Monday, November 11, 2013

Series Review: Divergent Trilogy

Title: Divergent 
Author: Veronica Roth 
Publisher: Kathrine Tegan Books, 2012 

Synopsis: In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself. 

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

 Thoughts: I literally devoured this book. I read it in a single day. I couldn't put it down. From the very beginning it was filled with action and mystery. It was full of surprises and I spent a lot of the last hundred pages reading with my mouth agape. It is by definition a page-turner. I was almost instantly invested in Tris and her story. She is such a relatable and compelling protagonist and narrator. Her feeling about how society is forcing her to be placed in this box that she doesn't quite fit into are something that I think everyone can relate to, especially if you are a teenager. I also like the world that Veronica Roth has created. It's your typical dystopia, we have destroyed the world so now we need to rebuild society. This society is based on certain personality traits that you value most and which trait you think makes the best possible person (I didn't like the fact that the villainous faction is the one that I would choose but we'll explore this more later). Veronica Roth's writing moved the story along in such a rapid pace but it never felt confusing or rushed, everything developed in the appropriate amount of time. One of the things I liked most about this book is it could have been a stand alone. Even though it had a "cliff-hanger" it felt like the story was resolved. Divergent is probably the best start to a series that I have read in a long time. It was brilliant!

Rating: 10 out of 10

Title: Insurgent 
Author Veronica Roth 
Publisher: Kathrine Tegan Books, 2012 
Synopsis: One choice can transform you—or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love. Tris's initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. 

Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

Thoughts: I had relatively low expectations for this book. Divergent was so good and I couldn't see how it could get any better. Insurgent exceeded those expectations. The world-building in this book was incredible. In the first one we understandably only learn about two factions (Abnegation where Tris came from and Dauntless where she transferred) but in this one we get to learn so much more and get to explore all the other factions, even the Factionless! I loved learning about all the other factions, they were all so interesting and unique in their rituals and beliefs. It made the world seem more deep and complete. There wasn't as much action in this book, and the action that it did have was very different. It was more about fighting to stay alive. My main criticism was probably that the surprises were not all that surprising. Not to toot my own horn but I figured three of the four major surprises out pretty quickly. The characters would think about something or someone and then there would be a big reveal about them, it was liked forced foreshadowing. But I will say, that was one hell of a surprise ending.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Title: Allegiant 
Author: Veronica Roth 
Publisher: Katherine Tegan Books, 2013 

Synopsis: The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories. But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love. 

Thoughts: I am still reeling from the conclusion of the series. Prepare yourself... this is not at all a happy ending! That being said I'm going to go out on a limb here and say I agree with Veronica Roth in that it is a fitting ending of the story. In Allegiant Roth continued to build an incredible and interesting world. In this book we go outside of the city and learn much more about why and how this society was created. It made everything seem huge! In every book of the series things got bigger and bigger as Tris' experiences and world views began to expand. The world also grew by the addition of Four as a narrator. I was glad of his perspective at times as he went off and did things independent of Trib but it also made him less likeable. Every time I learned more about him and his motivations, I liked him less. He spent most of the first two book lecturing Tris about not risking her life and being reckless and that's exactly what he did in this book. My main problem was that the beginning felt a little slow as she was creating this corner of the world we had previously learned nothing about and introducing a whole host of new characters that honestly I was not at all invested in. It had a bit of a Mockingjay vibe with the character being in a previously unknown about world wishing they could fight against oppression. It felt dull. Though I did like that she tipped everything on its head and completely changed how we viewed the world and the idea of the factions. As I said this is not a happy ending. I cried a total of five times during the last 50 pages including one bout of ugly sobbing that I previously only experienced watching movies. It honestly felt like I had just been dumped! I spent all this time rooting for and identifying with a character and then POW... they're dead! All I wanted to do was lie in the fetal position eating ice cream and sobbing! But it felt like everything had been building to this moment. Tris had been spending most of the series trying to decide where she belonged and how she could protect the ones she loved and her world and she found it. Did I want it to happen? No! Was I happy it happened? No! Did it make sense? Yes! I also really like the fact that this book had better twists and surprises. There were still a few moments of the forced foreshadowing but in general I was much more shocked by many reveals. As I sit back and reflect on the book (and experience the stages of grief) I do feel like it was a good ending.

Rating : 8 out of 10 (only because of the sadness factor)

General thoughts of the series: 

First off, it's a fantastic Young Adult dystopian novel. It was an interesting and unique exploration of the future. The world was full of action, excitement, compelling characters, and moving themes about society and humanity.

Let's start with the world. I have said throughout this post how I loved the world-building. I felt like I was there seeing, experiencing, and learning with Tris. It's often hard in dystopian fiction to create something that is both creative and realistic. I think Veronica Roth did an amazing job of walking that line. I loved the faction concept. It was like Hogwarts houses taken a step further. Not only were you told which faction you had an aptitude for but then you had to choose between them. Each faction was basically its own culture. It had specific clothing, holidays, beliefs, and rituals. It was so interesting. As the series grew the world grew. We got to learn about the Factionless who had been kicked out or chose not to fit into societies box and were exiled and we also got to explore the world beyond.

