Welcome to book week! I have been reading so much Young Adult (YA) and New Adult (NA) lately that I thought it best to write some reviews of the stories lest they all blend into one super mutant story in my mind. Welcome to my first (but hopefully not last) book week, where I’ll post one review every day this week.
My two rules for book week: It’s my pledge will be as spoiler free as possible. And I’ll keep my criticism constructive – I have great respect for people who’ve sat themselves down and committed to the hard task of writing, so even if I didn’t really love a book, I’m not about to rain all over that parade.
Let’s get started with the Divergent trilogy!
Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant, by Veronica Roth
I promise this review will be Hunger Games comparison-free.
Theo James as Four is the reason I’m going to see Divergent and I’m not about to apologise for that. I never promised to be highbrow…
I have been totally late to the Divergent bandwagon, only reading these because I saw the trailer for the movie, which I thought looked good on the basis of a hot guy (Theo James) and some cool-looking action. The benefit about being late to bandwagons is you can binge read the whole series and avoid the agonising wait for the final. Sometimes this wait can be wonderful, each moment of anticipation made even sweeter by how epic the final product is (Harry Potter). But there’s always the risk you’ll be rewarded with your wait with a Breaking Dawn. So you can see why I like to be late to bandwagons sometimes.
I’d been vaguely aware of the existence of this series and had written it off as a bit too sci-fi for my tastes. However I believe in book before movie so I dutifully downloaded Divergent with minimal expectations.
Overall, as a series I was really into it. A quick summary: it’s a dystopian future, with a city divided into factions: Abegnation, Dauntless, Erudite, Amity and Candor. Each person over 16 must undertake aptitude tests to see which faction they fit into – however they can still choose to go against the results. As indicated by the title, the main character Tris is Divergent: displaying equal aptitudes for three factions, instead of one and able to remain aware and even manipulate the mental simulations that are a part of this society. Divergents are seen as dangerous; unpredictable and uncontrollable they are a threat to the social system. The novels explore what this upset in the system means for this world, examining the themes of power, corruption and how trusting/distrusting a societal system can impact on individual relationships.
One of the things I loved the most about the series was the relationship between Tris and Four. Hooray for a relationship in YA that allows the girl to be both strong and vulnerable at the same time, and establishes feelings based on personality traits, and not just physicality. Veronica Roth allows Tris and Four to fundamentally disagree on many things, to spend time apart without the world ending and gives them room to breath and be with other characters. I thought it was a healthy and refreshing approach. I’m all for epic love in my YA (and in all my fiction actually) but I think it’s really unhelpful for younger readers to be constantly fed unrealistic fairytale versions of relationships of kids in love after a single glance. I liked that their relationship was a slower (if predictable) burn and they clashed and challenged each other every once in a while.
The other theme I really enjoyed was family, and the question of how strong your roots are once you choose another lifestyle. When Tris chose a different faction to her family I expected her to dive into that world and to never really hear much about her mother, father and brother again, but I was pleasantly surprised. They continued to play a major role, especially in her thoughts and I loved she struggled with wanting to please them while trying to carve her own path.
Finally, the action scenes were totally awesome.
Overall, as a series it started off strongly with Divergent, evened out with Insurgent and had a problematic third chapter with Allegiant.
Here are my thoughts on the individual books:
The first and best of the series is an absolute cracker. It’s fast paced, but the main and supporting characters are developed nicely.
I enjoyed getting to know this world, in particular the training sessions in the Dauntless faction were fraught with tension and action and helped to really set up the world and the characters, especially Tris.
The story and action kept me on my toes and up way past my bedtime and any complaints I might have had were lost in enjoying a really good story. There’s nothing more to say – I really liked this book and it stayed with me long after reading.
Insurgent is mostly about revealing truths and motivations – both of individual characters and the government of the world they’re living in.
In the second book Tris is bearing the weight of decisions she made during the climatic action scenes of Divergent, losing herself in guilt and grief. She kind of falls into martyr syndrome, believing she has to singlehandedly save the world without any help from her friends. Tris is a bit silly in her decisions and in this way she reminded me of Ellie from Tomorrow When the War Began – a bit too headstrong and rash for her own good. This is a logical progression for her character from Divergent, so while I did find myself a bit impatient with her at times I let it go. She’s been through some stuff ok?
Mostly I found Insurgent a satisfying follow up, it was still action packed and the characterisation was realistic. I didn’t really care too much about plot holes and some feelings of repetition (pacing was a little off in this one) because I was being entertained. Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed by the ending and this feeling extended into Allegiant.
Allegiant just didn’t work for me. It’s hard to constructively criticise what I didn’t like about it without talking about specific plot details, so I’ll try not to be vague, while at the same time not ruin anyone’s life with unnecessary spoilers.
First problem – Allegiant is told from both Tris and Four’s perspectives. When I got to Four’s first chapter I actually said “oh no” out loud and put the book down in disappointment for a few seconds. The strength of this series was Tris and her story. I felt she was a reliable enough narrator that I had always been able to understand events and feelings from another character’s perspective without her getting in my way. And I liked learning about Four through Tris, it added to his mysterious vibe.
Unfortunately, Four’s voice was not distinguishable from Tris at all – several times I was in the middle of a chapter and thought “why would she say that?” before checking the front of the chapter and finding I was actually reading Four.
The Four in my head from previous books also didn’t match the guy on these pages. The split perspective did not work for me at all and once I started focusing on the mechanics of the storytelling, I lost interest in the actual story.
Secondly, their love story started to verge into cliché territory. Sentences like: “She sighs and I feel a wicked smile creep across my face” started dropping into the story and this extra mushiness seemed to sell out the sparsely told, but believable love story in Divergent.
Third problem: character motivations. The landscape kept shifting here. I was never sure from one minute to the other why people were doing what they were doing. And by the end of it I simply didn’t care.
And finally, I didn’t enjoy the change in scenery and can’t really say much more about that without giving vitals away. Let’s just say I thought the plot veered into predictable and somewhat boring territory and leave it at that.
I do give props to Roth for a brave ending though – one that for me felt earned and redeemed Allegiant in my eyes a little, but not enough.
Overall series rating – 3.5/5, plus a sparkle of excitement for the upcoming movie.
Have you read Divergent? What did you think? And who are you most looking forward to seeing come to life in the movie. Obvs, I’m all about Four.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s review of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.