Reviewed by Narrelle Gilchrist
A world strictly divided into a faction system, plagued by hypocrisy and disagreement. A sixteen year-old girl trying to find her own way in a world that only offers five paths to follow. Characters thrust into a war for societal change, questioning who they are and wondering what could be different for the first time. I found all of these things and more when I opened Divergent by Veronica Roth. With the release of the movie Divergent at the end of March, this dystopian science-fiction trilogy has quickly become one of the most popular young adult series. From the first page of Divergent, I was pulled into a fascinating world based on a unique system, factions determined by personality. I tore through the first novel, but when I began the sequel Insurgent, I slowed down. By the time I finished the third and final novel, Allegiant, the intense action and confusing story lines had worn me down. What had begun as a fascinating and unique story line had deteriorated to a rapidly shifting plot with unending violence.
Beatrice “Tris” Prior begins the novel as a sixteen year-old girl, about to come of age and make a choice that will define the rest of her life. Choosing a faction is irreversible, and Tris must make a decision: Amity, Erudite, Abnegation, Dauntless, or Candor? Each faction values a particular virtue above all else. Amity value peace, and spend their days farming on the outskirts of the city. Erudite are esteemed teachers, scientists, and researchers, valuing knowledge above all else. Abnegation are entirely selfless, condemning any self-indulgent behavior, and are trusted to lead the city. Dauntless pride themselves in bravery, patrolling the city’s borders. Candor are brutally honest, serving as lawyers and negotiators. Factions dictate everything from how their members act to what they wear. Tris, born into Abnegation, takes the aptitude test designed to determine which faction she belongs in, but the results of her test are inconclusive. She shows aptitude for not one but three factions: Dauntless, Abnegation, and Erudite. She is told that this means she is Divergent, that this is dangerous, and that she should never disclose this information to anyone, for fear of her life. At the Choosing Ceremony, Tris chooses Dauntless, following the edict “faction before blood.” She is swept up into an unexpectedly fierce initiation process, where only the top ten initiates become members. The rest become factionless, a fate thought of as worse than death. Gaining the favor of the Dauntless means everything from defeating fellow initiates in hand-to-hand combat to facing one’s worst fears in simulations and successfully completing daredevil stunts, like jumping from a moving train onto the roof of a building seven stories off the ground. Four, the initiate trainer, comes across taciturn and harsh at first, but, predictably, Tris and Four soon fall in love. Four reveals his real name, “Tobias”, as well as a past plagued by childhood abuse in Abnegation. Meanwhile, tensions between Erudite and Abnegation flare, as the Erudite accuse the Abnegation of abusing their position as leaders of the city. War erupts, with the Dauntless caught in the middle and the faction system slowly breaking apart. Tris makes a fatal choice, loses many of those dearest to her, and saves the day against all odds, thanks in part to her Divergence. The novel ends, with war on the horizon but momentarily halted.
Insurgent picks up right where Divergent ended, with Tris, Tobias, and other survivors headed for Amity to seek refuge. Tris spends the first half of this novel overcome with grief and guilt, as the refugees shift from hiding place to hiding place, leaving when it is no longer safe, with characters joining and leaving them along the way. Amity, Candor, and even the factionless take them in, but opposing goals are often irreconcilable, even between Tris and Tobias. The Dauntless eventually team up with the factionless to overthrow Erudite, only to discover that the factionless have become the new tyrants.
Allegiant begins with Tris, Tobias, and other rebels leaving the city to escape the factionless tyranny and discover what is beyond their borders. They are startled to discover that their society, confined to one city, Chicago, is only a tiny fraction of the entire world. Long ago, they learn, government leaders attempted to purge society by altering genes to produce only desirable traits. Instead, their genes were damaged, producing only aggression and violence, and a massive war wiped out a majority of the population. To correct the genetic damage, the government set up experiments, isolated societies with a specific gene pool. Chicago, one of the experiments, had existed for eight generations, with the faction system installed as a “behavioral component”. Theoretically, the city would be shut down once a majority of the population was Divergent, the only genetically pure individuals. Outside the city, inequality between the genetically pure and genetically damaged is rampant, with the genetically damaged tramped on by the more worthy. Only a short time passes before Tris and Tobias are caught up in the conflict. I will not say much more to avoid spoilers, but I will say that the ending was shocking and depressing. At the end of the novel, the surviving characters head toward a future full of promise, leaving behind absolute devastation and most of those dearest to them dead.
By the time I turned the last page of Allegiant, I was more than happy to be finished. If anything, the plot of the final novel was rushed, poorly thought-out, and disappointing overall. Beginning the novel, I expected a long and grueling account of conflict between the factionless and the former faction members. Instead, a few chapters in I was given an entirely new story about genetic damage, with the factionless story line nearly forgotten about until it is wrapped up in one scene at the end of the book. The concept of genetic damage is fascinating, and could certainly produce a thought-provoking and exciting story – as another series. But crammed into the final installment of a trilogy, it is incomplete and confusing. It leaves readers feeling slightly bewildered and, just like the characters, wondering how all that had occurred before could suddenly become so insignificant and meaningless. The author should have picked one story to include in the novel: the factionless tyranny or the genetic damage and what lay beyond the city. Together, it is impossible to interconnect the two, and it leaves the novel confusing and hard to follow, a disappointing end to a promising series.
