Book Review: Pawn (The Blackcoat Rebellion, #1), Aimee Carter (2013)

December 15th, 2014 12:54 pm by mad mags

An entertaining political thriller/dystopia featuring an engaging heroine.

four out of five stars

(Trigger warning for attempted rape.)

I closed my eyes as my mind raced. If I refused, I was dead. But if I said yes – then what? I would be Lila Hart. For the rest of my life, I would have someone else’s face, answer to someone else’s name, live someone else’s life.

But at least I would be alive. I breathed in slowly, forcing myself not to panic. I was still me, wasn’t I? I still felt like me. They couldn’t take that away no matter what they did to my body. I might have looked like Lila Hart, but I was still Kitty Doe.

All Kitty Doe wants for her 17th birthday is to earn a respectable score on her test – nothing special, just enough to get her an average rank of IV – so that she can stay with her boyfriend Benjy. Get a relatively safe job, maybe buy a small house in the Heights of DC, even have a kid or two – with enough income to keep their “Extra” instead of sending him or her off to a group home, like Kitty’s own parents were forced to do to her. Just one little test is all that stands between Kitty and her happily ever after.

Unfortunately, Kitty’s dyslexic, and the Ministers of the Union don’t give kids like her additional time to take the test – no matter how intelligent they may be. The ranking system’s a farce, after all. Just ask the VIs and VIIs who inherited their ranks.

Kitty’s poor score lands her a III and a lowly sanitation job – halfway across the country, in Denver. If she hops on that train, she knows that her odds of ever seeing Benjy again are nil. But her options in the District of Columbia are slim: stay hidden at the group home, putting den mother Nina at risk – or get a temporary job at one of the local “clubs,” biding her time until Benjy turns 17 and takes the test himself. As a virgin, she’s sure to pull in an extra-high bid at the initial Auction; and after that, she can choose her own clients, so it won’t be that bad. And when Benjy eventually aces the test – as she knows he will – Kitty will have saved up a nice little nest egg to get them started. It’s a no-brainer, right?

But Kitty’s more valuable than she thinks. With her striking blue eyes – something that future-science hasn’t yet been able to replicate – Kitty bears a striking resemblance to Lila Hart, Prime Minister Daxton Hart’s niece. The same niece Daxton intends to assassinate for her rabble-rousing, revolutionary speeches.

Daxton “buys” Kitty and offers her an impossible choice: give up her old life and come with him to Somerset Mansion, no questions asked – or give up her life, period. Kitty thinks Daxton wants to add another mistress to his stable – but when she wakes up two weeks later, she’s stunned to find that she’s wearing someone else’s body: that of Lila Hart. She’s been Masked – undergone radical surgery, her face and body reshaped to look like Lila’s – and now Daxton and his mother Augusta expect her to be Lila.

With this, Kitty steps out of the slums on the Heights and into the snake pit that is the Hart family: political intrigue, assassination attempts, body doubles, and underground rebellions abound. Matriarch Augusta rules the Hart family with an iron fist – and isn’t afraid to put a hit out on her own blood when they step out of line. (And replace them with strangers, as science allows and circumstances dictate.) Daxton is a cruel dictator who delights in killing, whether for political expedience or pure entertainment. Daxton’s sister Celia has been driven half-mad with grief, first by the execution of her husband for treason – then by the murder of her daughter, Lila, for playing the role of revolutionary at her mother’s behest. Along with Lila’s fiancé, Knox – who Kitty is expected to marry as planned – Celia tries to recruit Kitty into assuming her late daughter’s role. There exists a group of rebels called the Blackcoats which aims to overthrow the Hart’s monarchy and restore democracy to America – and Kitty’s help would be instrumental in rallying popular support.

Everyone, it seems, needs her to be Lila. But all Kitty wants is to escape to Elsewhere with Benjy. When a newly tattooed Benjy resurfaces as Knox’s assistant, Kitty finds she has no choice – not only does she have to keep playing the game, but now she has to see it through: it’s the only way to keep Benjy safe.

The first book in The Blackcoat Rebellion trilogy, Pawn is a compulsively readable political thriller/science fiction dystopia/romance. Filled with twists and turns, the story moves along at a steady clip, and features a number of complex, believable protagonists. Kitty makes for an especially relatable heroine: much like Katniss Everdeen, our contemporary benchmark, Kitty is a reluctant revolutionary who, at story’s outset, is solely concerned with her family’s well-being – even if it means sacrificing her own. Thrust into impossible situations, Kitty excels, and uses her new position of power to help others like her: the poor, the disenfranchised, the oppressed. Just like the Mockingjay, however, those surrounding Kitty are apt to use her – like a pawn in their games. When everyone wants something from her, how’s a girl to know who she can trust?

That said, the cast (or at least those members whose physical appearance is described in detail; e.g., Kitty, Benjy, Knox, the Harts) is overwhelmingly white. Since much of the story takes place within the walls of Somerset, this makes some degree of sense: racial divisions are likely to deepen in times of oppression, and it stands to reason that the ruling class will be distinctly white and male. Yet Carter doesn’t use this as a jumping-off point to explore issues of racism and sexism, choosing instead to focus solely on class divisions.

Additionally, this new world is so far removed from the America of today that I would have liked a more detailed picture of how we arrived here. At times the Union veers dangerously close to a parody of an ultra-conservative utopia, with its emphasis on meritocracy (completely ignoring the effects of class privilege) and “earning your place” in society, to the tune of exiling criminals, the elderly, and those with cognitive impairments. For example, when Daxton took Kitty hunting, I half-jokingly thought that their “prey” would be “the most dangerous game” (wink, wink), because that’s exactly the way the story was going…and, much to my surprise, I was right! It was a horrifying scene, to be sure, but also one I had trouble taking too seriously.

Incidentally, Kitty’s red meat fetish rubbed me the wrong way as well. Historically, meat – especially red meat – has been a sign of status, reserved for men and the wealthy (and specifically, wealthy men). As a resource-intensive food, it’s doubtful that IIIs/orphans like Kitty would have been allowed to eat the stuff – let alone on a regular basis. Cultural attitudes shift, to be sure – but unless they’re growing meat in labs, the realities of animal agriculture argue strongly against it.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)


Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Kitty is dyslexic, a condition which has a dramatic impact on her life. Kitty’s friend Tabs is a sex worker; she’s murdered early in the book.


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One Response to “Book Review: Pawn (The Blackcoat Rebellion, #1), Aimee Carter (2013)”

  1. 2014 Real Book Challenge: December Roundup » vegan daemon Says:

    […] Pawn (The Blackcoat Rebellion, #1) by Aimee Carter (2013); reviewed here […]

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