Now that their city knows the truth, Tris and Tobias want to travel outside to see what, as divergents, they can do in response to the video that has revealed their importance. Desperate to escape the city that is now under the control of Evelyn, Tobias’ mother, they leave without authorisation and come across an unexpected world. What do you do when you discover that everything you know is a lie? And in a world where everyone you know is considered damaged, who do you save?
I was a bit nervous about reading Allegiant after the disappointment of Insurgent, but I am glad that I’m stubborn and insist on finishing a series if I start it because Allegiant brought back a lot that I loved about the first novel that the second lost.
I am always complaining about how authors set their characters into impossible situations and yet, remarkably, the protagonist always survives. When Tris decided to go into the control room rather than her brother to face a deathly serum, I tutted and ploughed onwards, knowing that despite all the adversity Tris would survive and the novel would end with her and Tobias happily moving on with their lives. And when she defeated the serum and didn’t die immediately, my frustration grew. Now she was facing David, who of course had a secret inoculation against the death serum. When she went for the memory serum deployment and got shot, my cynicism told me that aid would soon be rushing to her side. But it didn’t. Then she saw her mother, and rather than encouraging her to return to the world she was desperately trying to save, Tris’ mother said yes, your work is done, come with me now. And Tris died. It was a moving moment, but from my point of view the real triumph there was Roth’s, who had the audacity to kill off her protagonist properly. It was both heart wrenching and satisfying at the same time, a victory for realistic, modern teenage fiction, but a loss to the world that Roth created. I was impressed with the skill that Roth wrote the scene, which will stand out in my mind as a highlight of the entire series.
Of course, Roth had to pave the way for her to be able to do this. Rather than focus on the singular narrative of Tris, she created a dual narrative which alternated, a little ad hoc, between Tris and Tobias. This made up for the deficit in Insurgent by adding a little more depth to the narrative, however, Tobias’ character was stiff and unnatural. Despite being given his own voice, he was still Tris’ Tobias, with little depth or character beyond what Tris had already painted. Even his attempt to go along with the failed revolution was a little boring because he didn’t have the depth of character that made us really sympathise with his struggle or his final choice. There was also not enough build up to the fact that all he wanted was a mother and he was willing to risk the safety of his city, his friends and everything he knew to give her a chance to come back to him. Evelyn failed as a character precisely because she wasn’t the sort of person to put family first, and her desire to be a mother could not fulfil her dictator tenancies. Killing Tris off was impressive, but giving Tobias a mother to replace her kind of undermined their relationship by showing that Tobias was just desperate for a strong woman to love him, and when he lost Tris, his mother was going to become enough.
Some of Roth’s world building was fascinating, especially the use of propaganda which is portrayed as a truth and then systematically taken apart as Tobias and Tris make several different discoveries. The fear of the ‘other’ here is not gender, or skin colour or orientation but an invisible genetic different. The genetically pure decided that anyone with altered genes was problematic, and altered their history so that future generations would believe this. This was an indictment of current society, where we take differences and nurture them into hatred rather than building a better world together. Tris’ understanding of Caleb helped with this belief – he made the decisions he made because of who he was, not necessarily because of who his genes made him, and she had to learn to forgive him completely before she could move on.
I don’t think enough was made of Tris’ heritage – the link to Edith Prior or the history of her mother who joined the city later. A clandestine love between David and Tris’ mother was detrimental to the main narrative as it wasn’t gone into in depth and seemed like a clumsy afterthought. Roth’s story is very plot drive, and lacks the depth of some of the mature fiction that focuses on the building of a world and characterisation as a priority. Everyone seemed to fall into a character cliche – the boyfriend, the best friend, the side character who died and their loving family – and there didn’t seem to be much else to them. The focus was Tris, and partially Tobias.
However, complaints aside, I enjoyed Allegiant a lot more than I expected to, and hats off to Roth for following through with the challenging authorial decision to kill off the protagonist (albeit with some painful cliches as Tobias processed her departure). I won’t seek out Roth again specifically, but if I came across something by her I would probably read it. Perhaps it’s time I focussed on some adult fantasy to give me the depth and commitment that I need… I do still have Wheel of Time to finish!