Synopsis: In the violent country of Ludania, the language you speak determines what class you are, and there are harsh punishments if you forget your place—looking a member of a higher class in the eye can result in immediate execution. Seventeen-year-old Charlaina (Charlie for short) can understand all languages, a dangerous ability she’s been hiding her whole life. Her only place of release is the drug-filled underground club scene, where people go to shake off the oppressive rules of the world they live in. There, she meets a beautiful and mysterious boy who speaks a language she’s never heard, and her secret is almost exposed. Through a series of violent upheavals, it becomes clear that Charlie herself is the key to forcing out the oppressive power structure of her kingdom….
This book makes me all melty. The way this story unfolds is so magical that somehow Kimberly Derting makes a war-torn dystopian society into an enchanted place. I keep thinking that I want to escape into this world, and then I have to remind myself that they have bombs dropping on them and people being hung in the square every weekend. There's plenty of darkness, but it's one of those situations where you have to make it dark so you can see the light. Because there are parts of this book that are just dazzling.
Charlie is one of those girls you wish you could be - she's an extraordinary girl with brains, guts, and wonderful self-preservation skills that you can be envious of. Plus, she can understand languages easily, which, even though it could potentially get her killed, is something I've always wished I was able to do. Her best friend seems to be her opposite, but she's an awesome part of the novel. In fact, all the secondary characters are so solid and they all give the impression that they have their own secrets that could at any minute completely change the whole story.
Charlie lives in a dystopian society, but it has hints of fairy-tale magic to it. The country is ruled by a queen, who is growing old and looking for a replacement. She has plenty of male heirs, but they mean nothing to her, so that inverse of monarchy is interesting. I also love the way classes are divided by languages, something that is completely isolating. Yet, because Charlie can understand all languages, you never feel like your exploration of this world is limited, it's just dangerous. The city Charlie lives in also feels a lot like Berlin in wartime - mostly because of the prevalence of clubs and celebration of youth even with the background of violence.
What really pushed this book over the top from - I love this book- to I freaking love this book, was that every aspect - from secondary characters, to classification, to history, even the club scenes - all held specific purpose and contributed to larger themes. There is so much you can pull out of this book as a reflection on the state of our own society. Then, the parallels that are drawn to show the relationship between love and war are just wonderful. It's so subtle, but it's there. In love and war - you have to follow your instincts, you need to protect yourself, you have to take extraordinary risk, and every once in awhile - surrendering means winning.
I love. love. love. this book. I highly recommend it. It came out on Tuesday (November 15) so it's now available, and I suggest you run out and get a copy as soon as you can. It's the first in a trilogy, so I can't wait to see where it's going to go next. I got to meet Kimberly Derting at YAll Fest this last weekend (which was incredible!) - so I'll be giving away a signed copy. I'll have that contest up tomorrow, so check back!