When I first heard of Divergent, I was intrigued by the premise of the series: a society made up of factions based on personality. The factions are a unique, thought-provoking concept, but a lot of their potential is wasted. The parts of the series I enjoyed the most were the beginning of Divergent, where you saw what it meant to be Abnegation, the training, where you saw what it meant to be Dauntless, and the parts in Amity and Candor, where you saw what it meant to be a part of those factions. In Divergent, themes of corruption in the factions and misguided ideals that have led to a broken down system seem promising, but quickly fade away. Tris notices cruelty in Dauntless, a cruelty that goes against their faction manifesto: “We believe in ordinary acts of courage, the kind that drives people to stand up for one another.” All the factions, it seems, have strayed from their original good intent. Tris correctly observes the disruption caused by the faction system, the inevitability of deliberately doing away with balance: “the Dauntless, brave but cruel; the Erudite, intelligent but vain; the Amity, peaceful but passive; the Candor, honest but inconsiderate; the Abnegation selfless but stifling.” Too much honesty, selflessness, bravery, knowledge, and even kindness only leads to a fractured equilibrium, an overload of some qualities, good and bad, and an absence of others. In one of the most revealing scenes in the novel, Tobias shows Tris the five faction symbols he had tattooed on his back, and tells her, “We’ve all started to put down the virtues of the other factions in the process of bolstering our own. I don’t want to do that. I want to be brave, and selfless, and smart, and kind, and honest.” This theme, however, is never fully developed in the series; the factions weren’t around long enough. Towards the end of Divergent, they had begun to completely fall apart. By Allegiant, they had been completely squashed, replaced by a concept of genetic damage that entirely nullified the faction system as a behavioral component in an experiment.
In both Insurgent and Allegiant, the unabated, often senseless violence was tiresome and weighed the plot down. Eventually, the endless plot twists, action-packed scenes, and lovers’ quarrels became dull rather than exciting. In Insurgent, nearly every scene started out with normal interaction between characters, and then quickly descended into violence. Half of the action could have been taken out of the novel, and it still would have been an exciting thriller. Furthermore, Insurgent and Allegiant were filled with impetuous decisions and barely thought-out plans, much to the reader’s exasperation. In every story line, instead of stopping, thinking things through, and talking it out, Tris or Tobias took matters into their own hands, invariably causing violence (and almost as frequently creating a rift between the lovebirds). Many of the antagonists, including Evelyn and David, were actually not terrible people and could have been reasoned with. So many of the story lines could have been solved if the characters had simply taken the time to discuss the matter and come up with a reasonable solution. Frankly, I think it would have been more interesting if they had. Less violence would have left room for more themes and character development. Caleb’s betrayal and subsequent repentance, Peter’s inner evil and his hatred for whom he had become, Marcus’s double personality, the dynamic between Evelyn, Marcus, and Tobias, these were all aspects that could have been deeply explored and would have been entertaining to read about. Instead, they were never given room to fully develop, crowded out by pointless violence and an immense level of death and destruction.
Despite my disappointment in the series, I was excited to see the movie Divergent when it came out in March. In many ways, the film met my expectations. An exciting, action-packed thriller, it successfully depicted the novel just as I had imagined it. The visual aspects, including the casting, costumes, and set, were excellent, and the story was only slightly altered to meet time constraints. At the same time, however, I felt the movie lacked the depth found in the first novel. Many of the main characters, including Peter, Uriah, and Eric, were poorly developed if shown at all. My main complaint, however, was the over-simplified ending. The producers added even more action while taking out the strategy and careful thinking that Tris used in the book. Without the strategy, it made no sense that Tris could overcome the might of the Erudite with barely any help, thwarting a carefully thought-out-plan with mere luck. Apart from this, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and I recommend it, especially if you haven’t read the book.
The Divergent series is a fascinating read, but its faults often outweigh its virtues. Frankly, I thoroughly enjoyed Divergent, but Insurgent and Allegiant were a downward spiral. There were so many potentially great story lines, but in every aspect the potential was wasted. Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant are page-turners, with the smooth writing and fast-moving plot keeping you glued to the page, but intellectually, they fail on several levels. As I plowed through the first novel, I was expecting the series to be an insightful chronicle of the characters’ journey to repair their broken society, but instead I found misshapen story lines and only partially developed themes that left me ultimately disappointed. I recommend the series if you’re looking for an exciting thriller or romance and don’t care much about the intricacies of the plot, but if you’re looking for an intellectually stimulating work, look elsewhere.
Narrelle is a homeschooled teen from West Palm Beach, Florida. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing in a choir and playing piano, and loves literature, politics, history, astronomy, and physics.