091 – Pawn by Aimee Carter

Purchase Pawn at Amazon.com - Or, I mean, don't. You've read The Goddess Test, right? Basically the same thing.YOU CAN BE A VII. IF YOU GIVE UP EVERYTHING.

For Kitty Doe, it seems like an easy choice. She can either spend her life as a III in misery, looked down upon by the higher ranks and forced to leave the people she loves, or she can become a VII and join the most powerful family in the country.

If she says yes, Kitty will be Masked—surgically transformed into Lila Hart, the Prime Minister’s niece, who died under mysterious circumstances. As a member of the Hart family, she will be famous. She will be adored. And for the first time, she will matter.

There’s only one catch. She must also stop the rebellion that Lila secretly fostered, the same one that got her killed – and one Kitty believes in. Faced with threats, conspiracies and a life that’s not her own, she must decide which path to choose – and learn how to become more than a pawn in a twisted game she’s only beginning to understand.
So Pawn. It’s a dystopian novel by Aimee Carter.

what can you do
t-th-th-th-th-that's all folks
Ugh, I wish. I mean, that is basically the gist of it, if you wanted the tl;dr version, but there’s so much absurd fuckery that no joke, I actually considered doing a chapter-by-chapter snark-along. This book is just fuckin’ perfect for it, fuckery abounds on every page. However, one (and a half) read-throughs were enough for me, so instead, this review is just going to be long. Very long. So long. I’m sorry.

The biggest shame of all when it comes to Pawn is that Carter has a really solid premise here. We open to a Terrible Dystopian Society on the day that our heroine, Kitty, has performed terribly on the test that will literally decide the course of her future. See, Kitty lives in a future-world where every citizen, on their seventeenth birthday, is tested, and has their worth to society ranked on a scale of 1 to 7. It’s implied the test gauges intelligence, possibly among other things, and the higher the score, the more prospects you have, and the better the life that awaits you.

Kitty ranks a 3 III, not because she isn’t exceptionally intelligent – this is YA, fuck you very much, and it shall not stand for an average heroine – but because she is dyslexic and illiterate, and thus unable to finish the test. As a III, Kitty is deemed fit only for sewer maintenance, and a life of poverty and degradation. II is just about the lowest anyone can be ranked before they’re carted off Elsewhere, the final destination for criminals, and likely the mentally and physically handicapped.

I’d seen the posters and heard the speeches. Everyone had. We all had our rightful place in society, and it was up to us to decide what that was. Study hard, earn good grades, learn everything we could, and prove we were special. And when we turned seventeen and took the test, we would be rewarded with a good job, a nice place to live, and the satisfaction that we contributed to our society – everything we would ever need to lead a meaningful life.
So hey, this is good stuff, right? I mean as far as YA dystopians go, I was kinda impressed. The Thing the dystopia is built around is relevant, pressing, not too abstract. There’s a Point there, a Thing that needs to be addressed: standardized testing and the SATs and the school system that rewards certain kinds of intelligence and undervalues others; the benefits that come with wealth and privilege, the self-perpetuating system that keeps the same people in power, that makes poverty so hard to break out of, that shunts off those it considers useless or a-typical, maybe even a nod to our flawed-as-fuck justice system. There’s some meaty shit in here, and if this book really engaged with any of it, it could be fucking phenomenal. If this were about a girl, ambitious and fiercely dissatisfied, ready to smash the system, to join the resistance, to do something, anything, for herself, I’d be down, man.

Instead, there’s a boy. There’s always a boy. This is, after all, a dystopian by Aimee Carter, whose Goddess series drove us coin to the term “man-tivation”*.

*on this blog. Others may have coined it somewhere else.

So when we meet Kitty, and we discover that she’s a III, and what that means, we also learn that she’s not exactly upset for herself. I mean, she’s not thrilled with the prospect of lifelong sewer maintenance, but mostly, she’s upset because this means disaster for her and her boyfriend, Benjy. Kitty is assigned to move to Denver, which separates her and the yet-to-be-ranked Benjy. They consider running away together, or getting married, but-

“Of course I want to marry you, but you haven’t even taken the test yet, and what if being married to a III affects your rank? I can’t do that to you, Benjy. You deserve better than that.”
I would have done anything to make him happy, but because of my stupid III, I was going to hurt him no matter what I did. At least this way I would be the one risking everything, not him.
So instead of apparently fucking up Benjy’s test by marrying him – would the testers really even know or care…? – or running away with him, or following through with her assignment in Denver, Kitty opts to…run away to a brothel and auction off her virginity.

