Pawn by Aimée Carter
Series: The Blackcoat Rebellion, #1
Published: November 26, 2013, Harlequin Teen
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian
Source: Publisher via NetgalleyGoodreads · Amazon · Barnes & Noble
“They may be weak when the game begins, but their potential is remarkable. Most of the time, they’ll be taken by the other side and held captive until the end of the game. But if you’re careful--if you keep your eyes open and pay attention to what your opponent is doing, if you protect your pawns and they reach the other side of the board, do you know what happens then?”
I shook my head, and she smiled."Your pawn becomes a queen."
Five years after The Hunger Games released, YA dystopian literature is still going strong. I get its appeal and why it continues to resonate with readers. While not my favorite genre, I still tend to enjoy the dystopians I read. At least, I enjoy those works of dystopian literature that stay true to their purpose of providing critiques of social and political structures of futuristic societies. Nothing infuriates me more than a poorly constructed or subdued dystopian world that has little purpose beyond creating obstacles for star-crossed lovers.
Fortunately, Pawn by Aimee Carter places political and social criticisms as first and foremost in its story. It may not be the most unique offering to YA dystopian literature, but I still found it entertaining and well done overall.
For the past seventeen years, Kitty Doe has grown used to the fact that she’s expendable. She is the unwanted (and illegal) second child of lower-rank parents who have since died. Because of this, she’s grown up in a orphanage for second children, referred to as Extras. Besides her relationship with her best friend Benjy, a fellow orphan and an Extra, Kitty’s been fixated on her seventeenth birthday. In her futuristic United States, people are given a test on their seventeenth birthdays which determines their societal rank from I to VI and their future occupations.
Kitty, with her limited educational resources and reading problems, was doomed to fail from the start. She’s grown up believing in the system’s fairness, however, and thinks her determination to succeed will be enough. The III emblazoned on the back of her neck is not only a shock to her, but she sees it as a declaration of her unworthiness. Most of all, she sees it as confirmation that she and Benjy (a sure VI) will never work out. So when Prime Minister Hart offers her the chance to become a VII, to enjoy a life of wealth and comfort beyond her wildest dreams, Kitty accepts.
Of course, Kitty has no idea the repercussions of the bargain she just made. Only members of the ruling Hart family can have the VII rank, and to become one of them Kitty is masked quite literally, turned into the recently-deceased niece of the Prime Minister, Lila Hart. And her life, which would have been restrictive as a III, becomes even more so as she must give up her old attachments for a brand new life she cannot leave.
Honestly, the reason I was able to enjoy this book to the extent that I did is directly related to Kitty’s first person narration. As I’ve mentioned before, dystopian literature is fairly common, and Carter employs many well-known tropes in her story. Perhaps a bit reminiscent of Katniss, Kitty is naive and initially unwilling to do something about the problems in her world. She’s also a bit too trusting, pigheaded, and backs off of conflicts too easily. Because of these qualities, I found that she was the perfect narrator to introduce readers to her world. Readers who are overly familiar with the intrigue and rebellions between the “haves” and “have nots” of dystopian literature are almost forced to slow down and really appreciate Kitty’s consternation as she finds affirmation after affirmation that nothing is as it seems. These revelations are huge in her understanding of the world, which jaded dystopian readers should keep in mind.
The central conflict in Pawn is not really a rebellion, however. Kitty is more than simply a heroine reluctant to assume the burden of responsibility; her purpose throughout the novel is consistent: find a way to ensure that Benjy is given the life he deserves. She falters here and there, but Benjy acts as a beacon of hope that some things in their life will work out as they should. Benjy has always deserved to gain a high ranking, and Kitty works to ensure that nothing she or anyone else does prevents him from achieving his potential. Pawn starts out with Kitty and Benjy in a committed, long-term relationship, which was actually a nice change from a focus on the throes and drama of a new romance. Not even Lila’s fiancé Knox can throw a wrench into their relationship.
Perhaps the least successful part of this novel was the in depiction of the rebellion and Lila’s role in it. Although Kitty is supposed to be Lila, I never had a good understanding of who Lila was. Her presence in the rebellion was similarly undefined, although Kitty’s interactions with other sympathetic Hart family members begin to shed a bit of light on that. Through her new life as Lila, readers are able to witness the effect of the revolution from the other side: the side of the enfranchised. Readers are also able to see the stark differences in life for the highest class and the lowest of lows (Kitty may not be a I, but she’s an “Extra” in a society that has a strict set of predetermined rules and behaviors for people to follow). The various ways that Carter allows her readers to view the rebellion are interesting, to say the least.
Outside of the rebellion itself, the rest of the political intrigue felt a tad...overzealous of Carter? Literally every single character has incriminating secrets and ulterior motives. Perhaps Carter is simply trying to detail Kitty’s loss of naivety, but it was a bit frustrating for me to see Kitty come to the same conclusion again and again: no one can be trusted. She needs to trust herself. This message is repeated throughout the novel ad nauseam. At least Kitty’s naivety is fairly consistent.
Nothing that Carter has done with Pawn is truly groundbreaking for dystopian literature. But that’s all right. I don’t believe every novel necessarily has to advance its genre. Pawn is entertaining and has some fairly thought-provoking perspectives on rebellion and identity. While I don’t necessarily feel like reading through Carter’s backlog, I will be continuing on with this series.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Disclaimer: I received this review copy from the publisher, but that in no way affected my opinion. The quote is from an advanced copy of the novel and is subject to change in the final edition.