Series: The Blackcoat Rebellion
Author: Aimée Carter
First Published: Jan. 1st, 2013
“But if you’re careful—if you protect your pawns and they reach the other side of the board, do you know what happens then? Your pawn becomes a queen.”
I have not read many dystopian books, but this rapidly became a favourite of mine. It was my first Aimée Carter book and it really impressed me.
The concept of this book is unique and original and what drew me in immediately was the world building and in particular the political workings of this society. It does work a bit like your average dystopian world with a society that is divided into the rich and the poor and an all-powerful head of state. This particular society works with a system of numbers, which divide you into different categories ranking from I (which you definitely don’t want to get) to VII (which you will definitely never get unless you are born into the Hart family who is the political head of the city). At the age of 17 everyone is required to take a test, which will determine what category is the best fit for you. If you fall into categories IV to VI you basically can make a good to nearly perfect life for yourself. However, the opposite can be said for categories I to III. Should you fall into one of those then you’re life is basically going to suck pretty badly. Fall into the lowest category and you get send to a place called “Elsewhere”. And you definitely want to avoid that fate! However there is a big twist that makes this book so highly interesting. Like I already mentioned, the highest rank is reserved for members of the Hart family. There is however a procedure called “Masking” which is plastic surgery that can make everybody looking like everybody else. And that is where our protagonist Kitty Doe comes into play.
Kitty just turned 17 and she took the test the morning of her birthday. It turns out that out of the seven categories she only ranked at three. This basically means that she will probably only live until the age of 40 and spend the rest of her life as a labourer (in her case she was assigned to be a sewage worker). She however refuses to accept that and she goes to the market and steals an orange with the full intention of getting shot by a Shield (armed guards) on the spot because stealing in her society is punishable by death. These days we would call her actions “suicide by cop.” She does however change her mind, decides to bolt and moves into a brothel to become a prostitute, ignoring the attempts of her boyfriend Benjy to change her mind, because she decides that that would be a better life than having to work in the sewers all day. At the brothel her virginity is being auctioned off and it turns out the man who bought her is none other than Prime Minister Daxton Hart. He presents her with the unique opportunity to come with him and be “upgraded” to a rank VII. Of course Kitty agrees and after being knocked out by a sedative she wakes up two weeks later with a new rank and to her immense surprise a new face and body, namely that of the PM’s niece, Lila Hart, who died in a car accident. She finds out that since she has the exact same eye colour, which is the one thing that can’t be altered during the masking process, she was chosen to play the part of the PM’s dead niece for as long as they would need her to. Sounds quite easy? Think again! Lila was not just a pampered little politician princess; she was an outspoken activist who openly protested against what she felt her family is doing wrong in their manner of ruling the society. She spoke openly about how she wanted the ranking system to be abolished and how she wants American citizens to become equal to one another. And now Kitty is to be turned into a pawn in the political games of this twisted family.
I did have some issues with the lovely Kitty Doe though (see what I did there.. ;)). For the most part I did like her but some of her choices and viewpoints are not quite clear to me. For instance she chose to live a life in a brothel and having her virginity auctioned off to the highest bidder in the blink of an eye but she gapes at the fact that in order to play the part of Lila Hart convincingly she has to marry her fiancé. Also choosing to rather be shot on the spot than having to work a job she doesn’t like makes her seem a bit pathetic. You can’t always get what you want. It’s not how the world works. Another problem I have with her is that she seems to become too perfect at being Lila too quickly. To me it seems very unrealistic that in just 11 short days she would be able to convincingly play the part of an entirely different person.
The side cast was wonderfully written and very enjoyable to read. The boys in particular were very good characters. We have Kitty’s boyfriend Benjy who sticks with her through everything and is a very loyal person, which in this society is something that is very hard to come by. And then we have the wonderful Knox, Lila’s fiancé, who becomes Kitty’s reluctant ally and does more for her than she actually deserves. What I really liked was that although there is some romance and there are hints to a love triangle happening it’s all kept light and I really enjoyed the amicable jealous banter between the two boys.
My favourite characters have to be the bad guys. They are so wonderfully written. They are given depth in character and they aren’t simply black or white but have a lot of grey areas to them, which makes them very believable. They have distinct voices and personalities and they all serve an important role in the book. I immensely enjoyed reading about such evil and heartless villains in and from the moment we meet Augusta it is very clear that she is exactly that. The air around her is screaming malice and coupled with the position of power she is in this makes her very dangerous. Daxton on the other hand is a whole different kind of evil. He is a repulsive human being who takes pleasure in killing people for sport and is just a downright vile person.
There really is no lack of evil in this book and when we find out what “Elsewhere” really is, the reveal made my mouth gape open in horror and my eyes practically pop out of my head. Violence is very clearly depicted in this story in the sense that it’s made obvious from the beginning that everybody in this world is dispensable and can be easily replaced.
What makes this book so highly entertaining to read is it’s pacing. We get thrown into a world of threats and intrigue. We can never be sure if people really are who they pretend to be. In a society in which surgically masking people to look like somebody else is apparently common practice in the higher political ranks we constantly keep guessing if our characters really are who they claim to be. Significant events happen all throughout the book and are not just saved up for the very end, which also is quite excellently done.
If you’re a fan of the dystopian genre and are looking for something fresh, I would highly suggest you pick up this book. I enjoyed reading it very much and I’m looking forward to the sequel.
— Alina xx