Author: Aimee Carter
Year of Publication: 2014
Series: The Blackcoat Rebellion
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 3.77
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 2
Plot Description: Kitty is supposed to continue pretending to be Lila Hart, but her rebelliousness gives Daxton Hart, the Prime Minister, reason to publicly disown her and send her Elsewhere. In Captive, Kitty navigates survival in Elsewhere and continues her efforts to further the Blackcoat Rebellion.
The word Blackcoat is unnecessarily grandiose and superficial, just like everything in this book. I mentioned in my review of Pawn (Book 1 in this series) that the story could easily have been wrapped up by the end of that book. But Carter sacrifices good writing in favour of world building (and the mandatory YA trilogy) and Captive suffers the brunt of that choice.
In a word, Captive is as superficial and redundant as the name Blackcoat (which is what the rebels choose to call themselves). The book opens on a celebration of Lila Hart’s birthday, and talks about how Kitty is a 7 in a room full of 6s, which makes her more powerful than any of them. But as anyone who has read Pawn knows, Kitty isn’t really a 7. Sure, the back of her neck is marked by a 7, but the ridges of her original tattoo still exist – and they show a 3. She talks about how any of the people in that room (a bunch of Ministers) would have her killed if they knew her real identity. This is false – those Ministers couldn’t care less about her. Like Carter, Kitty focuses on the unimportant details, the fancy trimmings (like what rank she’s currently pretending to be) rather than the important details – like the fact that 7 or not, Lila Hart is a powerless puppet – a teenager who can’t make much of a difference in the world. She whines about none of this is actually part of her life, and how “stealing” moments with her real boyfriend is more important to her than celebrating her fake birthday with a fake fiance. And it is profoundly unclear as to why this celebration is important. What are they keeping appearances up for? What is the real cost of not pretending to be Lila, or of not being on her best behaviour? Who cares if Kitty does a less than stellar job in pretending to be Lila?
Kitty whines to Knox about how they had a deal – that she’d play nice for a couple of hours and then be allowed to leave. Knox lectures her about the importance of keeping up appearances – a lecture that Kitty completely ignores in favour of snagging something to eat off of a nearby table. As a result of this conveniently stupid narrative device, both Kitty and the reader are left in the dark as to the potential importance of this celebration.
When Kitty is rude to a Minister who is ogling her chest, Knox pulls her away and tells the Minister that she’s being rude because she had too much to drink. I resent the implication – that a well behaved girl is supposed to put up with the unwanted advances of lecherous men – and I resent the fact that Kitty’s actions here aren’t in any way supported by Knox or by the author. The author seems to use this example to demonstrate the gamut of Kitty’s bad behaviour, rather than to subtly condone her reaction.
Here’s a pathetic attempt to explain the reasons why the plot is the trainwreck that it is:
That was the only reason I’d agreed to stay when Knox had asked me three weeks ago. It had been after an exhausting night and day, when Augusta Hart, Daxton’s mother and the real iron fist around the country, had tried to not only kill me and Lila, but Benjy, too. Instead, I’d put six bullets in her. Now, with Lila seriously injured, it was up to me to pretend to be her until someone took the Prime Minister out of the picture.
Um. Why? Who is going to take the Prime Minister out of the picture? The Prime Minister has no back up – and he’s not even really the Prime Minister. He’s a fraud like Kitty, a 5 who’s been masked to look like a 7. Why is this so difficult?
Kindly suspend your disbelief, the book seems to be saying to the reader. Nobody cares about logic here.
Daxton arranged a pyrotechnical surprise for the fake Lila on her birthday, but the fireworks send her into a PTSD infused gunshot flashback. Once again, Carter manages to take a serious issue (PTSD) and completely trivialize it. It’s normal for someone who shot her fake grandmother only a few weeks ago to react this way. But with Knox already by her side, Kitty ends up looking weak and foolish when Benjy appears in response to her screaming. As with prostitution in Pawn, the PTSD is used as a narrative device here – to introduce the other part of the love triangle onto the scene in defiance of all logic. Neither Kitty nor Benjy seem to care about the fact that their little display might end with their covers being blown in front of all the ministerial folks.