I took a shaky breath. “Please don’t do that to me. Don’t make me be the reason your life is ruined. You won’t lose me, I promise. I’ll come see you every day, and when you turn seventeen, you can take your test, and then we’ll both be okay.”
I mean, let’s be clear – this isn’t for Kitty, or at least, it is only indirectly. Kitty opts for prostitution so that a) marriage doesn’t fuck up Benjy’s chances to score well on the test, b) she doesn’t ruin *his* life by playing a part in his becoming a fugitive, and c) so they aren’t physically separated.

I just, what?

Benjy then asks to fuck her before she goes, because he wants to be her first, and Kitty explains it’s a no-go, because her virginity makes her more valuable, and I try not to vomit.

“I know,” I whispered. “But I have to. And by the time it’s over, we’ll have enough saved up to get out of here. Go anywhere we want. You’ll have your pick of assignments, and we’ll never have to worry about any of this again. Until then…” My mouth went dry, and I tightened my grip on his hand. “Until then, I think we should break up.”

Benjy stiffened beside me, but he didn’t say a word. He didn’t have to.

“You’re right,” I said. “You deserve better than this. Better than having me as a girlfriend. Better than having me ruin your life. So—let’s not anymore. Not until it’s over. When you’re a VI, if you still want me…”
Ugh.

You know, I get it. I do. This shit happens, and I almost admire Carter’s willingness to go dark and depict the kind of circumstances that might lead a person to prostitution with a minimum amount of slut-shaming or judgement. Exceeeept that a) we’ll soon see that this gun was never really loaded in the first place, and b) for fuck’s sake, Carter, can we just not have a heroine whose life revolves around a guy?!? Can we not?

ughhh

But whatever, it doesn’t matter, because actual prostitution was never in the cards. At her auction, Kitty is purchased by none other than the prime minister of our totalitarian regime, Daxton Hart – yes that is his real name – which is when the flap summary plot finally kicks in.

Thanks to her “bizarre blue eyes” – bizarre blue eyes, jfc, are you fucking kidding me? ughhh – Kitty is the best available candidate for Masking, a plastic surgery-type procedure that will alter basically every aspect of her body to match Daxton’s niece, who has been stealthily dispatched by the government. Apparently science and medicine are capable of altering literally everything about a person right down to the sound of her voice, but is totally at a loss when it comes to eye color. Right.

At any rate, in “exchange for her service”, the Prime Minister is willing to bump Kitty’s rank from a III to a VII, which means that she and Benjy can be together and it won’t inconvenience Benjy in the least! Yaaaaaaaaaaaay, optimal outcome!

Of course, the PM doesn’t actually tell Kitty about the Masking until after its done – she expects the VII in exchange for her service as a mistress, which makes waking up with Lila’s face a bit of a shock.

So at this point, I’m pretty much still on board. The boyfriend stuff is annoying, but it’s an interesting premise that should work fairly well for a tense dystopian thriller. Kitty is blackmailed into agreeing to masquerade as Lila for an indeterminate amount of time, learning the ropes from Lila’s mother, Celia, and fiancee, Knox, so that she can fool the public and undo the political damage the real Lila had caused as a figurehead for the obligatory rebellion. Solid idea, solid conflict, lots of potential.

And then the narrative just sort if…unravels? Like it’s not sure what direction to take the premise in or how, so it just chooses all of them and then jumps around, being “about” a bunch of things without ever settling on one.

You’d think the bulk of it would be about Kitty leaning to become Lila, having to live her life on a tight rope, always afraid of stumbling and exposing her true self. And it is, but only briefly. Kitty spends way less time leaning than you would expect – a few weeks, which works out to two and a half chapters, max – and there are maybe three instances in total where she has to publicly play the part. Plus, almost the entire family is in on the switch, so the tension of whether or not Kitty will expose herself is rarely, if ever, present.

Honestly, there was so much shit going on and I guess being set up for the rest of the trilogy that I had no idea what this particular installment’s conflict would be until it actually happened. There are so many fucking subplots introduced – the rebellion bombing government buildings and mounting an attack on the Hart family compound, Celia’s efforts to persuade Kitty to resume Lila’s anti-government activities, Kitty’s thwarted attempts to prove to Benjy that she’s alive, and of course, her impending marriage to/developing feelings for Lila’s fiancee Knox, plunking a goddamn love triangle down right smack in the middle of this overstuffed mess.

The love triangle actually takes more of a back seat when Benjy shows up for the last half of the novel – rendering the whole Knox subplot needlessly distracting at best – but I’m sure it’s something that’ll be come back up in later installments.

For all I enjoyed the potential of the dystopia, all of the relevant social issues more or less fall by the wayside – AFTER, of course, Kitty discovers that the “Elsewhere” that criminals and lower-ranked members of society are whisked away to is actually a fucking reserve where the ruling elite go to shoot people for sport.

seriously
YEP. SERIOUSLY.

