Due to discontent with the severity of the system—simply failing to lower one's eyes when someone speaks a language associated with one of the higher castes is punishable by death—as well as unrest within the broader political landscape, a revolution is brewing.
Our heroine, seventeen-year-old Charlie (short for Charlaina) isn't particularly interested in being involved in a revolution. She's got enough on her plate, what with having to hide her magical ability—despite her lowly Vendor status, she can understand any language; written, visual, or verbal—and hiding the even-more powerful power of her younger sister.
Unfortunately for Charlie, her years of insuring her family's safety by keeping her head down and getting through life without attracting attention are at an end: her ability is far more significant than she could have ever imagined, and is of huge interest to both the queen and to the people who want to bring about the end of her rule.
For the first fifty or so pages, The Pledge had me. Like, REALLY, REALLY had me. Derting dropped me into Ludania and Charlie's life without much explanation or exposition, which is always a storytelling technique that I appreciate, as it makes the world and characters and dialogue more believable (none of that "Dean, we were RAISED as WARRIORS" stuff*) and suggests confidence and faith in the reader's abilities. It was refreshing that the culture was so matriarchal that there was never even a discussion about the feasibility of coronating a male heir; the idea of a caste system being based in language appealed to my language-loving self as did Charlie's non-flashy-but-extremely-cool ability; and I enjoyed that the focus shifted from character to character and from first-person to third and back again.
Where it lost me—and sadly, this isn't much of a surprise given the other recent dystopians I've read—was in the love story. Not only was it a case of instalove—Max meets Charlie and, like, five minutes later, pretty much swears fealty to her—but Max is also a hero in the Edward Cullen vein, in that he romanticizes danger (he makes Charlie feel unsafe, but her attraction to him is Not To Be Denied) and that he is so protective that he keeps making decisions for her, and so, despite the whole matriarchal society thing, her agency is lessened. Both of those issues can, of course, be chalked up to personal taste, so it's likely that The Pledge will be a good pick for Twilight fans who enjoy dystopians.
BONUS ISSUE: The book wraps up really, REALLY quickly. So quickly, given the pacing of the first 7/8s of the book, that it feels like the author threw her pen across the room with a big, Willow-esque "BORED NOW", and then had to get up, get her pen, and force herself to finish the book off with a couple of brief chapters and an epilogue.
BONUS HAPPY DANCE MATERIAL: THERE ISN'T A LOVE TRIANGLE. There's plenty of potential, but it never actual pans out. So YAY FOR THAT!
BONUS SECONDARY HAPPY DANCE MATERIAL, BUT IT INVOLVES TWO MAJOR SPOILERS: I loved that in the epilogue, Charlie mentions that she'd taken Max into her bed. No mention of marriage, that it was a thing that would last forever and ever, or that he had instigated their sexual relationship. Although it came on the very last page, that one short line did a lot to assuage my concerns about his Cullen-y nature, and it got me curious about the sequel: I want to know if Charlie's new-found confidence is truly her own, or if it is a byproduct of having melded with the Queen...
*In the first few episodes of Supernatural, the brothers Winchester spout a lot of clunky dialogue that served purely to explain their situation to new viewers. It was annoying because they A) repeated the same information every episode, information that they B) were both well-versed in, which made the dialogue unnecessary and unlikely, all of which served to C) weaken the world-building and character development and D) deal regular blows to my suspension of disbelief by constantly bringing the screenwriters to my attention.
Book source: ILLed through my library.