Allegiant, Veronica Roth

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The Premise:

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?

The Verdict:

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.

MASSIVE SPOLIER

Tris dies!

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!

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Insurgent, Veronica Roth

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The Premise

Following on from the events from Divergent, Tris and Four and their small band of abnegation survivors head for Amity to hid from Jeannine’s violent attack. They must choose between staying in safety, or heading back into the city and facing their enemy head on. But with Four’s hatred of his father simmering, will they be able to work together to reveal the secret that Abnegation has been hiding? Or will Tris’ guilt regarding the attack and fear of the future stop her?

The Verdict

I thought the film was better.

Phew, confession over and done with. It’s rare, but it does occasionally happen. One of the most fascinating aspects of the film was the fact that Tris had to overcome multiple simulations in order to unlock the message from the outside world. Her suffering was purposeful, and she voluntarily continued it when she was rescued in order to open the lines of communication with the outside world. I found that concept fascinating – that the experiment was growing humans in the hope that one day one of them would be able to unlock the message and reunite the factions with the rest of the world. Unfortunately, this did not happen, and it has to be my biggest complaint. Whilst the torture was purposeful in the novel – so that Jeannine could create a serum that will effect all the Divergent, that motivation was not as multi-faceted as the motivation in the movie. In fact, it took Jeannine from villain to too villainous. Whilst it is hard to stomach, the idea of genocide of the Divergent was relevant and could have continued, but Jeannine’s desire for control was over written and over presented (I must iterate here that I’m not saying I can ever understand why people commit genocide, just that it seemed to be Jeannine’s original goal). It was a shame that she became so fixated on the serum so that she essentially lost any of the character that made her a 3D antagonist with layers of complexity. Mixed with the over writing of the natures of the factions (ALL the erudite being obsessed with knowledge and having nothing else interesting about them) and the book became quite dry and basic.

I’ve gone up and down with Tris’ character too. One of the reasons I love her, which I made clear in my review of Divergent (available here: https://readexerciserepeat.wordpress.com/2018/04/11/divergent-veronica-roth/ ), is that she dictates her own destiny. She continues to react to events, rather than being caught up in them against her will, and takes her fate into her own hands when she hands herself over to Erudite. However, Roth’s writing of Tris was rather disappointing. Focussing on her weaknesses – her inability to hold a gun, her missing her parents, her dependence on Tobias and their often volatile relationship – should have made her a stronger character, but like Jeannine, it took away what it was that made her stand out before because it was constantly referred to and made a key feature of the novel. Perhaps it would have been better if this had been more purposeful, but instead it just felt repetitious and boring.

I also have some issues with the relationship between Tobias and Tris. Roth attempts to give it too much of an adult glaze, requiring the 16 year olds to be committing to each other in emotional ways beyond the abilities of a teenager in the throes of their first romantic love. I’m not saying that relationships developed in teenage years can’t become happy adult relationships, I’m just saying that Roth tries to give their relationship adult depth unsuccessfully. The most real times are when they argue, which is a lot in this novel, but Tris’ idolisation of Tobias is a frightening insight into how relationships can become abusive. He has no reason to keep secrets from her, no reason to be paranoid, no reason to distrust her, but these things almost lead to the destruction of the piece of evidence that will ultimately save her life. He is wrapped up in his own ‘thing’, and their relationship is uncomfortable to read throughout the novel because some of the things he does and says are the starts of a relationship break down that could lead to some harm.

Also an issue is that nothing really happened. Ultimately, they allied with the factionless and broke into Erudite headquarters. There was a lot of reading to get to that core content. I don’t feel like Tris really developed as a character and the first person narration limits the development of her co-stars as well. In fact, I think Roth felt this as well as in conversation with Jeannine Tris points out ‘I’m 16, I change’ – a blatant attempt to pretend that there has been any character development at all.

Perhaps the most successful aspect of the novel was Caleb’s betrayal of Tris. This was unexpected but also understandable – especially when Tris learns that Erudite was split into two parts, those who believe Jeannine unquestioningly and those who don’t. Caleb’s personality and loyalty to faction were clear from Divergent and it is unsurprising that he returns to this belief. In this sense, the first person narration made it even more shocking because Tris truly had no idea, which mean that the reader didn’t either. This was a clever twist, but not enough to rescue the entire novel.