This, by the way, is how Kitty’s foster mother dies.

facepalm
FYI, that is literally the most cartoonish fucking thing you can ever have a villain do. Like, when it comes to mustache-twirling levels of villainy, there’s tying a woman to the railroad tracks, and right below that, then there’s this. I mean – you can’t even expect people to be horrified by this, because it’s basically a joke.

villainy_chart
BUT I DIGRESS.

The point is, once things get rolling at the mansion, the social commentary is so much window dressing. We hear a bit about the things that Lila advocates for at her rallies and speeches, and we come to find out that Celia is the head of the rebellion and Knox is her second – which is apparently supposed to be a surprise?!? – but it’s all utterly unimportant to the plot of this novel. Family drama is what ultimately emerges victorious from the scuffle of Potential Things this Book Could be About, and serves as the catalyst for this book’s climax.

Basically, Celia is upset that her brother and their mother, Augusta – who wields the real power behind the throne, and we’ll get to that later – murdered Lila, so she initially masterminds an assassination attempt on Daxton, which Kitty botches, and later kidnaps her nephew, Augusta’s favorite grandchild, in an effort to exact revenge. And it’s riiiiight around that first assassination attempt that this shit just dissolves.

If you need a moment to get a soda or something, now would probably be a good time to do that. Cuz we’re about to get a whoooooooole lot more in-depth.

intermission
So Kitty is blackmailed into acting as Celia’s assassin, setting off to murder Daxton with only a syringe of poison and her wildly fluctuating resolve. They chat, Kitty waffles, but eventually uses the syringe to defend herself when Daxton fucking tries to rape her.

UGH.

It’s then that we’re hit with Twist #1: this Daxton is a fake. Kitty touches the back of his neck as they tussle, and discovers that his tattoo is actually a V, meaning he’s been Masked the same way she has. Hold on to that bit of information, because it will come in handy later.

Anyway, Kitty is able to stick Daxton with the syringe, but finds herself unable to completely go through with it. She pulls out the needle before it injects the full dose, leaving Daxton in a coma rather than dead, and ugh, stop stop, stop.

Seriously?

So, this is supposed to be a demonstration of her incredible moral fiber, and it’s something the book gets behind, like we’re supposed to admire that she won’t sink to Daxton’s level. It comes up again when Celia fails to finish him off later in the novel.

Her face crumpled. “I was going to kill him, but he opened his eyes and said my name, and then I heard shouting, and I saw Lila and all that blood… […] I thought I could take out Daxton and be back up there in time to help her. I don’t know what I was thinking. I don’t know why I went to Daxton instead.”

I did. Everything Celia had done since I’d met her was angled to get revenge on her family. She had the opportunity to kill the man she thought was her brother, and thinking Lila was safe, she’d taken it. Or at least tried. Just like me, she hadn’t been able to do it, either. I found a strange sort of comfort in that.
horseshit
It isn’t admirable that Kitty (or Celia) refuse to kill Daxton. Not when you consider the big picture here. I mean, this is a guy who is in charge of a system that kills thousands of people on a daily basis. A system that disposes of mentally and physically disabled people as a policy. This is a guy who hunts human beings for sport. Not murdering the shit out of his cartoonishly evil ass isn’t “having strong moral fiber”, it’s enabling mass slaughter, which, if you ask me, makes Kitty complicit in all of the murderous bullshit that goes on from here on out.

I tried to cross the room, but my feet were glued to the floor. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be like him. They’d taken everything from me already — I couldn’t let them take this last piece of my humanity, as well. III or not, I was better than that. I was better than him, whoever he was.
Oh my god, are you kididng me? SUCK IT UP AND TAKE ONE FOR THE GODDAMN TEAM, KITTY.

So look, I have no problem accepting the botch as a failure of nerve on Kitty’s part, because if nothing else it’s in character, but don’t try and serve that shit up to me as a good thing that she’s done, or some big moral message I’m supposed to take away from this endeavor, man. She could have ended this.

Anyway, aside from sidelining Daxton for the rest of the story, the attack also provides the impetus for Kitty to “form a relationship” with her “cousin”, Grayson, who up until this point had been seen but not really heard. This is important because in about twenty pages the action is going to completely revolve around him and his safety, and Kitty needs to care! Which is why over the course of like the next two chapters or so, we’re going to be told that Kitty and Grayson spend a lot of time together, and get reeeeeeeeeeeally close, and man, he’s just such a nice kid, you don’t wanna see anything bad happen to him, do you? Do you?

