[Ava’s Demon: Chapters 1-18] Michelle Czajkowski’s ongoing online series

Talk about an awesome cover page.

Ava’s Demon is an incredibly beautiful series that exists online for free, for which I am extremely grateful. The artwork is stunning and the story is engaging, and I heartily recommend this for readers who like graphic novels and readers who like dystopian, fantasy, and science fiction stories. You can find the ongoing series here. The author seems to be halfway through (my rough estimate) chapter nineteen. It’s updated regularly on Thursdays AND –my favorite piece of information–it’s FINISHED. The only thing the author-illustrator needs to do is draw it! I find that so incredible.

Ava’s Demon starts out simply enough. Ava, one of the main characters of this story, has a demon that has been with her for her whole life. The demon has been whispering horrible things in Ava’s ear since she was a child, so Ava is not a happy person. Not at all. She goes through her days feeling unloved and forgotten, but wishing that she wasn’t. When an attack hits her school and Ava manages to escape, the demon isn’t very happy. But when they crash land on a planet and Ava is injured in the crash, it seems the demon is finally going to get her wish.

At the eleventh hour, the demon reveals that Ava doesn’t have to die and can start her life over–if she enters into a pact with the demon. Of course, demons tend to lie. Ava does survive, but not in the way that she was led to believe. Ava’s Demon then progresses into a story that blends fantasy elements with that of a science fiction world. It becomes about so much more than demons and their humans.

As the story is ongoing, it’s a little difficult to review the plot since it’s just a small snapshot of the larger story. It definitely has dystopian elements to it where things aren’t always what they seem and there’s a organization–or a person (yet to be determined)–who controls a lot of planets. So far there’s only been a couple of places in the comic, but it seems like interplanetary travel may be used to show different elements of the world that Czajkowski has created. There’s hints about another force that destroys planets that hasn’t been fully revealed, as well as characters with pasts. Ultimately, everything Czajkowski is doing is making me extremely interested in the story. It’s being given to the reader slowly, but gives us tantalizing tastes of the larger picture. I’m so excited to keep reading it.

I chose a few panels that I thought illustrated moments of the plot but weren’t particularly spoilery of the larger story. All credit goes to the artist, Michelle Czajkowski, and panels are linked to their respective pages on the Ava’s Demon site. 

A person who takes over the world and has an organization full of followers.

A world where being human is seen as a disadvantage…

But are they blind? Not all believe in Titan…

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[Gambit: The Prodigy Chronicles I] C.L. Denault

19314543Gambit is the first in a dystopian series by author C.L. Denault and is also her debut novel. Gambit follows Willow Kent, a girl who has fully embraced her life in the Outlying Lands far from the Core. Blending in and avoiding the gazes of the miners in her town is the worst threat that she has to deal with until a Core Commander comes calling. Searching for a traitor, Willow and her parents try to hide her from the man, fearful of him finding out that she doesn’t quite belong. When her identity is uncovered, Willow is forced to take the long trek to the Core. Along the way, she discovers that things aren’t always so black and white and how she adjusts and acts toward them may be the only way she can survive her new world.

I’ve let this book sit in my review queue for a few days because I’m not quite sure how to review it. I enjoyed the world that Denault built. It built up in a way that I Iove–in bits and pieces as they came to Willow’s attention. She didn’t know everything from the get-go, and as her world became larger, she adjusted her perspective of it accordingly. It wasn’t done in a way that was overwhelming or boring for the reader. I loved learning more about the people with the abilities and how they could range anywhere from sensing genetic matter to creating earthquakes. I can see why Gambit has been compared to books like The Hunger Games and other popular young adult dystopian novels. Although there are similarities, I felt that the concept and story was new enough for me to enjoy it.

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[A Sky Unbroken: Earth & Sky III] Megan Crewe

This is the final review for the Earth&Sky series. Book one is here and book two is here. There are spoilers for the first two books contained below.

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At the end of The Clouded Sky the Earth has been destroyed. There’s nothing left except an empty, scorched planet, a near match to Kemya. The scant survivors–people who were literally in the right place at the right time when Kemyate time-travelers beamed down to grab the few they could–have to band together to overcome the worst odds yet. After the destruction of Earth, the Earthlings have been placed in a hastily prepared exhibit in a “zoo” where Kemyates can learn about different times and cultures of Earth. With the only Earthling who knows what’s going on drugged to keep her from instigating any problems, Skylar must somehow find a way to connect the Earthlings and the Kemyates before they decide they’re a liability. Meanwhile, in the bowels of the Kemyate station, Win is doing his best to pretend that he doesn’t care. After their plan succeeded and then was followed by a failure no one except the perpetrators saw coming, he must act as though he has put it behind him. Every day he goes to work. Every day he eats meekly with his family. Every day he must pretend that he doesn’t feel a stab of guilt when others confess they are troubled with the fate of the Earth and the remaining Earthlings. This is a situation that can’t last. A different sort of rebel faction rises. A Sky Unbroken is about two peoples realizing they’re not so different after all. Can they come together and overcome the odds they’re up against?

