This has been out for several years and I don’t think I wrote anything that qualifies as a spoiler, but just in case, WARNING: this is a review for the entire series.
I tried reading Divergent right before I moved. I had checked it out from the library with the intention of finishing it before my moving date, but unfortunately, its slow start pushed me away. I recently got my hands on a copy of the trilogy bound together in one book, and decided to try again. A lot of people love this book the way they love The Hunger Games trilogy, and I wanted to see why. I forced myself to read until chapter five, which is about the Choosing Ceremony. The Choosing Ceremony was the first part of the book that I thought was really cool. Each candidate must choose their faction and let their blood fall on the contents in the metal bowl of their faction: gray stones for Abnegation, water for Erudite, earth for Amity, glass for Candor, and coals for Dauntless. It was a really nice visual. We get Beatrice’s inner dialogue of “Abnegation or Dauntless?” while the other candidates slice their palms and choose their factions. When it finally comes to Beatrice’s turn, she stands and chooses the faction that I knew she was going to choose based on clips of the movie I’ve seen and the way that she had focused on the actions of the Dauntless in the book. Her initiation begins immediately as she follows the Dauntless and the Dauntless initiates to jump on a train going out to Dauntless headquarters. Beatrice changes her name to Tris, and so life in her chosen faction begins.
Divergent focuses on Tris’ growth as a member of Dauntless. Although she is called “Stiff,” a slur for the Abnegation, by other initiates, she doesn’t allow that to stop her. She hones her soft Abnegation body into essentially a weapon, one that knows how to hold a gun and throw a knife. She makes friends but doesn’t always know how to keep them. Most of all, she wants to solve the mystery of Four, her training instructor. Tris gets to know him more and begins to fall for him. We only get Tris’ point of view, so we–along with her–are supposed to wonder if he likes her too. Since he is the only love interest presented we know that they will end up together. Everyone else is either already in a relationship or disgusts Tris. This means that Divergent does fall into the young adult dystopian trap of having the heroine not understand why her love interest likes her. That is something that these dystopian novels could do away with; have a heroine that doesn’t second guess her relationships constantly.
I can see why readers have liked Divergent. When Tris is learning about who she is and going through the simulations, I couldn’t stop turning the pages. It’s very fast paced, and we only know as much as Tris knows. It stays true to the first person present tense voice that Veronica Roth has chosen. It’s not the best thing I’ve read in present tense, but it was decently executed. At the conclusion of Divergent, I couldn’t wait to get started on Insurgent. Divergent, minus the chapters where I felt nothing was going on, was a good set up for the rest of the series. The plot was straightforward in the way that The Hunger Games was straightforward: the people in charge are bad, and they must stop them. Unfortunately, the characters were shaky. I was able to get a good read on Tris because the entirety of the novel was in her point of view, but that meant that I only saw the other characters through her eyes, which were often biased. We are given very simple details about the other characters, even though several of them are her friends. I have a difficult time believing that Tris wouldn’t know more about the friends she is living and training with, so it is unfortunate that Veronica Roth didn’t explore that more. We do get enough information on Tris’ love interest, but it is tough for two characters to hold up an entire series.
Insurgent starts immediately on the heels of Divergent. There is no pause for the characters to catch their breath. Divergent focuses on the Abnegation and Dauntless factions, so we only know small bits and pieces about the other factions at this point in time. In the second novel, we start to see more of the differences between the factions when they spend some time with them. Amity and Dauntless are as different as they can be. Amity values inaction in the name of peace and Dauntless can’t sit still when some injustice is occurring. Seeing the differences between the factions was fascinating. In Divergent, we were given very loose differences; in Insurgent, we get to see the Candor use their truth serum during a confession. The drive that started in Divergent continued to pull me through Insurgent.
Tris’ actions in this novel were very understandable. We are often blinded by grief, and Tris can only see one way of dealing with her own. There’s a lot of growth that Tris has to go through mentally in order to get past the things that are plaguing her. She becomes a much stronger character both mentally and physically and realizes what her role is in the faction and factionless conflict. That is one of the reasons that I enjoyed Insurgent. The first two novels fit together so nicely and were filled with action. They make sense.
Then comes Allegiant.
This book devolved so quickly from what was set up in the first two that it seemed like it was another series completely. The problem between the factionless and those who want the factions back are glossed over and only described when Tris and the others are in the control room. The control room is where–Surprise!–they are being watched by the Bureau members. Why is there a Bureau, you may ask? It’s because Tris’ world is not actually a dystopian one, it’s purely an experiment that has been going on for 20-40 years (or perhaps more, because it’s never very clear). To a reader who has been told that Tris’ city may be the only one left after a war, thus qualifying it as dystopian (to a point), it is like a slap in the face. This discovery should have happened and been explained in the middle of the series, not crowded in at the end. There are too many new things introduced and poorly explained. The new problem was only vaguely related to the original problem of what it means to be Divergent and the factionless vs factions fight.
This is not helped by the fact that Veronica Roth decided to switch to the dual perspective route of writing. This time, we also get Four’s point of view. I’ve read some nice young adult novels with two narrators before, so I don’t hate this choice. However, Divergent and Insurgent were only in Tris’ point of view. I would have liked seeing some of Four in Insurgent if Veronica Roth had planned on the third novel being in both their voices. It would have softened the blow of the sudden switch. That said, even though Allegiant is written in Four and Tris’ points of view, the only way I could tell the difference was by remembering to look at the name at the top of the chapter. Their voices were so similar that I often had trouble remembering who I was reading. There is no point in having multiple points of view if they are both the same voice. Which is a pity, because I actually like the character of Four and wish I had enjoyed his narration. Unfortunately for me, Four–who in the first two books was a physically strong, very straightforward character–became this whiny caricature of himself. Sure, he was still physically strong, but he continually made horrible decisions without much thought for how it would affect those around them. It was completely out of character. Allegiant continues the trend started in Insurgent of Four acting like a jerk because he is worried about Tris. Their relationship becomes strained in a way that seems very insincere. The focus of the novel becomes their relationship and not the fact that the world they know back in the city is on the verge of utter destruction. The focus is lost.
After reading the first two of the series, Allegiant was a boring conclusion. Everything was wrapped up the way a four year old wraps presents. The plot drags itself to the end and concludes with a final chapter and epilogue that is very unsatisfying. The only semi-redeeming quality of Allegiant was Four’s reaction to the end events. It was heartbreaking, further cementing my wish that the Divergent series had been from Four’s point of view. He had a rich back story that was only touched on occasionally. Overall, Divergent and Insurgent were enjoyable binge reads for me. If Allegiant had continued that trend, I would have enjoyed the series more. It’s unfortunate that the author made the decision to have Tris act the way she did, because I felt that it didn’t ring true with the path her character was on and destroyed the series for me.
Divergent 3.5 stars
Insurgent 3 stars
Allegiant 1 star. There was just too many things that bothered me about it. It should especially not be this way when it’s the conclusion to a trilogy.
Average rating of 2.5 stars, but I’d round it up to 3 stars because of Divergent and Insurgent.