Meanwhile, we briefly touch back on that whole, you know, oppressed, rebellious populous thing when Augusta asks Kitty to make a speech, talking up the government Lila had previously decried. Celia and Knox, however, want her to keep a’cryin’, and let the media in on Daxton’s condition, so that when and if he dies, Augusta can’t do that thing that she’s already done to keep her hold on power. Kitty agrees, but strictly on the condition that Benjy get sent with her – oh, did I forget that part? Benjy’s taken his test, gotten his rank, and joined the household staff as Knox’s assistant. YEAH THAT HAPPENED. HOW CAN WE PLAY OUT THE DRAMA OF A LOVE TRIANGLE IF ALL THE VERTICES AREN’T IN ONE PLACE?

Anyway, lo and behold, the next day, when Kitty shows up to be flown out for the speech? Benjy is nowhere in sight. YET SHE GETS ON THE PLANE ANYWAY, pouting about how her boyfriend has been left in the viper’s nest while she’s being flown off to piss in the viper’s mouth, and it’s just the perfect example of this book’s bizarre fucking tone and general contrivedness. It’s so inconsistent. One moment Kitty’s so worried about Benjy’s safety that she’s going to run away from her escorts and walk ten miles to find him, the next she willingly leaves him in the same house as a dictator while she runs off to start a revolution. One moment she’s pliant and docile, terrified of stepping out of line because it could put Benjy in danger, gasp! – and then the next she’s mouthing off to Augusta or Daxton, which in any kind of real-world scenario would undoubtedly get both of them killed, but in the book, gets her called “spunky”.

It doesn’t feel like any of the decisions that Kitty makes, or the actions she takes, come from a clearly-defined, singular person. They’re just…things said and decisions made in service of the plot. Actually, that’s what most of this book feels like – shit doesn’t happen because it makes sense, or because it’s the logical thing to do, or because anyone would actually act that way. It happens because the plot says so.

At any rate, Kitty pouts on the plane, insists she’s not going along with it, holds out to the last possible minute…and then proceeds to give her speech and piss in the government’s Cheerios, and I just sort of stare at the book slack-jawed, because nothing about what’s happening right now makes any goddamned sense.

For one, how does Augusta not know IMMEDIATELY that Kitty has gone off-script? How? We know now the instant some celebrity has a nip-slip, and yet you’re telling me that X years in the future, it’s going to take the leader of the goddamn country what, minutes, hours, days, to find out that Kitty isn’t holding up her end of the deal?

Two, why would Kitty ever do this, given how she’s supposed to be willing to do literally anything to be keep Benjy safe? It’s played up like she just can’t ignore the suffering of her people, but that is completely at odds with the character we’ve come to know so far. I’m not saying I don’t believe that Kitty wants to aid in the rebellion, but at the potential cost of Benjy’s life? The dude she was willing to prostitute herself for at the start of the novel? I don’t buy it.

But whatever, Kitty delivers her own, original speech, which is this fucking amazing, better-than-anything-Lila’s-ever-thought-of-doing rallygasm, and despite this being the defining moment of Kitty’s life thus far as the figurehead of a movement – you know, that thing you’d basically expect her to be doing all the time, based on the premise of the novel – we don’t even actually get to read the speech. We get a summary of the speech, we’re told about the speech. I’m sure it was very moving, you know, if you were there to hear it in person.

She gets back to Knox, who’s accompanied her on the trip, and he tells her that she was awesome, and instead of also delivering the news that Augusta will be greeting them back home with Benjy’s head on a pike, this whole fucking conflict about the speech and Kitty’s role in it is just thrown out the GODDAMN WINDOW, because then Grayson is kidnapped.

At this point, I’m just rolling around on the ground, flailing in literary pain, because what are you doing, book? WHAT ARE YOU ABOUT? WE DIDN’T GIVE TWO SHITS ABOUT THIS GUY TWENTY PAGES AGO, and yet now, all of our attention, almost all of the remainder of our page count, will be devoted to his retrieval.

whatareyoudoing
So we head back to the house, and of course, Kitty is gung-ho about finding this kid we just met – also, I keep saying kid, but he is actually about the same age as her. Children, the lot of them. ANYWAY. Celia has kidnapped Grayson in an attempt to get revenge on Augusta, but they are all so fucking incompetent that later even Celia will admit that she had no idea what this was really meant to accomplish, because she was NEVER WILLING TO HURT GRAYSON in the first place, and he went with her TOTALLY WILLINGLY. So basically, everything I’m about to describe? HAPPENS PURELY BECAUSE THE PLOT SAYS SO.

Then, and then, we’re subjected to the most fucking egregious twist the book has to offer. Knox, formulating his own plan to safely retrieve Grayson, escorts Kitty down to the secret resistance headquarters, which are somehow connected to the goddamn Prime Minister’s compound via tunnel, and takes her to a tucked away little room, where he reveals that Lila is alive and well and hidden by the resistance.

