen Sabara is in danger of dying and losing her throne. So the search is on for a female of royal blood whom Queen Sabara can use.
In addition to this problem, Ludania is coming under attack by rebels who want to dethrone the queen and create a more democratic state.
The protagonist, Charlie Hart (Charlaina) is a seventeen year old from the Vendor class. Her class language is Parshon but she understands all other languages, an ability she tries to keep secret because it will mean death for her and her family. She lives in the Capitol with her mother and father and her mute, younger sister, Angelina. Because life is so strictly controlled, the people of the Capitol turn to the clubs to unwind. There they experience, drugs and music. It is at a new club that Charlie meets Max, a young man, unlike any other she has ever seen. Max is a handsome military officer who seems to have a strong attraction for Charlie. He and his two friends stand out because of the large physical presence. Max begins to show up outside Charlie's home and also at her parent's restaurant. Charlie wants nothing to do with him though. She feels intimidated and disturbed by his sudden interest in her and she also suspects that he might know her secret - that she can understand languages other than that of her own class. She is further puzzled when Max pledges to keep her safe.
"How could he vow such a thing? How could I take such a promise seriously? He barely knew me, and I certainly didn't know him. Not well enough to trust him. Not with the kind of information he already knew, or at least suspected he knew, about me."
When there is a massive attack on the city, Charlie and Angelina flee to the ancient tunnels with the help of Max. There they meet up with Xander, the leader of the resistance as well many others who are living in the extensive tunnels. When Charlie learns who Max is she struggles to determine where his loyalty lies. Will he help her or betray her?
Eventually Charlie learns that the Queen has captured her parents after suspecting that Charlie is the royal female she is seeking. In an attempt to free her parents, Charlie decides to meet the Queen despite warnings that the Queen has a powerful and old magic that no one has been able to overcome. Now Charlie is faced with choices she never thought she would have to confront. At stake is her future and the future of her country. Which path will she choose and can she win the inevitable supernatural battle she must undertake with Queen Sabara?
The Pledge is an unusual, if somewhat predictable, dystopian novel that includes a supernatural element. This element, which is Queen Sabara's power to steal the body of another, is quite creepy. It is this magic that has allowed her to stay in power for centuries and we know she plans to use it again. But she needs the body of a royal female.
The story has a strong romantic element throughout, detailing the struggle of Charlie to resist her attraction to the physically impressive Max. Derting is masterful in portraying the tender and romantic way that Max relates to Charlie. He tries to gently win Charlie over and to overcome her suspicions about him. He tells Charlie that she intrigues him, although we never learn why that is so.
Charlie is a strong female protagonist who is very attentive to her younger sister and loyal to her family and friends. She has a strong sense of family and feels a deep obligation to them, especially when she learns they are captured by the Queen.
Because The Pledge ends with a hint that all is not well, I am anticipating the next novel, although I have a feeling I know where the storyline will go. The Pledge is a dystopian novel with elements of a fairytale; a wicked queen with magic powers, a handsome prince, a beautiful princess and a kingdom to be won. My only complaint: an unimaginative book cover that is similar to other YA books.
The Pledge by Kimberly Derting
New York: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishers 2011