It’s a cringe worthy moment, and one where neither Kitty nor Benjy are at their best. Rather than being mature, responsible adults who are working to overthrow a regime, they show themselves for what they really are – silly teenagers who are in over their heads and who don’t care about anything other than themselves. I’ve accused Carter of being inconsistent in her writing, but her portrayals of Kitty and Benjy continue to be as consistent as it is bad – this is a page right out of the same book that saw Benjy offering to run away with Kitty so they could be together right after she took the test, and to hell with the consequences.
This is precisely what makes the characters of Carter’s book unsympathetic – their defiance of logic, and their utter selfishness.
Nor did I have any ends to justify my means. Killing Augusta hadn’t done me any favors—it had only removed Daxton’s leash completely, leaving all of us in grave danger. And that, I thought, was the worst part of all. I’d saved Benjy’s life in the short term by pulling that trigger, but in the long term, we were both one whim away from death.
Thanks to her fainting spell, Knox refused to allow Kitty to attend the midnight meeting of the rebels. Then he catches Kitty sneaking away to try and attend the meeting anyway:
“Maybe if you stopped acting like I’m an untrained dog and started treating me like a person who’s as much a part of this as you are, I’d stop pulling against your invisible leash,” I said. “I have every right to be there, and you know it. If you keep acting like I’m a liability—”
“I wouldn’t if you stopped being a liability.”
“—then I’ll leave,” I finished, ignoring him. “If I can’t work with the Blackcoats, then I don’t have any reason to be here anymore.”
Knox has begun to act suspiciously in the meantime, appearing to hold back vital information from the rest of the Blackcoats. This leads Kitty to suspect that Knox is secretly working with Daxton.
They could try to out him, but the media is in Daxton’s pocket. Anyone who went to press with the news would be labeled a traitor and executed before sundown. No one should have to make that sacrifice for nothing.”
The other reason why Kitty and her allies haven’t outed the fake Daxton yet is to protect Greyson – who would obviously be targeted by the rebelling masses the minute Daxton’s real identity was revealed.
Knox’s mouth formed a thin line, and he wrapped his arm around my shoulders. Normally it would have been a sweet gesture, but tonight it felt more like a threat. “Do you want to see the masses go after him once the rebellion begins?”
“You mean it hasn’t already?” I said, but he didn’t answer. I bit my lip. Greyson was one of my only friends, and the last thing I wanted was for him to get caught in the crossfire.
We were meters from the bunker when Knox stopped and faced me, his dark eyes bearing into mine. “Listen to me, Kitty,” he said in a low, hurried voice. “Telling the others about Daxton doesn’t outweigh the risks of Celia finding out—and if the other Blackcoat leaders know, she will find out sooner rather than later. And what happens after that is anyone’s guess. Do you understand me?”
Against Knox’s wishes, Kitty goes snooping for information about the Fake Daxton. With the help of a
magical high tech lock-pick that Greyson had fashioned for her, she manages to get hold of two files – one on Daxton, and one on herself. Unfortunately, Kitty’s dyslexia and illiteracy helps serve as a literary device to keep both Kitty and the reader in the dark.
Kitty’s sojourn in Elsewhere is as pointless as the rest of this book, except as a world building exercise. She is introduced to a cutthroat population that simultaneously includes children growing up without having known any other sort of life, and punitive executions which require one condemned person to save themselves by fighting another to death in public cages.
Although she’s offered comfortable lodgings at Daxton’s guesthouse by virtue of her status as a 7, Kitty opts to live with the rest of Elsewhere’s population. The mysterious couple who double as her sector’s wardens turn out to be inextricably linked both to the imposter Daxton’s and to Kitty herself.
She also meets a portion of the Blackcoats while in Elsewhere, and attempts to help them with retrieving military codes securely held somewhere on the premises.
Carter’s fondness for senseless plot twists and faked deaths spills over from Pawn to Captive. So too does the inexplicable need to appeal to a readership of ordinary girls while maintaining the trope that a heroine is always special – a secret princess, if you will. While these plot twists make for interesting storytelling by themselves, they don’t do the books a favour when taken together. An invested reader will welcome further information about Kitty’s parentage, for instance, but won’t fail to see that all the twisted storytelling is achieving is plot confusion.