A Sky Unbroken is a story of atonement, acceptance, and overcoming the odds as they’re presented to the characters. The aftereffects of The Clouded Sky still resonate deeply within the characters in this final installment. I loved that much of the book was about coming to terms with the events that occurred in the second novel. Things are tense in the Kemyate station and I could feel that while reading. There’s always been pressure on Win and Skylar, but this time there’s more layers of it than ever. A Sky Unbroken is written in the perspectives of Sky and Win, the first novel in the Earth&Sky series to do so. Usually, something like this would bother me; instead, it allowed us to see how they coped with their grief and stress separately before coming together. The backdrop of atoning and accepting is a nice contrast to the excitement of what basically amounts to an espionage, breaking-and-entering thriller. A Sky Unbroken builds off of the momentum of the second novel and really doesn’t slow down. I had to remind myself that I needed to sleep for work or else I would have stayed up even later than I did. When I sleep with my Kindle right by my bed it means that I’m enjoying what the author is doing.

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[Alice in No-Man’s-Land] James Knapp

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Alice in No-Man’s-Land is the story of a privileged girl who only thought of the Blocs, huge areas of towns that have fallen into disarray after a food based disease ravaged them, as a cheap form of entertainment. After all, they’re only there temporarily until Cerulean Holdings goes in and fixes them. Up until she is stranded in one of them with only two of its citizens to help her. Alice’s journey through the decaying bloc is full of brushes with danger and moments of clarity. If she manages to get out of Ypsilanti Bloc, she won’t be leaving as the same person she was when she entered.

While the idea at the core of Alice in No-Man’s-Land was something that I could have gotten behind, the novel read too much like a formula. There’s a girl who has no idea that there’s something very much wrong with her world. When she is suddenly thrust into the very essence of what is wrong with her world, she begins to realize that things have to change and she is apparently in charge of doing this. I think that’s why Alice read as boring to me. She’s the typical hero of a dystopian novel, but she didn’t have anything that really made her stand out. I didn’t feel like she was a very relatable character, even though she did have some character development later on.

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[Poison] Lan Chan

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This is one of those books that had me going “meh” at the beginning (boy, was I wrong) but by the time I got to the middle I realized that I couldn’t stop reading. It ended up being addictive. Poison by Lan Chan starts off as a typical young adult dystopian novel, but gradually it becomes more than what is presented on a surface level. Aurora “Rory” Gray has already suffered much under the regime of the Seeders. Although they are the ones who supply seeds to the established villages, seeds that allow them to survive in a post-Famine, post-apocalyptic Australia, Rory knows how quickly their favor can turn on you. In Rory’s world, hiding seeds and propagating your own wild seeded plants away from the control of the Seeders means death. When someone from Gideon’s Landing is caught doing that, Rory’s world narrows to one need: go on a walkabout to the Citadel and plead for their help and forgiveness. Rory thought she understood how her world worked. When she gets to the Citadel, she realizes just how misguided she was.

The world of Poison is complex. Lan Chan does world building slowly and subtly, but not so subtly that you don’t notice it. She avoids info-dumping while still giving us a good taste of what she has created. Initially, the name “Seeders” bothered me. Yes, I realize that it makes sense to call them that now, but when I first picked up Poison I thought it was odd. Seeders have control over the seeds of the world. The importance of seeds in a world where poison has ravaged the land is not lost on them and thus it gives them complete control over the people who depend on them for survival. They live in the Citadel and send out seeds to the various establishments that are arranged around them like the spokes of a wheel. Do what the Citadel wants, and you’ll be taken care of. Do anything to incur their wrath, and you will be razed to the ground. Farmers grow the seeds on their own land, but the seeds in the final product are genetically modified to be sterile. Even if someone wanted to attempt growing their own from seeds from the last harvest, it’s impossible. Seeds are guarded tightly. To be caught with any sort of seed is a crime that means death. Survival in this stark world depends on the Citadel’s kindness. People don’t question their control after they stopped the Wanderer rebellions, a group of people who believe that what the Seeders are doing is wrong. Nearly everyone sees the Seeders as their saviors and don’t question them. Rory is one of the people who does.

