The Blackcoat Rebellion #1
Release Date: November 26, 2013
There is a lot to like about Aimee Carter’s new series starter Pawn. It was a tightly plotted novel with gripping political intrigue, fantastic world building and some really shocking plot twists. Don’t let my rating deter you, this one is definitely worth reading.
When Pawn starts off we are immediately thrust into a future version of America that is very caste based. Kitty Doe, our amiable protagonist, has just turned seventeen and taken the test that decides your place in the world. Based on this one test you are assigned a number between I and VII. The numbers not only decide what job you will have but also what goods and resources will be available to you. Getting a low number condemns you to the crappiest jobs and harshest life, and it almost guarantees you will die much younger than those that score higher. As an extra (a second child from a lower caste family who is sent to be raised in a home similar to an orphanage with other extras) she sees the test as her chance to finally prove her value. Kitty was desperately hoping to get a IV (which is considered average in this society) but although she is smart her dyslexia interferes with her ability to complete the test and she earns a lowly III. She doesn’t really mind that she is assigned to a job cleaning sewers. She does mind that the job is in Denver, far from her home in D.C. and her boyfriend Benjy. Her reluctance to accept this causes her to make some less than stellar choices and she ends up being offered the chance to become a VII. This is the highest number and is reserved solely for the royal family. Lila Hart, niece of the Prime Minister, has been killed but the public doesn’t know this and the royal family would prefer to keep it that way. They offer Kitty the chance to be Masked and assume her life. With few options and some less than gentle coaxing, she accepts.
We have to talk about the world building first- it was fantastic! The economic crashes, food shortages, and overpopulation issues that led to the creation of this society were so realistic. I had no trouble believing this could actually happen in America. Elsewhere (the place all I’s, elderly, and those no longer able to pull their weight in society are sent) was worse than I even imagined. It was so horrifically cold and inhumane it still makes feel icky just thinking about it.
Kitty is a very likeable heroine. She is a smart and caring young girl who is willing to sacrifice anything to protect the people she loves. She has not had an easy life but instead of whining and carrying around a chip on her shoulder she is determined to make the best life for herself she possibly can. She’s got a strong backbone on her too and doesn’t allow herself to bullied or manipulated by the people around her. I think my favorite quality was that she isn’t very reactive. Some very traumatic things happen but she manages to rein herself in and actually think about what the wisest course of action is before doing anything. I also loved the fact that the author made her dyslexic. We don’t often see our YA heroines dealing with any learning difficulties. That being said, I found her ability to memorize entire books and long speeches in record time a tough pill to swallow.
The royal family was wonderfully complex. Their family drama and political maneuvering was really compelling. They all have their own hidden agendas and want to use Kitty to their own ends and I was never sure who I should trust. I spent most of the book pretty sure I couldn’t trust any of them. None of them are one-note though and whether you love or hate them by the end of it you do understand their motivations. Even one of the most evil “bad guys” in the story has some deeply humanizing moments that almost make you feel sympathy for them.
The romance and Benjy in general were weak points for me. In fairness, there wasn’t a whole lot of either in the book. Benjy was likeable enough in the beginning but there wasn’t enough time to truly develop an attachment to him or their romance. When he reappears later, he’s kind of flat and seems to be there simply as a means to threaten Kitty into compliance. Without getting to spend much time seeing their relationship or watching it develop I was left feeling rather “meh” about it. I understood mentally why she was willing to sacrifice so much for him but it lacked the emotional punch it should have had with me.
Overall, this was a really solid beginning but I didn’t invest as much emotionally in the characters as I would have liked. The other elements in the story were strong enough that I will be reading the next book and giving it another chance to fully hook me. I definitely recommend giving this one a shot, even if you’re feeling a little burnt out on dystopias.