In the Divergent series Veronica Roth introduces us to Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior and her life in a dystopian Chicago where society has been divided into five new factions. As Tris turns 16 she is asked to take an aptitude test to find out which faction to choose during the choosing ceremony. The five factions she can choose between are: Amity (the kind), Erudite (the intelligent), Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless) or Dauntless (the brave). But her test results are not what she expects when she discovers that she has aptitude for three different factions. She’s a Divergent, which we’re told early on is dangerous and must be kept secret. After being told to keep her divergent status a secret she is left having to choose which of the three factions she wants to join: Abnegation where her parents belong and she grew up; Erudite, which is in conflict with her parent’s faction; or Dauntless, the rebellious counterpart to her quiet past. She chooses to join Dauntless, she leaves her family behind and enters a new life of danger and adrenaline and quickly finds herself in the midst of a fight she never expected.
I can appreciate a good dystopian novel for their ability to paint a very different world that still draws parallels to our daily life. I was immediately very fascinated by the idea of dividing society into groups based on personality strengths as a means to avoid conflict. While most dystopian novels I’ve read tend to tell stories about totalitarian governments that oppress their people in order to maintain peace, Roth creates a world where people (rather than issues such as race, religion and politics) are to blame for the downfall of the world. Each faction holds a different belief about what brought about the crisis. I liked reading about the different values and beliefs the different factions instilled in their children, and how they had to adjust if they chose to transfer to a different one once they turned 16. That being said, it was the existence of a section of people who test as divergent who made the story work. My issue with the system is that it seems unlikely that so many people test to find that they fit into just one of these factions.
My favourite thing about the novel was the way Roth managed to make me care about almost all the character in different ways. In Divergent I found myself really understanding even the minor characters’ motivations, at least as far as I was meant to at each stage in the story. I particularly enjoyed Christina, Will, and Uriah. Secondary characters are often easier to enjoy because you don’t get to spend as much time with them as the protagonist.
The sequel, Insurgent, was not as good and a lot more flawed than Divergent in my opinion. While I felt Divergent told a very well thought out story of Tris adapting to her new environment and slowly realising that everything is not what it seems, Insurgent felt disjointed and sometimes unnecessarily angsty. The plot moved back and forth between the different factions all the time, characters died as soon as you really got to know them and the whole thing was just a lot more predictable than in Divergent.
Also, the much stronger focus on the love story between Tris and Four in Insurgent hurt the novel. The romance plot turned into two moody teenagers fighting and being immature in Insurgent. In a story where Four had formerly been portrayed as a strong-willed and mature boy and Tris had been established as an observant and empathetic girl, this tension felt contrived. This, along with Tris’ continuing inability to deal with her guilt for killing Will at the end of Divergent, meant that the book spend too much time on the inner turmoil of Tris and not enough on actual plot development. And her decision to team up with Marcus at the end without even attempting to talk to Tobias was ridiculous. Tris seems to lose a lot of her backbone in Insurgent, or at least she seems a lot more focused on self-sacrifice and borderline suicidal stunts rather than the calculated and smart decisions we see in Divergent.
All in all I did enjoy the novels and I hope that the last instalment will surpass them both. I think the series is flawed but still very enjoyable. Divergent is definitely worth reading, and hopefully the still untitled last book will be as well.