We’re told that Lila faked her death. Well, Knox faked her death, apparently without her knowledge. He did this, I might add, by killing an actual human being, Lila’s double, who apparently was SO invested in her health and happiness that she was willing to sacrifice herself so that Lila could disappear. And this is when we learn that Lila actually does not care all that much about stoking the fires of rebellion. That’s her mom’s dig. Lila was her mother’s mouthpiece, and she “liked the attention” for a while, but then she got tired of it, and scared, so when Knox found out that Daxton was going to have her offed – something he discovered, by the way, because Daxton TOLD HIM HE WAS GOING TO DO IT PRIOR TO ACTUALLY KILLER HER, HOW CAN PEOPLE SO INCOMPETENT RUN A TOTALITARIAN DYSTOPIA??? – Lila took the opportunity to retire.

Lila’s mother proceeded to somehow never find this out, despite the fact the the people hiding and working with Lila ARE PART OF THE REBELLION RUN BY HER MOTHER. OI.

jawdrop
What the actual fuck, book?

I mean, is this just me? Am I alone in feeling like this completely undermines the entire premise of this goddamn series? Lila is alive, and we find this out in the last quarter of book one? Why are we even here? Why is Kitty even here? WHY AM I READING THIS BOOK IF LILA IS A ALIVE, AND WE’RE ABOUT TO REVEAL THIS TO EVERYONE WHO THOUGHT SHE WAS DEAD, AND THUS HAD CAUSE TO MANUFACTURE A DOUBLE IN THE FIRST PLACE?

Cuz Knox’s brilliant idea is to flush all of the work and all of the lives they’ve sacrificed to disappear Lila down the toilet, and reveal her to Augusta so that they can barter for the safe return of Grayson. Nevermind that Lila’s double died so this could happen, never mind that this makes Kitty and Benjy extraneous and thus puts their lives in danger, never mind that this whole situation is a pretty fucking primo deal for the rebellion, because Grayson is the heir to the Prime, er, Ministry – and don’t even fucking ask my why this is basically a monarchy now, because dystopia, that’s why – and his death would put Kitty next in line to inherit the throne, and presumably render Augusta emotionally devastated and possibly incapacitated. Never mind all of that, Grayson is just SO IMPORTANT, you guys, that we will willingly fuck over every single goddamn thing we’ve worked for to ~save him~ from his aunt, who was never going to hurt him in the first place.

handsup
So they do. They reveal Lila to Augusta, somehow get in contact with Celia, and arrange to trade Lila for Grayson. We get a breather night for people to talk and to let things settling, and I’m actually going to take this opportunity to talk a little more about Lila, because it’s around this point that I started getting serious deja-vu.

A daughter…who is unhappy with the role that her mother has put her in…who’s shit on by the main character for being selfish and wanting control of her own life…a main character…who was brought in to replace her…but is portrayed as being far superior for her selflessness…where have I seen that…?

THE GODDAMN GODDESS TEST SERIES
THIS IS GODDAMN PERSEPHONE AND KATE ALL OVER AGAIN. THE MAIN CHARACTERS EVEN HAVE BASICALLY THE SAME NAME. WHAT THE FUCK?

Granted, Kitty has a way better justification for being upset with Lila than Kate EVER did with Persephone, but other than that, this dynamic is almost entirely the same. I guess I’m not entirely surprised, though, because if there’s anything that hasn’t changed a lick between The Goddess Test and Pawn, it’s the goddamn gender dynamics.

Seriously, every single woman in the novel either dies or is portrayed in an adversarial/competitive light. Lila gets the full Persephone treatment – she’s flaky and selfish and *gasp* enjoyed the attention! she got from playing her part in the rebellion. Kitty is “deeply unimpressed” when they’re introduced, and fantasizes about “wrapping [her] hands around her throat and squeezing”. Once Lila joins the party, Kitty does basically nothing but shit on her while simultaneously forgiving Knox for DOING BASICALLY THE SAME THING.

“Stop it, both of you,” I said. “I’m sorry Madison died, and I’m sorry this had to happen, but none of it is going to help us find Greyson. And every second you spend arguing is a second we lose.” Knox had the decency to look guilty, but all Lila did was glare at him and sit stiffly on the edge of the bed.
He rubbed his face wearily. “I should have told Celia. I know that now, but Lila was so damn scared, and Celia would have gone after her if I’d told her the truth.”

“It’s not your fault,” I said. “Lila shouldn’t have run away in the first place.”

“What should I have done instead?” said a voice behind me. Dressed in pajamas, Lila moved into the space between us, blocking Knox from my view. “Tell me, Kitty, since you seem to have it all figured out—what else was I supposed to do?” I sat up.

