At first glance, Pawn seems like your average, hyped up dystopian novel. Society functions under the caste system and follows the ideals of the American Dream: if you work hard, you will be rewarded. At the age of seventeen, one's place in society is determined through an aptitude test, which allows them to be assigned a ranking of I to VII, with VII being the highest, and those who achieve a III or below are resigned to a life of poverty and destitution. This premise may not be the most original - the test itself draws parallels to Marie Lu's Legend series - or the most fleshed-out, it does what any good dystopian novel should by making the reader reflect on the similarities between this flawed society and their own. In school, we're always taught that if we work hard and achieve good grades, we will be successful in life. However, that is not always the case. Just as VII's are only given to the Prime Minister and their family, many positions in our society are determined based on lineage, wealth or connections, so it's not what you know, but who you know that can determine your success.
Once Kitty is offered the chance to change her rank, Pawn certainly becomes more original and more enjoyable. As Kitty undergoes her transformation to Lila Hart, the flaws in this world are certainly exposed. Secrets are uncovered, showing just how corrupt and power-hungry some members of the Hart family are, while also leaving you questioning who to trust. And Kitty isn't the only one who realizes this -- deep in the city, a rebellion is brewing, and Kitty's voice alone can either silence or strengthen its cause.
Kitty is a fairly likeable protagonist. While she didn't leave the best first impression, she certainly grew on me after she was Masked. Despite having the face of the most powerful girl in the country, Kitty retained the values and beliefs that she had when she was a III. She considers the consequences when making decisions, and doesn't allow herself to be easily swayed by anyone.
The secondary characters were incredibly well written. There were no "filler" characters; all of them played an important role in the story. The villains were morally ambiguous (my favourite kind), rather than just plain "evil." Although I didn't agree with many of their choices, it was hard not to sympathize with them once the reasoning behind some of their decisions was brought to light.
There is a slight romantic element to the plot, but because Benjy and Kitty's relationship had been established prior to the beginning of Pawn, there is no instalove and this relationship takes a backseat to the rest of the action. Benjy is sweet, protective, and willing to follow Kitty to the ends of the Earth despite the fact that she's a lowly III. That kind of devotion is nice and all, but it made Benjy kind of boring to read about. Thankfully, there's the mysterious Knox, who is Lila's fiance and Kitty's reluctant ally. To Carter's credit, there wasn't a love triangle, giving Pawn extra points in my eyes. Though, you know, given how much I like Know, I really wouldn't mind too much if it started to turn into one in the sequel...
Overall, Pawn was a really enjoyable read filled with political intrigue, sympathetic characters, and lots of deception. The world-building may not have been that detailed, but the premise and plot were interesting enough to allow me to overlook the vague explanation for how America began using the caste system. Hopefully it will become more fleshed-out in future books.