My favorite part of the story was probably the characters. The main protagonist was Breatrice Prior or Tris. She was a very compelling and relatable protagonist and narrator for this story. As I said before I can identify with her feelings of not being able to fit into this neat and tidy box that society is trying to fit her into. These are feelings that most teenagers and young adults face at some point in their life and it made Tris all the more easy to relate with. I also really like the male lead and love interest, Four/Tobias. He may now be my new literary crush. He was mysterious and nurturing at the same time. They didn't have instalove which I liked but when they got together I was pretty excited. He was a bit over-protective but you could tell it was out of love for Tris not because he is a misogynist. But my favorite characters were as usual the secondary characters. This is probably going to come as a shock but I really loved Peter. He was a bit a villain throughout the series but he had a real transformation which I always like. In the second book he redeems himself a little bit and we learn why he acts the way he acts. He has a clearly defined moral code that may not seem right to a lot of people but essentially it's karma. I loved his snarkiness and I felt like he was a great foil for Tris. At the end of the series he comes out with this crazy revelation about his inner psyche after Four lambastes him for his behaviour and I couldn't help with empathize with. I really like how his story arc concluded. I also liked Christina. She was a good sidekick for Tris. She seemed to balance her out a lot. What Tris was lacking Christina had. Finally, I have to mention Caleb. His character was so interesting and well-written. The things he did and the way he acting were so compelling. He is the most villainous non-villain I have ever read. I would love to read a book where the story is told from his perspective. Especially his Erudite initiate training (but that's mostly because I would be an Erudite).

The series other best quality is its exploration of themes about humanity and society. It explores the incredibly complicated ideas of right and wrong, belonging, and what makes a just and thriving society. First, and probably my favorite theme, is the exploration of good and evil. In this series there is not really a clear villain. Nobody is completely good and nobody is completely evil. When you think that someone is doing something evil and that their motivations are malicious you find out later that maybe they weren't. This is best exemplifies by learning that Edward may have provoked Peter to stab in the eye, that Jeanine Matthews didn't create the attack serum, and basically everything about the character Marcus Eaton. Even Tris realizes that maybe her feelings about people and factions were based on prejudices and they are not truly one thing or another.

Another main theme throughout the series is the idea of belonging. When we first meet Tris we learn that she was born into Abnegation, a faction where selflessness is valued over all else. She feels like she doesn't belong there because she can't follow their rules and beliefs. When she takes her aptitude test which is supposed to tell her where she belongs she finds out that she is "divergent" which means she has aptitude for multiple factions. Which is just great, because now she has to decide for herself. The whole first book she's wondering if she made the right choice in picking Dauntless where they value bravery over all else. In the second book after both these factions are destroyed Tris and her band of refugees explore the other factions to try and find somewhere else to call home, including the Factionless who believe that the factions are actually bad for society. This brings up this whole new thought about where she belongs (we'll explore the Factionless later). Eventually she decides she doesn't belong there and ends up going out of the city to find the government agency that created her world and tries to decide if she belongs there. Nowhere really feels like home because there is no real utopia which is what she seems to be searching for.

Which lead me into my final point about the exploration of a just and thriving society. This is a driving theme in all dystopian novels. After all that is the idea isn't it. In Divergent the factions seem like the best idea. They are what has created peace in this world but then war strikes. It seems that seperating people into the factions has bred hate and prejudice that leads to war and makes you believe that maybe they aren't the best idea. In Insurgent we explore the idea that maybe it's better to not have factions. Enter the Factionless. These are people who couldn't make it in their chosen factions or decided that they didn't really fit. In Insurgent they rise up and overthrow the factions making them illegal. While this seemed like a good idea at the time what has gone wrong is what always goes wrong when trying to create the perfect society, human nature. This world without factions is just as oppression and rigid as before. It explores the idea of power. When power was decentralized one group who had all the information tried to claim all the power with force they were overthrown by another group who took control of the weapons and then refused to disseminate any information. In Allegiant this is taken even further when we learn that this was all just a government created and controlled experiment to create people who were "genetically pure." Tris seems to feel like they have a good thing going until she learns that their fixation with genetics has bred the same type of discrimination and power struggle.

The moral of the story seems to be that there is no perfect society or place where you can belong but there are people that you belong with and that we can make choices as to how to best live. The tagline of the series is "One choice will define you." I think that's a great message. Your future is up to you, all you have to do is make good choices.

This is one of the best series to come along in a long time. If you like Young Adult fiction, distopia, stories with strong female leads, or all three check this story out. It is very much worth the time! A+

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