“You should have stayed. If you didn’t want to talk to all those people, then you should have told your mother no. Then no one would have wanted you dead, and you wouldn’t have had to run away.”

“And you wouldn’t have my face,” she said. “And Greyson wouldn’t be kidnapped.”

“Exactly.”

She took a step closer to me, and behind her, Knox stood, but he made no move to pull her away. “I love my people,” she said in a trembling voice. “Maybe I didn’t want to risk my life, but I wanted to help them. I just thought there were better ways to do it.”

“How can you help them now?” I said. “What good are you holed up in a bunker?”

Her jaw tightened, and anyone in their right mind would’ve backed off with that wild look in her eyes, but I didn’t care anymore. I was as good as dead anyway, and when that happened, I couldn’t think of anything worse than Lila running away again and abandoning all of the people who counted on her.

“You’re no better than my mother,” she said, her eyes watering. “Not everyone’s prepared to die for the greater good, all right? We can’t all be heroes…”
Not like there’s not a conversation to be had there, but did we forget the part where KNOX DISAPPEARED LILA WITHOUT HER PERMISSION?!? CUZ APPARENTLY KITTY HAS. Man, that Lila, what a selfish bitch, but Knox? A put-upon hero for having to deal with her.

“Is she always like this?” I said when I returned to the living room.

“This is one of her good days,” said Knox.
There’s also some bullshit “friendzone” subtext, because Knox is obviously head-over-heels for Lila, but she flat-out tells Kitty she’s not in love with him at all.

I pressed my forehead against the window and watched Knox grow smaller as he raised his hand in a silent goodbye.

I didn’t return it. It wasn’t his fault that Benjy was in danger, but he was the one who’d come up with this stupid plan in the first place, and if anything happened to Benjy, I would never forgive him.
So it’s not HIS fault Benjy’s in danger – even though he arranged for Lila’s “death” and got this whole thing rolling – but it’s Lila’s fault that Grayson was kidnapped – because she “abandoned” everyone – even though Knox arranged for her death without her permission.

JFC KITTY, could you bend over backwards ANY FURTHER to absolve the menz of all their responsibility?

Then there’s Celia, who, despite being arguably in a position to be more sympathetic to Kitty’s plight, is almost immediately rude and confrontational and harsh from basically the beginning.

Celia Hart, Daxton’s younger sister and Lila’s mother. Pictures didn’t do her justice. Like her daughter, Celia was stunning. Her face, so perfect it must have been surgically altered [insert middle finger here], was set in a smooth mask, but her eyes burned as she glared at me.
She says things “frostily” and “snappily” and “stares down her nose at” Kitty, where as Knox, introduced at roughly the same time and functionally Celia’s counterpart, is gentle and helpful and understanding. That characterization carries through the rest of the novel, where Celia is quick to bully Kitty to get her way, and with this kidnapping situation with Grayson, even becomes the villain for a few chapters. She’s depicted as letting her emotions overrule her better judgement and drive her to make irrational decisions, because god, those women, amirite?

Finally, we have Augusta. Obviously, Augusta is the villain, so I don’t expect her to come out smelling like roses, ok, but I do expect a little less gendered nastiness be flung her way.

Nina called Augusta Hart the Bitch Queen, and with good reason. There hadn’t been a single photograph taken of her since before I was born that showed her smiling, and she was notoriously unforgiving with both the people and her own family. It was common gossip that her husband, Edward, had just been a figurehead while she ruled the country with an iron fist, and apparently the same was true for Daxton.
Seriously? This woman is the real power behind a totalitarian regime that murders people for stealing oranges and the best you can come up with is the Bitch Queen? The same curse you’d probably fling at a woman for cutting you off in traffic?

Also, who the fuck cares if she’s smiling? This paragraph fucking reeks of sexist ball-buster female politician bullshit.

Augusta and I stared each other down for several seconds. I could see every wrinkle around Augusta’s eyes, and her pupils were so small that they looked like pinpricks.
Funny, we don’t hear much about Daxton’s wrinkles when she’s staring him down. And given how her face was initially described as seeming “as smooth as marble”, I’m inclined to take this as a dig.

Granted, there are moments where Augusta buckles and is made to seem more human – this bit was particularly interesting:

“You and I are not so different,” said Augusta at last. “I was three years old when the economy collapsed. Both of my parents were killed in the resulting riots. My mother was shot trying to get us to safety, and she died in front of me. […] I grew up in an orphanage as well, though it was nothing like the ones we have now.” Her eyes reddened, and she took a deep, shuddering breath. I’d never seen her so undone before. “I had to fight for every morsel of food. Half of us slept on the floor because there were not enough beds. My education was limited, and what passed for school was an insult, so I stole books to teach myself instead. I did not have anything handed to me, but I made something of myself anyway. And after I met my late husband, I finally realized that everything I had gone through happened for a reason. It gave me the strength to survive, and it turned me into the person I needed to be in order to live the life I deserved.”