Rory is half-Wanderer on her mother’s side, a fact that follows her in whispers wherever she goes. People distrust her, even though her father is an important doctor at the Citadel. After her mother is killed by Seeders, Rory becomes consumed with a desire to defy the Seeders’ control. The only good Seeder is a dead Seeder, she believes. When Poison starts, she has convinced herself that she is stronger than she actually is. Unfortunately for Rory, she can’t really see herself very clearly. In the early chapters, Rory encounters Reapers soon after she’s suffered the loss of her seed bunker. Reapers are sort of like the boogeymen of this world. They’ll kill anyone caught outside of the safety of their established cities and harvest their organs and are rumored to be cannibals. Rory is smart, so she luckily gets away from these guys, but she realizes how dangerous her decisions can be. That doesn’t stop her from going on a walkabout to the Citadel in an attempt to plead for mercy. It was a bit frustrating to read when she was stubborn and unwilling to accept help. She believes that she tough, but her actions show that she is a scared teenager desperately trying to get help for her family and village. A lot of her interactions remind me of a child stamping its foot when it doesn’t get its way. She doesn’t have the quiet inner strength that a lot of female protagonists seem to have. Gradually her character develops from this scared girl hiding behind a tough girl façade to someone who takes control of her life and actions and pushes back.

In addition to Rory, the secondary characters are also well developed. We’re given little glimpses of who they are and why they act the way they do. They have a smaller window for character growth only because Poison is in first person and the focus is on the protagonist, but in the time they have I was amazed at how Chan showed how they changed. Even if they are in the novel for a short time, I felt that I was able to grasp their character fairly well.Villains are humanized and Rory finds that she can relate to them a little, thereby allowing readers to relate to them too.  I was disappointed that toward the end of the novel it became more of a focus on Rory herself instead of her interactions with other characters. I missed the character development that happens in discussions and I was annoyed that they were seemingly forgotten by Rory.

The plot of Poison is pretty linear once it gets started. I really liked the idea that seeds became the most important thing ever. It’s something different in a genre that is full of corrupt governments. In a post-apocalyptic world, people worry about food, water, and supplies, but they don’t always worry about how to continue after those supplies are gone. I really enjoyed that Lan Chan focused on how these seeds were saved. Of course, seeds don’t always survive, even when they are stored properly. I knew this from my brief stint in a horticulture class, so I was waiting for that little piece of information to devastate the characters in the book. Pinning complete survival on the seeds is like a ticking time bomb and I was a little anxious waiting to see if this would happen. I liked it because in a post-apocalyptic world, I don’t think people would necessarily realize that they need to worry about seeds.

There were unexpected moments in setting, character, and plot that I didn’t expect from a book that seemed to be just a young adult dystopian novel. It’s not often that I’m genuinely surprised because many books in this genre seem to follow a formula that is rarely altered because it does work. Including a bit of Australian culture also set this book apart from others that I have read in the genre. The addition of the walkabout, a part of traditional Aboriginal culture in Australia, was really fascinating. I understand that in a dystopian world, things aren’t always how they used to be culturally. Even so, I wish that more Aboriginal Australian culture had been included, particularly if the important event of a walkabout is going to be included. Although it is entirely possible that I missed the more subtle mentions.

Poison is a nice introduction to a world where seeds are the most precious commodity and the most dangerous. I hope the next books are as interesting of a read as this one. I’d recommend it for fans of dystopian novels with good characterization, strong protagonists, and where things aren’t always what they seem on the surface. It was truly a new and fascinating story in an often overdone genre.

5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Poison was published on September 1st, 2015.

 

 

[Sevara: Dawn of Hope] Damian Wampler

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I first heard about Sevara: Dawn of Hope on a goodreads discussion group and thought that it sounded like something I would be interested in. Fantasy with a dystopian feel and a strong female protagonist are things I frequently read, with varying results.  The author was kind enough to provide me with a copy to review, and I finally had enough free time to sit down and finish it.  Sevara, the eponymous protagonist of the novel, is used to a hard life. At her orphanage, once you reach a certain age you’re no longer looked at as an eligible girl for  marriage because you won’t be easy to train as a wife. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to continue living with the other unwanted at the orphanage for a few years until you come of age. For in Plexus, the men rule and the women are little more than pretty baubles that hang on their arms.  This isn’t easy for Sevara to swallow. Although her time in Orphanage 127 has been tough, she’s proved herself a quick thinker and fighter, despite the starkness of her conditions. She’s independent, a product of the nurturing she’s been lucky to receive, and isn’t keen on the idea of becoming a servant-wife. After the harsh reality of seeing the private versus public personality of the man interested in her hand, Sevara rejects a marriage offer and is thrown into the cruel world where the Codex is law and orphan girls with no paperwork don’t survive long. The streets are where her adventure is truly able to begin.

