The now standard (twice is a standard, right?) disclaimer applies: as this is review of the third book in a trilogy, I’ll probably be talking about the first two.
“Divergent is the next big thing in YA fiction!” they told me. “Go read something with another kickass female protagonist once you’re done with The Hunger Games! ” they encouraged.
Let’s face it, even from the beginning this was just Veronica Roth smashing The Giver into the sorting hat and calling the resulting mess a trilogy. In Divergent, we’re introduced to Beatrice “Tris” Prior and her five sizes fits all dystopian cityscape, where she finds out that you don’t HAVE to live a life ruled only by one super strict guideline hammer smashing your square peg into one of five round holes. Because she’s the chosen one, yadda yadda, hero’s journey. Introducing the potentially post apocalyptic Chicago with its Hogwarts houses and teeming teenaged angst gave Roth plenty of time to make a solid introduction to her world, characters, and romance backbone du jour and distract readers from the fact that there wasn’t a whole lot going on under the surface. Tris really was a pretty good character, even if to this day I’m hard pressed to point out much of anything about any character other than her or her brooding beau Four. Then along came Insurgent, where since we got a pretty good look at two of the five factions in the first one, we make up reasons to go to the other three and end everything on a cliffhanger to get us moving into the finale. Insurgent was almost singlehandedly saved by the audiobook readings of the scenes when Tris was goofy on peace serum, but other than that, I have a hard time remembering anything that actually happened in it.
Now, that’s actually a point I’ve been wondering about. I rarely listen to audiobooks as my first exposure to a novel. I find they’re an excellent way to revisit an old friend when you have a lot of exercise or car time, but it’s easy to begin tuning out snatches of conversation or sentences once you get distracted, which isn’t always the most cohesive way to experience things. As a frequent podcast listener, I’m used to needing to abuse the 15 second rewind on my phone to pick up the track of a topic that I zoned out during, and I’m not entirely sure if it was listening to this trilogy that made it treat my mind like teflon or if it was the writing itself. After finishing Allegiant, I’m inclined to think that no, it’s you, not me. Allegiant takes a new stance from the first two books in the series in that rather than being locked into Tris’ first person narrative it alternates frequently back and forth between Tris and Four’s inner monologue. The audiobook accommodates this appropriately by having a reader for each perspective so that you’re not constantly listening to a male character’s thoughts be read by a woman.
I think that means Ms. Roth deserves extra special praise, since I still would lose track of who was actually thinking what in the middle of a chapter before I mentally calibrated if I was hearing a boy or a girl. The book is definitely the piece of writing from a singular voice and that is entirely to its detriment in trying to come at things from two different angles. Both characters sounding the same for the vast majority of the book wouldn’t be a problem if there was more to the plot itself, perhaps, but man is this book a whole lot of nothing. You want answers as to how the city found itself under the tyrannical rule of a mandatory human filing cabinet system? I’d just read Wikipedia. It’s blissfully quicker than the exposition that takes up half the book, and you’ll get a lot less painful allegory about race and class in the meantime. Do you want compelling characters reacting to interesting and new situations? I recommend going back to Tris’ Dauntless initiation in Divergent, then. Do you want a satisfying ending to the trilogy? Ha ha ha ha.
There are parts of Allegiant that escaped from a much better book. There are chapters that have a real craft to them in making you empathize with the characters and what they’re going through. But as with so much of the Divergent series, these are the crisp ripe apples that somehow grew off the ends of a skanky branch in some backwater swamp made up of everyone else’s runoff, and by the time you get around to Allegiant most of the good ones have already been plucked. In for a penny, in for a pound with these trilogies as most readers tend to be, you’ll probably end up reading all three if you pick up the first one. So if like me you’ve heard enough good things about Divergent to consider getting into it, I’d recommend just writing fanfiction about Katniss ending up in Gryffindor instead.
Man, Peeta would be in Hufflepuff, of course Peeta would be in Hufflepuff.