Sometimes, I’m a little ‘behind the herd’ when it comes to blockbusters. This book has been out now for a couple of years, and the movie version is being released early in 2014. The final book in the series (of which ‘Divergent’ is the first instalment) was released in October (I am currently reading it); my beloved husband decided to buy me the entire trilogy for a birthday gift (which means I shouldn’t even be reading them yet – but that’s irrelevant, surely.) It really makes a trilogy work when you have all three books available to read, one after the other – I did the same thing with ‘The Hunger Games’ and I found it to be most satisfactory – and I was really looking forward to finally getting stuck into the phenomenon that is Veronica Roth, and her dystopian novels that have set the YA world on fire.
Now that I’m over two-thirds of the way through them, all I can say is – what?
So, there are several things about the book (and this goes for ‘Insurgent’, the second book in the trilogy, too) which are great, namely the fight scenes and the descriptions of physical intensity at times of great stress or fear, and the occasional gem of language beautifully used. However, I have to say that, overall, I was a bit let down by ‘Divergent.’ Perhaps ‘let down’ isn’t the right way to put it; frustrated, maybe. Irritated. Forced to prop up my suspension of disbelief once too often.
In the world of ‘Divergent’, a vision of a future Chicago, people are divided into five factions. We have the Dauntless, who are brave (apparently, though they just seem reckless to me), the Candor (those who cannot tell a lie), the Amity (those for whom life is about love and friendship), the Abnegation (those who prize selflessness above all things) and the Erudite (those who live for knowledge, and the acquisition of knowledge). In a strange version of sumptuary law, the people belonging to these factions each wear different styles of clothing and have unique hairstyles and ways of talking and walking which make it clear whether they are Amity, or Abnegation, or whatever. We are not given any real, concrete explanation for how or why society ended up this way, only that a long-ago war had split humanity so badly that the leaders of the postbellum society decided factions were the way to go in order to ensure peace would reign forevermore. Wars were caused, apparently, by human nature and the tendency for humanity to do evil due to greed, or anger, or cowardice, so somehow – logically (or not?) – dividing people up like this into traits for which they showed a natural inclination, and keeping them all separate, with separate roles in society all of which are meant to be complementary, was seen as a good idea.
Here’s my first problem with ‘Divergent’. This idea – the basic strut upon which the book, and the world, is built, makes no sense to me.
Our heroine is a sixteen-year-old named Beatrice Prior who, along with her brother Caleb (not described as her twin, yet somehow the same age) must face the test that every sixteen year old in the city has to undergo – the aptitude test, which will determine what faction they have a natural inclination toward, followed by a ceremony where they publicly choose a faction. They can stay with the one in which they were raised, or choose another. Beatrice and Caleb have been raised as Abnegation, and Beatrice has never felt like she fits in. Her brother seems too good to be true – perfectly selfless, living his life to serve others, the perfect Abnegation – and so Tris is sure he will choose to spend the rest of his life there, keeping their parents company.
However, Caleb’s choice shocks Beatrice, and her choice shocks everyone.
Then, the book basically takes us through Beatrice’s (or Tris’s, as she renames herself) initiation into her faction. Mostly this focuses on (I hate to say it) repetitive and boring descriptions of simulations which are designed to make her face her fears, pointless training which sounds at once so brutal and so stupid as to be irritating, and her love for Four, one of the trainers in her faction. As the book comes to a conclusion (and, I’m talking, about 400 pages into a 500 page book), we finally start to realise that there’s more to this world than Tris learning how to fire a gun and cope with being almost beaten to death on a regular basis. There is, in fact, a Conspiracy in place – a Conspiracy to bring down the factions.
The end of the book is its strongest point, though Tris does one extremely selfish and stupid thing that I can’t mention here for the sake of spoiling it. However, I am glad to note that the repercussions of this act haunt her throughout book 2.
It’s hard to believe that all this is going on inside one city, and one city only. Having read a little further in the series, I’m now beginning to see that Roth intends to expand on this in subsequent books, and perhaps explain what happened to the rest of the world – but, really, it shouldn’t be something a reader is only coming to in book 3 of a trilogy. This should be clear from the start. There are things in the book like the train that brings the Dauntless around the city – it seems not to run on tracks, because one minute it’s seven storeys up, the next it’s at ground level, and it goes, apparently, wherever the Dauntless want it to go – which irritated me because, frankly, I found them silly. I didn’t like Tris, who seemed unnecessarily cold to her family – particularly considering the sacrifices her parents make for her at the end of this book – and who is definitely courageous, but also hot-headed and impulsive, and I really found her relationship with Four hard to warm to.
The most annoying thing about the book is this, though – the Divergence of the title refers to people whose minds are too complex to fit into one faction alone. Those who have an aptitude for two or more factions are Divergent, and apparently dangerous. Tris, of course, is one of these people. But – if a person can be raised in one faction, and still choose another when they turn sixteen, to which they are then expected to devote their entire life, how is it possible that more people are not Divergent? Why is it such a terribly dangerous thing? This isn’t explored at all.
The book is exciting and different and, at times, well written. It was interesting enough to keep me reading (though, I will admit, I was thinking ‘blah, blah, blah’ as I read, some of the time), and book 2, ‘Insurgent’, is a whole lot better. ‘Divergent’ is a touch repetitive, a little derivative, and built on utter illogic. But it’s worth it, I think, just for ‘Insurgent.’ Let’s hope ‘Allegiant’, the last book, is an improvement on the second. If not, I think I’ll be avoiding YA blockbusters for a while.