Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Review: The Pledge by Kimberley Derting

Paperback book cover of The Pledge by Kimberley Derting
I know The Pledge seems to have been around the blogosphere for a while now, but Allison & Busby were nice enough to send me a shiny new copy to coincide with the paperback release. I can't even begin to explain how excited I was to read it - it's a unique new fantasy concept by a respected author, but more that that - it's a stand-alone book. There is a sequel coming in 2012, but The Pledge can easily be read on its own. YA series seem to be the in-thing at the minute, so it makes a nice change to read a fully contained story without waiting a year for the second half of a huge cliffhanger.

Plot summary - Seventeen-year-old Charlaina knows she has exceptional but perilous powers. In the far future, in a land controlled by an aged and ruthless queen, the classes are strictly divided by the language they speak. Even acknowledging a member of the ruling class while they are speaking their native tongue is punishable by death. Charlie can understand all languages, a secret she must protect to stay alive.

When she meets the alluringly handsome Max, who speaks in a language she hasn't heard before, she is intensely attracted to him. Max believes that Charlie is the key to something bigger and he pledges to protect her. But as war descends, can she trust him?

I think I was expecting a dystopian story, but I'd say it's definitely more of a  fantasy novel. The concept isn't that our own society has devolved into this environment, instead this is a YA fantasy story where each class has it's own language that cannot be understood by others. There's an ageing Queen with her own magic and other nearby Kingdoms vying to take over when she dies. It was actually quite a pleasant surprise to discover all the elements of a great fantasy book!.

I loved the concept - there's kind of a Tower of Babel thing going on. There's no actual reference to the Bible story, but that's the vibe I took from it. I can't think of any other novels that have used this idea and it intrigued me from the moment I read the synopsis last year.

Kimberley Derting is clearly a talented world-builder. The Kingdom of Ludania is wonderfully described, and its history is explained clearly to give us a thorough understanding of how the classes came to be divided in such a way. The troubles and disadvantages caused by such a decision are subtly worked into the narration, but they're obvious nevertheless. Nothing annoys me more than an attempted fantasy novel where little effort has been put into the world creation, but The Pledge succeeds spectacularly.

I do wish certain plot aspects had been explained quite as well though. For example, Charlie's history lessons tell us that each class has it's own language to avoid the threat of rebellion against the Queen - if they can't communicate, then they can't plot together. But then if there's been one central, universal language right from the beginning, that seems to defeat the purpose somewhat. Angelina's lack of speech was never explained either and that irritated me quite a lot too. 

Explanation niggles aside, the plot is very fast-paced. There's not a lot of time to rest between action scenes, rebellion and fights and at times I was desperate to know what happened next. Characterisation is sacrificed a tiny bit to pull this off, but not to a great extent.

There's nothing particularly special about Charlie herself, other than her ability to understand all languages. She's not irritating, but not overly likeable either. I actually preferred her younger sister, Angelina. Xander deserves a mention however - he's by far my favourite character. As leader of the rebels, he's charismatic and energised and I loved his whole backstory and moral views. 

I did notice that a lot of the characters weren't actually necessary to the plot. I was expecting a love triangle to build-up with two characters, but then it didn't happen, rendering one of the boys kind of redundant. It reads as though Ms Derting had actually planned to write it and then changed her mind. The romance that did happen isn't wonderful either - there is the most Instant of Insta-Love. You know, where the character just suddenly decide they love each other without any reason or explanation. When does this happen in the real world, when!? 

Long story short, I really enjoyed The Pledge. There are a few faults, but these are mostly overshadowed by the unique premise and wonderful world-building. It has that amazing true fantasy atmosphere and it makes a nice change to read a novel that doesn't require a sequel to finish the story. 

Visit Kimberley Derting's website here or find her on Twitter.


  1. A fantasy stand-alone? I thought they were a rumour! I'm intrigued.

    I love the idea that different classes speak different languages - that's clever, even if it might not be extended to its full potential. I remain wholly convinced by the falling-in-love-with-someone-who-doesn't-speak-your-language thing though. He could be insulting you to your face the whole time and you'd never know! Or something less childish, wouldn't be able to spend angsty hours talking about how in love you were with each other...

    Incidentally, when I was "checking",this is 'out of stock' on Waterstones' website, which has made me from being vaguely interested in reading it to wanting to.

    1. Well, I thought it was a stand-alone but it turns out there's a sequel next year. But it is a SEQUEL, not the next part of the story if that makes sense? Like, this book can be read completely on its own.

      God, can you imagine? It's be great :) You'd only be able to communicate with sock puppets - can you imagine how many pointless arguments that would cut out!?

      Oh, you can have mine if you like? I wasn't going to keep it anyway, so I'll post it this week. Same address as before?

    2. You are a book angel, you know that?! And just the thought of moving house makes me exhausted so yes, I'm still in the same place :)

      I shall return your generosity with a copy of Pride and Prejudice that you don't yet own! Promise!

      And I have no clue how I managed to forget that there was a sequel between reading it at the top of your post and commenting at the bottom. I shall plead chaotic times at work and the degenerative effect that has on my brain as my excuse! :-s

  2. I have to agree with you. There were a few small faults in this book but those were overshadowed for me as well with the great world building and the great characters. Plus it felt like a lot of people don't set YA books in the time this is set and I just loved it. I really enjoyed everything that happened and so I can't wait for the next book.

    Glad you enjoyed this one so much, you should try her other books if you haven't already. Thanks for the great review!

    1. I haven't read them, no. I didn't even realise she'd written any more until I saw them advertised in the back of this one!

  3. I love the new cover for this one. The original cover is so dark! Nice review - I agree with a lot of your points.


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