Sevara works hard to have many bigger issues tied together by Sevara’s relationship with them. She tries to discover her past and where she came from, there’s grumblings of a rebellion, corruption in the government, and a war that has been going on for ages. The novel focuses primarily on the last three, and Sevara’s identity–other than the one she creates herself–remains a mystery. Damian Wampler teases who she is, which makes me wish there had been more on her past. I wanted to know how her identity would change how she acted toward her world. Unfortunately, at least in the novel form of Sevara, it only seemed to serve as a way to connect Sevara to the larger narration. There’s a focus on it after the initial discovery but it doesn’t go beyond that. However, by not focusing on it in Dawn of Hope, it opens up the possibility for another novel. I’ve not read the graphic novel, but it does appear that some of my questions may be answered there, with Dawn of Hope acting as a prequel.

The novel is written in third person, so we only have limited glimpses into the heads of the characters. Although Sevara is the protagonist, we are not given every thought that she has. We’re not given a complete window into their heads to see every thought that they have as it comes. It’s more like a foggy window that occasionally clears in order for us to see that one thought in a specific moment. Because of this, a lot of their actions can seem like there was little thought behind them. They did things that often surprised me because there was seemingly no leading up to them.  I’m used to seeing more, so this was a bit difficult for me. I continually struggled with connecting to the characters. I was truly interested in who they were, but I never felt that surge of empathy for the characters. It’s the first time I’ve liked a protagonist that I didn’t connect with emotionally. Although this book was fiction, it reminded me of how I feel when I read non-fiction accounts of historical figures. Usually this would bother me more, but strangely, it worked for Sevara.

This is a novel that deals with the harsh realities of a dystopic world, so there were many deaths contained in its pages. Unfortunately, the emotional impact of these deaths were very little for me. This is a downfall of having a limited look into the heads of your characters. Even when the main characters were upset about losing someone, I couldn’t drudge up any concrete feelings because the character themselves weren’t very emotional about it. The deaths of these side characters were meant to drive the story forward, but I would have loved to have a moment where Sevara cracked under the loss of a close comrade, at least for a moment. It was very clinical, in a way. Related to this is how the romance came across. It was unrealized and then suddenly it was. There was none of those moments that are usually typical of romances in young adult novels, which allowed the focus to stay away from the romance. Too many times an adventure story with a hint of romance turns into a romance story with a hint of adventure once the romance taps have been turned on. Sevara stayed true to what it was about.

There were times when the dialogue was too quick and there weren’t dialogue tags or guiding actions. There were a of couple sections that were only dialogue and I had to read back to see if I was correct about  who was speaking. I prefer knowing more of how the characters are acting and what they’re doing while talking, and early in the novel it was a bit rough.  There was a huge difference between the quick dialogue and the wonderfully descriptive exposition. As the novel progressed, I noticed these moments less because it aided in giving a rushed, nervous quality to the events of the novel that were dangerous or action-packed. Of course, there were still moments when I noticed it, but as the world of Sevara enveloped me, I found I was able to forgive those corny or odd moments of dialogue.

By hinting at magic to come in early sections of the novel, Damian Wampler allowed us to believe in it when larger elements were introduced. It was not a sudden change because it had always been there. As Sevara grew from an orphan trying to survive to someone who was powerful in her own way, the magic was there, waiting for its own time. The switch to the larger goal came when Sevara was ready for it and through her the readers were prepared. I really wanted to read more of the magic that he created in Sevara, so it’s too bad that more of the novel couldn’t have been about it.

A coming-of-age novel set in a dystopian future, Sevara will appeal to readers of the genre and to those who like a strong female protagonist who won’t back down from her beliefs. I really enjoyed this despite the lack of time spent in characters’ heads. The setting was rich and I’m looking forward to checking out the graphic novel when I can. Sevara ends on a note that is ripe with possibilities for sequels.

4 stars.

A big thank you again to the author for providing me with a copy of Sevara: Dawn of Hope to read and review.

[Divergent Trilogy] Veronica Roth

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Breakdown:
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.