Saturday, December 24, 2011

Tomorrow We'll Talk Dickens; Today, We're Talking Derting

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I know it's Christmas Eve and I should be talking about festive holiday stuff, but I'm going to take a little dystopian detour instead. Tomorrow we'll talk Dickens; today, we're talking Derting. As in Kimberly. You may recall that Kimberly Derting has authored two previous books, The Body Finder and its first sequel, Desires of the Dead. I loved the former, found the latter disappointing, and subsequently wondered whether I should bother reading her newest. For about five minutes, anyway. Then, I logged onto my library's website and reserved myself a copy of The Pledge, the first book in Derting's new YA dystopian series. Am I glad I did? Um, yeah. Totally.

The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, in a country called Ludania. Here, the people are divided by a strict caste system, which prohibits intimate contact between the different classes. Separated not only by custom but also by language, citizens of Ludania don't intermix for anything other than business. The tiniest errors in conduct - like looking straight at a member of a higher class while they're talking in their native tongue - are punishable by death. It's a vicious, turbulent way of life, one that's becoming more precarious with each passing day. Not only is Ludania's queen dying without a female heir to take her place, but the country's enemies are eager to invade. The vainglorious monarch will not suffer anyone's criticism, let alone whispers of treason, so her spies keep a close watch on her subjects, executing anyone who steps one toe out of line.

As a Vendor, 17-year-old Charlaina "Charlie" Hart knows her place in society. She's accepted her position at the bottom, serving her betters with dilligence, if not enthusiasm. It's best, she knows, to keep her head down, to avoid attention, to keep her secret talent hidden from prying eyes. No one besides her parents and younger sister can know the truth - that ordinary Charlie Hart can understand every language she hears. It's a dangerous skill, not to mention a confounding one. Charlie's never heard of anyone who can do what she can. It's not until she meets a mysterious stranger that Charlie begins to understand just how powerful her "gift" really is. Could her little party trick really save her country from a tyrannical leader? Or will it get her sent straight to the gallows?

While some of The Pledge's setup (like the almost Medieval setting, for instance) seemed familiar, I loved the book's original touches. The whole idea of different languages separating social classes intrigued me, as did Charlie's ability to read all the nuances of the spoken word. It's a fascinating premise, one that kept me turning pages just to see how it would all play out. While the storyline gets a little predictable and the characters (especially the males) don't get nearly enough development, I enjoyed this engrossing, dystopian tale. In fact, my reaction is pretty much the same one I had to The Body Finder: Please, God, tell me a sequel's coming ...

Okay, Derting's website says it's going to be a trilogy. Phew. Now I can breathe again!

(Readalikes: Reminded me a little of the Bayern series [The Goose Girl; Enna Burning; River Secrets; and Forest Born] by Shannon Hale)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for mild language (no F-bombs), violence and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

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