Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Allegiant ~ Veronica Roth

This post has spoilers for Allegiant, the third book in a trilogy.  If you don't want have most of the series spoiled, I suggest you read my posts about Divergent or Insurgent instead. 

I'm a little embarrassed to say how dorkily excited I got for Allegiant, the third book in the Divergent series.  But yeah - I had the release date on my iPhone reminders and while I managed to hold off on the day of the release date, I got it the weekend after, despite the fact that that was the weekend of the Texas Book Festival, where I had already bought a pile of books.  And then yes, I read Allegiant first even though it in no way promised to be the best of the lot.  What can I say?  I have a weakness for strong female leads...

...and also for the plot device that Veronica Roth left us with at the end of Insurgent.  The cliffhanger revealed that Tris's world, a run-down version of Chicago sometime in the future, is not all that is left of humanity after some mysterious event.  It is instead a world within a world being used for some unclear purpose, kind of like in The Truman Show or The Village (which totally ripped off a book, Running Out of Time, that I read as a kid and which made me both love and fear this device).  As Allegiant starts up, the Chicago world is in turmoil under the rule of Theresa, Tobias's mother, who is determined to instill equality but in a really flawed way and, unshockingly, people are revolting.  Tris finds out about a plan to send a group out of the city to find out what's going on out there and immediately signs herself and Tobias up.  What they find beyond the fence is beyond anyone's expectations and surprise upon surprise is unveiled.  Most of which are hard to talk about without spoilers, so I'll save that for the end of this post.

This is the first book in the series that I've actually read rather than listened to and I must say, the writing is quite terrible.  It took a little while to get used to it, though it didn't bother me after that, but I must say, that was rather disappointing.  Altogether unsurprising though, considering the poor writing quality of a lot of YA fiction.

The switch to split narration between Tobias and Tris was interesting and suggestive.  Tobias was kind of annoying, but it was nice to see Tris from a different perspective and get a better idea what was going on behind Tobias's stoicism.  He really is dealing with a lot of complicated feelings, most of which aren't particularly original and but are believable and difficult - particularly his fear of becoming his abusive father and his hatred for the mother who abandoned him mixed with the desire for her love. Whereas we've mostly only seen his strong side before, it was good to see his real struggle and just sad that he never reveals it to Tris.  While I stick to what I've said before about the importance of their relationship, which fortunately never delves into the triangles and drama so common to YA lit, this insight into Tobias really reveals how immature and unprepared both of them are for this kind of relationship.  It's not just a puppy love thing - both have lost their families in one way or another and have nowhere they truly belong because of their divergence - except with one another.  They really do need each other but neither is emotionally prepared for what that entails: openness, trust, honesty.  I think that this is a really unique way to come at this kind of relationship and I give Roth props for not straying into any tropes with this.

So then there's the plot.  Parts of it were really interesting but it was heavy-handed and full of gaping holes.  There was revelation upon revelation and with so many surprises, it was hard to get any real depth.  A lot gets over-explained while even more is under-explained, and just too much happens.  The world-building of Divergent, which I thought was pretty good, is not repeated here and there's a lot having to do with the serums in particular that is horribly underdeveloped.  That said, Roth presents us with some pretty interesting moral questions.

It is revealed that the country went to shit when a bunch of scientists tried to genetically fix humans flaws - weakness, selfishness, unintelligence, aggression, lying - and made a mess of things.  It turned out that people who were genetically enhanced to be uber-intelligent lacked the capacity for empathy, people who were selfless lacked self-preservation, etc.  So this led to a war that decimated the population, and then to experiments to "fix" the genetically damaged.  Chicago was one such experiment, which had been going on for some experiments, to figure out how to make people "genetically pure" again through the use of factions that emphasized their genetically-enhanced skills.  It's flawed (both the experiment and the book's explanation of it) but the class system that arises is really interesting.  The genetically damaged (GD) are second-class, either living on the fringes or permanent support staff to the genetically pure (GP).  Sounds like a lot of class systems except that it's based on genes that can be seen and understood, which begs the question - does that make it valid?  It's basically a new, more scientific riff on an old tune and while Roth pretty clearly gives us her answer, it still makes for some interesting moral complexity.  What makes it even more interesting is that GPs (what is also known as divergent) is what Chicago aimed to produce, but things had gotten so twisted in their world that divergent began to be seen as a danger.

Overall, this book was a mixed bag.  The story was a mess - too much happened too fast and it was riddled with holes - but at the same time it was interesting and compelling.  I certainly appreciated the ending but that didn't save the book from itself.  Ultimately, I enjoyed it, but that's due in large part to my ability to suspend disbelief.

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