Annotation: Now the queen of Ludania, Charlie is coping with her newfound rule over her troubled kingdom where her demolishing of the caste system isn’t as accepted as she’d hoped. To make matters worse, Sabara’s essence which, unbeknownst to anyone else, was transferred when the evil queen was killed is lurking deep inside Charlie, threatening to take control at any moment.
Personal thoughts: I seem to keep being disappointed by sequels to novels that I really loved and, unfortunately, The Essence is yet another sophomore slump for me. The Pledge was a really interesting and entertaining story, with the language-based caste system, Charlie uncovering her role as heir to the throne of Ludania and her relationship with Max. In The Essence, Charlie is now a bit of a brat, whining constantly about all of the issues she has to deal with as queen. The plot is also slow and never seems to pick up a lot of speed at any point in the novel. I hope that the author can turn the series around with an excellent third novel, but I’m sorry to say that my hopes aren’t very high.
Plot summary: Now that she is settling into her newfound role as the queen of Ludania, Charlie is struggling to cope with unrest in her troubled kingdom. The caste system that used to strictly divide the country by language has been abolished, and Charlie, Max and Brooklynn are trying to ensure that the transition to equality goes smoothly. Unfortunately, not everyone in Ludania is thrilled about what Charlie has done. Threats against the queen are uncovered on a daily basis, making Charlie fear for the safety of her family, especially her younger sister, Angelina. Charlie’s biggest threat, however, is not something outside the castle walls, but lives deep inside of her: the essence of the evil queen Sabara, the one Charlie supposedly killed to become queen, is trapped in Charlie and wants nothing more than to get out. The longer Sabara’s spirit lives within Charlie, the more their thoughts and memories become linked, and Charlie soon realizes that there is much she didn’t know about the former queen of Ludania. What do the dreams of Sabara’s previous lives mean? Why does Charlie find herself drawn to a mysterious strange, Niko Bartolo, from a neighboring kingdom? Can Charlie keep the presence of Sabara’s essence within her a secret from the people she loves?
Review: Following the popular first installment in The Pledge trilogy, veteran author Kimberly Derting continues her latest series with The Essence. Beginning shortly after the events of the previous novel, Charlie, the vendor’s daughter turned queen of the kingdom of Ludania, finds herself in a series of increasingly dangerous situations. Her people aren’t as crazy about her as she’d hoped they be, it seems like someone is trying very hard to kill her, she’s not that into being treated like royalty, and the spirit of the evil queen Sabara, who also happens to be her boyfriend’s grandmother, is living inside of her. A lot of Charlie’s spunk that was present in the first novel is absent in the wake of all of these challenges, turning her from a likable leading lady to a bit of a whiner. Things go from bad to worse when Charlie is sent to a summit where the queens of neighboring kingdoms meet to discuss official business and try to out shine one another. Charlie doesn’t know the etiquette that the other queens have had years to learn, plus her trip is especially rocky considering that someone really wants her dead. Much of what was enjoyable about the first novel, the dystopian nature of Ludania, the caste system, Charlie’s budding romance with Max, is completely absent in the sequel. While The Essence isn’t necessarily a poorly written or “bad” story, it’s drastically different from its predecessor, making it unclear if fans of The Pledge will like it. For readers who don’t mind the story veering off from a mix of adventure and dystopia into full on fantasy territory, The Essence will prove to be an entertaining read. For those who aren’t into battles, commanders, armies, and dead queens, however, the likelihood of enjoying the novel enough to pick up the third and final installment is slim.
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: The Pledge by Kimberly Derting, Chemical Garden trilogy by Lauren DeStefano, Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth, Cinder trilogy by Marissa Meyer.
Themes: Royalty, war, queens, magic, danger, assassins.
Awards/Reviews: Positive review from Kirkus.
Series Information: Second installment in The Pledge trilogy. First installment, The Pledge, released in 2012. Third installment announced, but no release date yet.
- How has Charlie changed since assuming her new role as Queen of Ludania? How have Brookylnn and Aron changed?
- How would you explain the relationship between Charlie and Sabara’s “essence”?
- Why is Charlie so drawn to Niko? How does this attraction threaten her relationship with Max?
- Why do you think some people in Ludania are not in favor of Charlie’s “New Equality”? Do you think social or political change is hard for people to accept in the real world?
- Why was it so important to Avonlea when Charlie gave her a name?
- Which of the queens at the summit did you like the most? The least?
- What would you like to see happen in the third installment of this trilogy?