About the Book

Title: Pawn (The Blackcoat Rebellion #1)
Published: 2013

Cover Story: Standard Issue Dystopia Emblem… Or Is It?!
BFF Charm: Maybe
Talky Talk: Greatest Hits Compilation
Bonus Factors: Identity Theft, Evil Matriarch
(Anti-?) Bonus Factor: Dystopia
Relationship Status: Friends with Benefits

Cover Story: Standard Issue Dystopia Emblem… Or Is It?!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a dystopian series must be in want of a symbol on its covers. And apparently, Pawn is best embodied by a fancy manhole cover. At its center is the Roman numeral III, which pops up A LOT in this book. This cover gets an unenthused pass for hitting up all the chess references (even though this isn’t about that kind of pawn at all).

Upon closer inspection—and making some broad assumptions, since I’ve yet to see a finished copy—I’m guessing that the real cover jacket has windows that obscure an image like what’s on the U.K. cover, in which case NO.

In addition to forcing the reader into a creepy staring contest against a well-mascaraed eye, this cover is guilty of nonsense. “Are you more than the number on the back of your neck?” That tagline is neither intriguing nor meaningful, unless you already know the premise. Or you happen to be Agent 47.

The Deal:

In the distant future, citizens of the United States are assigned a ranking—the aforementioned number on the back of the neck—based on an aptitude test: I being the lowest, and VII the highest. Newly ranked Kitty Doe has been condemned to an existence as a III—and apart from Benjy, the boy that she loves—until she receives an offer to become a VII.

But VIIs can’t be earned; they’re only granted to the Harts, the ruling family of the United States. To receive hers, Kitty will have to be surgically transformed into Lila, the Prime Minister’s recently deceased niece.

Unimaginable fame and wealth are within Kitty’s grasp. All she has to do is dismantle the rebellion that Lila secretly supported—a cause that Kitty herself believes in. But can Kitty break free from being a pawn in this power struggle? Well, this is the first in a series, so methinks eventually yes.

BFF Charm: Maybe

BFF charm with a :-| face

Kitty’s had a tough life: She grew up in a group home as one of 40 children; her fate as a III is pretty grim, as is the alternative of rejecting it by joining a brothel; and she has a serious case of the Jordan Catalanos, i.e., she can’t read.

But her sad sacking about being a III got a little tedious. Sewage maintenance (aka her assignment as a III) may not be glamorous, but a lot of jobs integral to society aren’t. Sure, I agree with being able to work toward a career of your own choosing, but I didn’t care for putting down these kinds of jobs. Plus, Kitty kind of has a picky palate—which, based on stories from my parents’ poor upbringings in large families, I don’t buy at all.

Despite these misgivings, Kitty still showed glimpses of best-frienditude. She’s compassionate to the plight of the oppressed, and she isn’t blinded by the opulence of the Harts’ lifestyle to think for herself.

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Kitty and Benjy grew up together in the group home and they eventually fell in love. I’m probably underscoring their swoon, since I abide by the Bring It On: All or Nothing principle: You could show me better than you could tell me. Which is why I pretty much always go for the new guy over the pre-existing one.

Sigh, yes—there is another, although it’s in the infancy stage of a potential love triangle. See, assuming Lila’s life means taking on her engagement to party-boy Lennox “Knox” Creed. (The nickname’s a bit of a stretch. Who would even pronounce it Len-NOX?) Knox and Kitty’s feelings toward each other are a bit ambiguous—refreshing, given my low tolerance for insta-love—but I’m kind of shipping Knox with Lila’s awesome cousin, Greyson, which would completely sidestep any love triangle tomfoolery.

Talky Talk: Greatest Hits Compilation

Y’all, I love me some dystopia, but I may have reached that “too much of a good thing” threshold. I couldn’t help seeing similarities to other series: a ranked society like The Selection; aptitude testing like Divergent; and government-issued tattoos like XVI. Not that this is a bad thing; Aimée Carter blends these elements together well, and she even does some things better than those others. While Carter isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel (which would be dang difficult, since the wheel’s a really good design, y’all), her fast-paced writing is an enjoyable read on its own merits. Even though I could spot some of the twists and surprises right away, I still had no idea where the story was going as a whole. And Carter avoids ridiculous future slang, THANK GOODNESS.

Bonus Factor: Identity Theft

“Theft” isn’t really the right word for it, but the more apt “Assuming Someone Else’s Identity” is way clunky. In order to become Lila, Kitty has to undergo an entire Eliza Doolittle process.

Bonus Factor: Evil Matriarch

With her new insider’s perspective on Prime Minister Hart and his family, Kitty learns that it’s really his mother, Augusta, who’s calling the shots. And Lila’s mother, Celia, has an agenda of her own, too.

(Anti-?) Bonus Factor: Dystopia

Scene from Bladerunner with a flying car in a city looking at a giant electronic billboard of a geisha

A society based on meritocracy actually doesn’t sound all that bad. But, of course, the system is super corrupt at the top. And standardized testing is an imperfect evaluation, esp. for determining somebody’s entire future.

But what I don’t get is why there was an overhaul with the presidential system—at least in nomenclature (prime minister vs. president). Why would a country born out of rebellion against a parliamentary system revert back to it? Although it’s not a true parliamentary system, since the head of state and the head of the government are one and the same. Or GASP maybe there IS a monarch?! After all, pawns serve the king and queen….(I think. I don’t know chess.)

Relationship Status: Friends with Benefits

I’ve dated a lot of books like this one, so maybe my past is preventing me from fully investing in this series. We’re friends now, but I can’t deny my attraction to a good dystopia. I’m certainly open to our hookups turning into something more meaningful in the future.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Harlequin Teen. This review was originally posted on Kirkus Reviews in exchange for monetary compensation, which did not affect or influence my opinions. Pawn is available now.

Mandy (she/her) lives in Edmonton, AB. When she’s not raiding the library for YA books, she enjoys eating ice cream (esp. in cold weather), learning fancy pole dance tricks, and stanning BTS. Mandy has been writing for FYA since 2012, and she oversaw all things FYA Book Club from 2013 to 2023.