The Essence by Kimberly Derting is the second book in the Pledge trilogy and unlike most second books, it is mostly engaging read that is well written. This book picks up where The Pledge left off, with Charlaina now Queen of Ludania after having defeated and destroyed the evil Queen Sabara. However, Charlaina carries a dark secret deep inside her. While everyone else, including her beloved Max thinks that the evil Queen Sabara is dead, in fact, her essence has been transferred to Charlaina. Unlike previous transfers where Sabara simply pushes out the essence (soul) of the body she steals, both her and Charlaina continue to co-exist in Charlaina's body. It is a constant battle for Charlaina to keep control over the ancient queen. Even the healing powers of her younger sister, Angelina, cannot rid her of Sabara. It is this struggle that forms the backbone of the second novel.
When the emissary for Queen Vespaire of the Third Realm, Niko Bartolo arrives at the palace, Charlaina finds herself strangely attracted to the man, despite her deep love for Max. At first she does not understand this attraction, but soon comes to recognize that it is Sabara who is attracted to Niko whose response she is experiencing.
Despite the internal struggle with Sabara, Charlaina has begun to effect changes in her country that she hopes will move her people forward. She has removed the class system and made Englaise the state language. Children from the old classes, vendor, servants, counsel and outcast study together. But there is resistance to her changes too.
When Charlaina appears at a new school dedication, the school is bombed and many are killed and injured. The intent was to kill the new queen. Brooklynn, now head of the Ludania's army, is certain her own father is behind the attack.To protect Charlaina from further attacks, Max decides that she will leave early for the upcoming summit of Queens to be held in Queen Neva's palace. But on her way there, Charlaina and her bodyguard, Zafir are kidnapped by a Scablands sympathizer whose intent is protect her from being murdered by someone in her retinue.
Once at the summit, Charlaina must deal with the queens, as well as with Sabara's attempt to force her to be with Niko. The summit, rather strangely, turns out to be one big girls party that ends rather abruptly when Charlaina is challenged by another queen and Sabara intervenes. Charlaina travels to the south of her realm to be with her family. With the traitor still at large, Niko devises a plan to draw out the murderer. This plan reveals foreign interference in Ludania and the potential for war.
The Essence is much different from the first novel, focusing more on Charlaina's internal struggle to control Sabara and prevent her from taking over her psyche. Derting attempts somewhat successfully, to convey to her readers the struggle and the conflict Charlaina experiences over Sabara. Sabara wants to continue living on, so she can be with Niko, who is also very ancient. Charlaina rejects Sabara's attempts to allow her to transfer to another body and begins to understand that she is a danger to those around her. The summit provides the stage for Sabara gaining increasing influence over
Charlaina, while the threat of a traitor in the queen's party takes a
backstage to her internal struggles. It must certainly be rather bizarre having someone else inside your head, especially when you are either kissing someone you don't necessarily want to (Niko) or kissing someone you really want to (Max).
Lacking in The Essence is further development of Max and Charlaina's relationship. Instead Charlaina's relationships with her bodyguard, Zafir, and with Niko and Sabara are the focus. It will be interesting to see where Derting takes the story line from here. The overall storyline of The Essence is weak; the summit was rather disappointing and seemed quite frivolous, and the terrorist acts which set up the prelude to war is obviously a hint at part of the third novel's focus.
Overall, The Essence is a decent second installment which draws the reader in with the strange problem of Charlaina struggling against her old nemesis, Queen Sabara.
The Essence by Kimberly Derting
New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books 2013