I have Allegiant here to read and look forwards to completing the trilogy, however, my hopes for the final instalment are minimal. I know that Roth has written several novellas regarding characters in the series – at this point it’s fair to say that I won’t be reading them.

Divergent, Veronica Roth

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I’m embarrassed to say that this is one of very few series where I have actually seen the movies before reading the series – partly because when I went to see it at the cinema in 2014 with my sister I didn’t realise it was also a novel, partly because the three movies that are out so far are all on Netflix, and partly because buying it always seemed not quite worth it. I have, however, rediscovered those amazing things called libraries, and am glad that I can now work my way through this series – although I have to wait for the second and third ones to arrive!

The Premise

In a world where conflict and human failures have been managed by splitting mankind into factions, which rarely communicate with each other, Tris takes a test that decides where she belongs, only to discover that she is equally split between three factions – a supposedly rare occurrence called ‘Divergence’. When she chooses a faction that isolates her from her family and everything she knows, will Tris survive the intense training and probation period? And why is there so much hatred for her old faction? Life as a Divergent is secretive and challenging – and life in her chosen faction, Dauntless, offers everyday bodily risk and harm.

The Verdict

It is nice to read a teen fiction with a romance that is actually quite realistic. Bearing in mind that Tris and Four are 16 and 18 respectively, the passionate physical love affair that is often portrayed in teen fiction is not appropriate and in fact, when it is written (in other novels), it is dangerous to set those expectations for young teens. Tris and Four have a professional relationship at first, with Four training Tris, which does make their relationship a little taboo as he does hold a position of authority over Tris. However, their feelings and their expression of them are realistic. But Roth takes this further by presenting Tris’ fear of both emotional and physical intimacy as so severe that it comes up in her final test. Four not only accepts this, but respects it, and their relationship develops organically. Too often, these types of romances are rushed because of the situation the young people are in, but Roth protects their tentative romance. This is truly a healthy relationship for teenagers to read, that puts no pressure on them to further their own relationships.

Unfortunately, due to the proximity of Divergent and The Hunger Games being released, it seems almost impossible to write about one without comparing it to the other. Now, I love The Hunger Games, but I have a real hatred for Katniss. Her supposed strength is really only portrayed when she volunteers as tribute, and throughout the rest of the novels she is mostly a victim of circumstance, constantly fighting becoming stronger. She is very whiny and easily manipulate, and I don’t think her character sets the best example. I much prefer Tris. From the outset, Tris makes her own decisions. In Dauntless, male is matched equally against female. Tris fights for her right to remain in her faction, and her motivation is internal determination. Rather than being caught up in events, Tris dictates them, making changes to herself, those around her, and eventually leading the small band of rebels that stops the brainwashing of Dauntless and the eradication of abnegation. Tris is truly a hero for our time – not limited by her gender, her age or her upbringing.

The story itself is fascinating, and it wasn’t any less so for having seen the movies first. I was surprised at how accurately the movies stuck to the books, as often they lose a lot, but despite some clear alterations in events, everything that happens in the book seems to happen in the movies. The creation of the world is interesting. It cannot be defined as dystopian as there is much development and peace, and until Erudite try to take control, peace has been maintained for years. Perhaps the best word is post-apocalyptic – technology has advanced, but a lot of what we take for granted now is no longer present in every day life. Roth creates a vivid world, filled with relevance. It is hard to comment without focussing on what I know already about the sequels here, but it is interesting to see that in what should be a utopia – where human weakness has been weeded out and everyone lives in harmony – there is discord and unfairness. Roth pains a disturbing picture of human kind, where greed comes to the forefront of a reasonable world.

I enjoy the idea of divergent thinking. Relating it to my teacher’s training, this is an interesting concept in which pupils who think more abstractly have better problem solving skills, higher intelligence and more prospects. Tris’ world is trapped into thinking that the factions cannot combine to create a greater way of life. Tris is a one person representation of what can happen when the different worlds collide. Perhaps we can take that into our own lives – and instead of being threatened by those who think differently to us, we embrace it and learn from it.

Overall, Roth creates a fascinating and enjoyable landscape, with a strong teenage female lead. It is an inspiring book to read and I look forwards to completing the trilogy when the library gets them in!