Refreshing New Dystopian with Loads of Political Intrigue
4 March, 2014
This is not the first dystopian I've read, and I doubt it'll be the last. But with dozens of dystopian books coming out every month, the natural progression of affairs is bound to result in very similar plots and run of the mill stories. I've read my share of such books, so nowadays, I'm a bit more careful in selecting dystopians.
Pawn, however, is a fresh new story, with a careful combination of the present and a ghastly future.
At first glance, Pawn appears to be the typical dystopian, with stringent rules against everything, an oppressive ruler, and a police force that comes down hard on even small departures from what is deemed correct behaviour. But then comes the interesting part. Pawn is set in the US, but its now a meritocracy - people are selected according to their merit. Until age 17, all kids are given education and not held accountable for their actions. But on their 17th birthday, they undergo a test based on how much they can contribute to the betterment of the society through their intelligence and talent. Ranks rage from I to VI. Ideally, it would be great to get a IV or above.
Kitty, an extra (no one can have more than one kid. The second is given away), receives a III after testing, and is posted as a sewage cleaner in Denver. But there's no way she's leaving DC, her boyfriend Benjy, or her caretaker Nina. To stay in DC, she decides to become a prostitute, but she's intercepted by Prime Minister, Daxton Hart, who offers her a deal: she can be made a VII, as long as she does something for him. Kitty agrees, unaware of what it actually entails. Kitty is Masked as Lila's (Daxton's niece, who is murdered) clone, and used to defuse the rebellion that Lila had been brewing within the people.
Having lost her identity, her friends and everything else she holds dear, Kitty is lost in a world that is ostentatious at best and deadly at worst. As Kitty begins to see the truth behind the eyewash that the government gives the public, with the help of Lila's mother Celia and fiance Knox, she starts to wonder if Lila's cause is worth advocating after all.
The secondary characters in Pawn are very engaging, much more, I would say, than the lead, Kitty. The power dynamics in the Hart family will keep you both fascinated and horrified at their cavalier attitude towards violence. It's positively steeped in political deviousness! More than anything, the relationship that Kitty has with the members of the family - Celia, Grayson, Augusta and Knox - is complicated, somewhere in the shady area between enmity and cordiality, that keeps them all on their toes, unsure whether or not to trust the other.
I had a couple of major issues with the book. One was the completely random and matter of fact way in which prostitution was brought into the story. What? You want to stay in the city without the governments knowledge, so you turn to prostitution? Really? That's your first choice? And it seems like almost no one in Kitty's life has much of a problem with that, which is just not normal.
Towards the end of the book, I felt like some of the threads of the plot started unraveling, if that makes sense. It seemed like the conclusion was written hastily without taking into account the long term inputs a particular character could give to the series, and without thinking through the previous parts of the story. It felt almost childish, given how elaborately the plots in the rest of the book is written.
Kitty already has a boyfriend, so that 'Oh, I'm Falling in Love' phase we read in almost every book these days is skipped entirely. Romance takes a back seat in this story, which I must say, was very refreshing, as it gives way to its more all encompassing sister, friendship. Knox is great, and I loved how he gradually eases Kitty into her new environment and makes her feel comfortable.
I haven't read Carter's The Goddess Test series (didn't tickle my curiosity), but I've read a number of negative reviews for it, and I imagine that some of you would be reluctant to read Pawn, for fear of burning your figurative fingers again. If you are, I can assure you, Pawn is a dystopian that will not let you down.
Bottomline: With it's fast pace and thrills at every turn, Pawn is a refreshly new dystopian, that seems to be the start of a promising new series.
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