[…]

“So you see, Kitty, I understand you better than you think I do. I also remember what the country was like before the Harts worked miracles to stabilize it. I am the only one who does anymore, and for the sake of the country—for the sake of the people—we cannot go back to the way it was.

“I love each and every member of my family with all that I am,” she added. “I never wanted to hurt Lila. I agonized over the decision, but in the end, we must expect from ourselves what we expect from our people. We must set the example. She knew the consequences, and though I begged her not to, she chose to go through with it anyway. She is the one who pulled the trigger on her life, not me. I loved her, but I have a duty to my country. We all do. And I will not allow us to return to that dark time. My grandson will not go through what I did. No one ever will again.”
So that’s an interesting interlude, and basically the only justification we get whatsoever for the rating system and the extreme measures used to enforce it. It even works ok, you know, the best villains are the ones who’re convinced they’re doing the right thing.

But then:

As I watched Augusta, weariness and heartache passed over her face, and for a fraction of a second, she looked her age. I would never like her, but in that moment, I thought I understood her. Celia and Greyson were all she had left. If Augusta really did feel she had to sacrifice her granddaughter to keep the country stable—

What sort of person could do that?

Someone who loved control more than her own family.
Wha…? Uh, ok. Not exactly what I got from that monologue, but you know, I don’t have psychic protagonist judgement powers the way Kitty does, so whatever. CARRY ON.

As quickly as it had come, my sympathy for Augusta vanished. Still, as much as I wanted to hate her for doing this to Lila — for doing this to me — she loved Greyson. So much so that she was willing to destroy anything that threatened to taint the world she’d created for him. So much so that she’d turned a stranger into the most powerful man in the country so Greyson wouldn’t be an orphan, too.

Just like everything I did was for Benjy, everything she did was for Greyson, and now I finally understood.
WELL THERE IT FUCKING IS, ISN’T IT? “I don’t like her, I refuse to understand her socially-based motivations. BUT HER LIFE REVOLVES AROUND A MAN AND I TOTES UNDERSTAND THAT, SO I GUESS WE HAVE SOMETHING IN COMMON AFTER ALL.”

Everything seemed fuzzy, and the only things anchoring me to reality were the feel of Benjy’s arms around me and the sound of Knox’s footsteps beside me.
That’s the gender dynamics of these goddamn books in a fucking nutshell. Women are there, and sometimes they’re begrudging allies, but them boys, man. Those boys anchor you to reality. They’re your lover, your alternative lover, your best friend. Boys are your only comfort in a world full of those nasty fucking women, amirite?

You know the funny thing is, this whole issue is kind of why I read this book in the first place. I was curious. I wanted to see if maybe all of the problems in the Goddess series were just a fluke, you know. Just a one-series thing. GUESS I GOT MY ANSWER, HUH?

weepdie
Anyway, back to the clusterfuck of a plot.

The gang goes out to trade Lila for Greyson, but Augusta, being a clever and all, maneuvers it so that Celia gets Kitty, instead. Celia’s pissed, but it’s a simple fix! After all, we have secret rebellion tunnel access to the compound where everyone is being held!

Celia, Knox, and Kitty meet back up and plot to rescue Lila, who is locked in her room, and Benjy, who disappeared in a huff before shit went down, while Kitty was plot-obligated not to go after him, because if she had, well, we wouldn’t be able to rescue him now, would we?

So Kitty rescues Benjy, Knox rescues Greyson, and Celia utterly fails to rescue Lila despite the fact that she was literally across the fucking hall, so now Kitty must rescue Lila, and finally, FINALLY, we’ve reached the climax. Characters talk, nothing of value is said, Lila is impaled with a fire poker, and Kitty murders Augusta, because fuck it, right, she was a woman, and she was threatening Benjy, so you know, no moral objection there.

And somehow, despite having maybe a chapter or so left, the book manages to get even more incomprehensibly stupid.

So as it stands now, Augusta, the true “iron fist” behind the Hart throne, is dead. Daxton, the Prime Minster, is in a coma, and besides that, is known to at least three of the people involved with the story at this point to be an imposter. Greyson, the heir, is a Good Kid, and presumably Wants Equality for the People. The entire rest of the royal family are Good Guys involved in the rebellion. It seems like the obvious solution here is for one of them to take up the reigns, arrest Daxton, install Greyson as the new PM, or fucking abolish this farcical administration all together, usher in that new era of peace they’ve supposedly been fighting so hard for, and let Kitty and Benjy go on their merry ways. The good guys won! The bad guys are incapacitated. Whoo hoo, conflict over, the rest of this shit is a cake walk, right?

