Sunday, November 24, 2013

Book Review: Allegiant

Allegiant (Divergent #3) by Veronica Roth

I really enjoyed book 1 of Divergent. Book 2 was Ok. Book 3... book 3 I did not care for. I felt it was quite a letdown, a disappointing way to end the series.

I started the book on a bad note - my wife had read it first, the whole time telling me she was unhappy with it. So my perception was colored before I started, but she was right. So occasionally some of the comments I'll make (like this was "the Matrix 2 and 3" or "this was the mitichlorians") are actually hers, but in some cases, I may not remember who said them. If they were brilliant, probably her.

So yeah, our intrepid heroes are in a big mess after Insurgent. Early on in this book we learn that there is something beyond the borders of the city thanks to yet another group called Allegiant. The group lacks a strong cohesive voice and you wonder if they were simply named to give another "ent" name for the final book of the trilogy.

That's fine to learn there's something beyond the city, we all wondered, we would have felt ripped off if we'd never learned what happened to the rest of the world But what's out there is disappointing because it's ill-formed and no hints in the previous books gave any indication. While it's fine for none of the city inhabitants to be aware of the outside, there should have been hints and clues for the reader so we could go back and go "Oh! That makes so much sense now!"

The book takes a new goes in a new direction, albeit one we've seen before. Like Legend (my review), it alternates between the two leads, Tris and Tobias as it changes chapters. Legend did it better - used different typography for each character to make it easier to follow whose chapter it was and the voices of the two characters were more distinct. I really didn't understand why they used the two different voices until - spoiler - Tris dies. It wasn't a noble death or even really that heroic a death, it was just a waste.

The book tells us of a time when genetic testing and genetic engineering was applied to humans to disastrous results which led to an eventual war between the Genetically Pure and the Genetically Damaged. The characters outside the city speak often of the GPs and the GDs and I had to keep remembering what those abbreviations meant and every time I saw "GD" something else popped into my head which was really frustrating. The war had destroyed the country and gave rise to a government agency who was given large cities within which it could perform these tests to try to form a new society and to find "Divergents" - new genetically pure people.

So much of the book takes place inside the compound of this government agency at the O'Hare airport. So the characters try to make sense of "gates" and "airplanes" and hang out in some of kind dormitory waiting for something to happen. Seriously... so much of the book is spent waiting for something to happen. There's all kinds of promise of interesting things, but they happen quickly, or in the wrong order, or way too late.

Case in point: Because she's divergent and because she's our hero, she's invited to join the government's ruling council or whatever it's called. It's the group (these are scientists, not military) who decide the direction for things, especially what they will permit to occur within the Chicago experiment. Instead of being invited in early in the book and then getting integrated only to later discover their plans are insidious, Tris goes around being angry with them and wishing to plot some kind of revenge for much of the book, and then gets invited in and discovers the awful truth in the first mixer or club meeting or whatever.

Another: Tobias is invited to a meeting with an underground resistance movement. He's told not to tell Tris about it. Refreshingly, he violates that. Serious props there, that was probably my favorite moment in the entire book. So many books and TV shows create drama by keeping someone in the dark about something and allowing them to be suspicious and they don't do that here. But, with very little convincing, Tobias turns off all the security systems for the complex allowing the resistance movement in. Not sure I buy the idea of him being part of the security detail just because he was in Chicago, and it's not like they hired him and were paying him or anything. But during the invasion, the resistance movement sets off some bombs and injures one of their friends. So Tris spends many chapters angry with Tobias. First off, he didn't know about the bombs. Secondly, he didn't set them off.

Another: Did I mention Tris dies? It tries to be noble but fails. You can see what she was going for, but then she just gets shot and dies and there you go. 3/4 of the way into the book, she's dead. That's like killing Neo or Indiana Jones or Ted of "Better Off Ted." Wait a minute, you're thinking... wasn't "Divergent" a reference to Tris? Wasn't the whole series about Tris? Empowerment, growth, teenage girl-power, coming of age, the lead, the girl-half of the YA romance? You just don't do that. Or Harry Potter. Can you imagine killing off Harry Potter? I can. It would have been noble and self-sacrificing, poignant and made a lot of people cry. They killed off Walter White. That was satisfying. Killing Tris was not.

Another: They make reference regularly to Matthew's supervisor. But he or she is never identified or mentioned by name. I thought there was going to be some great reveal, like maybe it was Tobias and he had known about the outside (since the same security system he operated in Dauntless was also providing video to the government), but it was more like a placeholder for a character that didn't really exist. But it felt like it was a tease waiting for a later reveal that never happened.

In the end, it was just disappointing and not at all satisfying. I usually feel really bad about criticizing someone's work because I know they've put a lot of time and effort into it and they've had a book published and I haven't, but in this case, it just makes me really disappointed, ripped off, disrespected as a reader (no library here, Lori purchased the hardbacks on release day for books 2 and 3), and partly because the same story could have been told, complete with the heroine's death, the government conspiracy, the haves and the have nots, the political undertones, etc., etc., etc., but with adjustments to sequencing and pacing, it could have been really satisfying.

By the way, despite what my wife said up there about Matrix 2 and 3, I don't quite get that reference as I know for a fact that there was only one Matrix movie. Can you even imagine them trying to do sequels? That just sounds unpleasant. I applaud them for stopping while they were ahead with a single masterpiece.
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