Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Review: Allegiant, by Veronica Roth

Veronica Roth's Divergent Trilogy very slowly arrives at its inevitable, almost predictable, conclusion. The characters seem predestined to rush thoughtlessly into action, so quickly that not even the reader has the opportunity to think about what's right or wrong. These rash characters are convenient to Roth's plot because they forgo the need to develop the story's themes or its plot. But once you do stop to analyze these things, you realize there isn't a whole lot of depth. Everything that happens is just an excuse for more action.

There will be obvious spoilers following for those who have not read the first two books in the series: Divergent and Insurgent.

The not-so-shocking conclusion to Insurgent revealed that Tris and everyone in her city have been part of an experiment to breed and weed out the purest of people. Now that the faction system has been destroyed, the city, of course, finds itself divided again into further factions. There are those who wish to keep the faction system alive. Still others, led by Tobias' mother, Evelyn, would like to run the city without any factions. And a third group, the Allegiant, run by Tobias' father, Marcus, and the previous leader of Amity, Johana Reyes, want to go to the outside world and see what's waiting for them. Obviously Tris and Tobias and Christina and Uriah and the old gang join this last group. The story has grown stale inside the city.

Outside the city they enter a secluded world where a select few smart people run the city experiment. The person in charge is named David. He is crippled and moves around in a wheelchair, but his powers of intellect are superior. Tris and Tobias have difficulties fathoming a world that, reader, you and I take for granted. The name Chicago means nothing to them, but it is the city they have grown up in. Yet this isn't the same United States we know. War has ravaged society. In response, an odd response, people were placed in experimental cities in order to, I guess, create a class of genetically pure humans who can rule society without violence and injustice. These would be the Divergent, except in a confusing twist, not all Divergent are genetically pure. Tris is, but Tobias is not. For Tobias, this is a complete shock.

Roth's villainizing of the intellectual-based faction, Erudite, has led to some criticism of her being anti-intellectual. There are exceptions to this, as Cara, Will's sister, comes from Erudite, and she's one of the good guys. But Roth turns this anti-intellectualism into anti-science in Allegiant. Outside the city, people are seen as genetically pure (GP) or genetically damaged (GD). Those who are genetically pure are seen as superior beings who can do no wrong, while the genetically damaged can't help their poor decisions. We find the GD grouped into giant slums, apparently treated poorly. Tobias is labeled GD and the effect is an instant ego crush. He dives into a depression, even before we readers fully understand what this label means. I still don't entirely understand it, either, even though Roth tirelessly explains it.

This latest development in the trilogy just feels like too much. None of the major plot developments are developed very well, and the story just jumps from one oppressive environment that the characters must rebel against to the next. And they waste no time rebelling against the most recent one. Right away, Roth's heroes dislike the way society is run outside the city, and they quickly make rash decisions that have serious consequences. Thought is only given to the now, not to the future, and no attempt is made at discussion. Those in charge don't listen anyway. This seems to reflect a skepticism and cynicism about the workings of our own society. Once Tris and the gang rebel against one oppressive system, the next one is just as oppressive, if not more so. The position of Tris is to destroy rather than create. What solution does she have to make a better system? None. For her and her friends, nothing is better than something.

Allegiant is unique from the other stories in that it is no longer told just from the perspective of Tris. Tobias also has a perspective, and the story alternates between the two. Unfortunately this is less intriguing than it should be. Roth provides no real depth to character in order to differentiate the two. At times, while reading, I forgot whose perspective I was reading from. Tris and Tobias both have identical world views, and only slightly separate problems. The same is true of other characters. They have no real personality, just one-dimensional character traits that are hardly compelling. This causes Roth's George R. R. Martin-esque penchant for killing off characters to have less of an impact. When Lynn dies at the end of Insurgent I had a hard time remembering who she was. More characters die in the third book. Or, I should say, more names die.

Roth is a young writer, and hopefully that means she will grow and develop in her craft. I'm afraid that, too often, young writers who earn success early on have no incentive to improve. Why improve when people will buy your books as they are? Characters need to be more than just names - they need to become people. A story should have focus. What are the goals, what are the obstacles? When Roth turns this into rebellion after rebellion, the cost is a lack of development and a lack of coherence. The ending has apparently upset a lot of people. I won't reveal it, but when I read the points readers have made, I have to agree. On the other hand, I admire Roth for sticking to her guns and not giving in to what readers would want. Readers are not always right (though in this case they are). Allegiant, unfortunately, is the weakest part of what has turned into a mediocre trilogy.

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