No. Nope. No. This is a series, motherfuckers! You thought it would end just because it made sense?

Instead, Celia continues to hide and behave like a fugitive. Kitty finds her in Daxton’s hospital room, where they have that conversation that I posted earlier, about how Celia couldn’t fuckin’ bring herself to kill him either. They allow Daxton to wake up, which quite conveniently occurs right around the time Celia couldn’t bring herself to kill him, and I shit you not, guys, I shit you not – he fucking has amnesia.

He supposedly doesn’t remember anything that happened for the entire book – plotting to kill Lila, masking Kitty, her assassination attempt, nothing. So they let him live. Fuck it, right! Prime opportunity now to save the ENTIRE GODDAMN COUNTRY from his clutches, but nope. Celia goes underground to lead the resistance, and she fucking takes Lila with her, leaving Kitty to continue to play the role, for no other fucking reason except Kitty is our protagonist, and this is a series, and we have two more fucking books to go. Oh yeah and she’s more series about her commitments than that fucking ship-jumper Lila.

“I promise you — I promise both of you that I will fix this.” [Knox] crouched in front of us. “It kills me to do this when we’ve asked so much of you already, but we need you. The Blackcoats need you. The people need you. Once it’s done, you have my word that you’ll be Kitty Doe again, and you’ll be free to do whatever you want on the Harts’ dime for the rest of your life.”

I let out a shaky breath. I didn’t care about how Benjy and I would pay for our perfect life together—I just wanted it to happen. I didn’t want to be Lila anymore.

But I wanted to help those people, too. Everyone who had heard me speak in New York, everyone who had been branded and oppressed, whose entire lives had been dictated by one test while others were able to coast by, receiving their marks because of the family they’d been born into and education lower ranks couldn’t afford—it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair to the people, and it wasn’t fair to society.

I’d believed everything I’d said in my speech. I was one person, a III in a world that thought people like me were worthless. I could make a difference with this face, though. I would have a purpose. I couldn’t walk away from it now, no matter how badly I wanted to.
OH YEAH SHIT FUCK THIS BOOK WAS SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT OPPRESSION OR SOMETHING WASN’T IT??? FUCK! ALMOST FORGOT!

And then, and then, it fucking gets worse. We have less than ten pages to go, and it gets worse.

Daxton fucking recovers, goes right back to his position as PM, and at Augusta’s funeral, we learn that the amnesia was fucking faked. FAKED. THIS BOOK BOTHERED TO HAVE HIM FEIGN AMNESIA FOR EIGHT PAGES. EIGHT GODDAMN PAGES.

“That is wonderful to hear,” said Daxton, pulling me into a hug. The feel of his body against mine made my skin crawl, but I didn’t push him away. “I so very much hope this tragedy will bring us closer together, Lila. Sometimes I feel I no longer know you.”

There was something in his tone that made me shiver. “Things haven’t been easy lately,” I said. “You still know me, though.”

As he pulled away, he touched the back of my neck, and his fingertips brushed against the three ridges underneath my skin.

I froze.

“Yes,” he said. “It seems I do.”

He remembered.

He remembered everything.

All the air left my lungs, and fear crashed through me, seizing control of my body. He knew. He knew, and I was as good as dead.

Without thinking, I stepped closer and slid my hand up his neck. He weakly pushed me away, but not before I felt the single V underneath his skin.

“It seems I still know you, too,” I said, my heart pounding as we stared at each other. “I hear I’m not the only one, either.”
OH MY GOD, THEN FUCKING EXPOSE HIM, YOU GODDAMN LIMP NOODLE MORON. EVERYONE KNOWS. EVERYONE IN THE FAMILY KNOWS DAXTON IS FAKE. KNOX, CELIA, LILA, GRAYSON, EVERYBODY FUCKING KNOWS, YOU HAVE STONE COLD FUCKING PROOF, EXPOSE HIM AND THIS IS ALL OVER APONGSKNGSDKNGLKSDNLKSDNGLDSKNLSDNGLKSNDG

freakout
bat-credit-card-o
rage
headexplode
I have never been so fucking thrown by a book in my life. This shit is inexcusable. It took a perfectly good premise, even decent fucking social commentary, and flushed it down the toilet with a plot so full of holes it could double as a fucking sieve. This is one of the most infuriating books I’ve read, and that’s before you even take into consideration the heaps of man-tivation, internalized misogyny, and the terrible goddamn writing that I just don’t give a shit about enough anymore to describe to you guys.

This book is awful. Don’t even bother with it. Don’t

One Star


Bonus! YA Dystopian Bingo



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