Wednesday, 23 October 2013

book review: allegiant by veronica roth

Allegiant by Veronica Roth
Genre: Dystopian YA
Rating: 6/10
The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.


I'm not sure what I was expecting but I wasn't expecting this. I'm not mad. I'm not raging. I'm not going to write a scathing review on Amazon. I am, however, very disappointed.

To get straight to it, I don't hate the idea of Tris dying. In principle I don't think it's a terrible way to go - at every point up to now she's been willing to sacrifice herself (if not always for the right reasons). In practice however it just felt wrong. It was underplayed and underwhelming - it should have been this huge moment about Tris and it didn't feel that way at all, it was about everyone but Tris. I was sceptical of the dual narration from the start - I liked Tris' unreliable narration and viewing this world solely through her perspective, it was flawed but it felt real. As Allegiant went on I couldn't shake the feeling that Tobias' POV was designed as a structural device; it wasn't there to give profound insight into his character, it was there to make sure that the story could continue when Tris was no longer able to narrate. I suppose that works in theory, you need some way to discuss the aftermath but it meant that Tris' death was completely overshadowed by people's reactions to it. It wasn't about her sacrifice, it was about Four's grief - she gave her life for a cause that was never really mentioned again. Worst of all, her sacrifice didn't seem to mean anything - there was no real sense that the world was very much different. The Bureau was one branch of a government that was never developed or explicitly discussed. Chicago and its inhabitants didn't lose their memories but what did they really gain? There was no suggestion that the broader societal conflict was cured, just that Chicago was now safe space (until the government deem otherwise).

To quote myself: "By no means Mockingjay awful but broaching Mockingjay levels of wasted potential."

I loved Insurgent. While I maintain that the plot was convoluted, I'm willing to forgive that because Veronica Roth did such a great job of balancing character development and broader themes/philosophies. As a Ravenclaw I was so excited to read a book exploring the philosophy and ethics of knowledge and it all played out not only through Tris' narrative butg in the character development of Jeanine, Caleb, Cara and Peter. In Allegiant however, those two processes were separated and Roth's ethics lessons completely overpowered character story. The moralising about the ethics of surveillance, of genetics, of intervention, of social structures and of race relations was so unsubtle and completely hijacked the book. I also grew increasingly frustrated with the suggestion that all governments are ultimately corrupt - it's tiresome and bleak - and for Roth to try an reverse that by suggesting that hope for Chicago lies in a democratically elected government felt really hollow.

Overall though, I'm most frustrated by the fact that Allegiant shelved the primary message of the series in order to solely focus on stories of grief, betrayal and sacrifice. It took me a little while to warm to Four but I always felt that one of (if not the) most powerful ideas in this series was the one that he articulated towards the end of Divergent:
"I think we've made a mistake," he says softly. "We've all started to put down the virtues of the other factions in the process of bolstering our own. I don't want to do that. I want to be brave, and selfless, and smart, and kind, and honest." He clears his throat. "I continually struggle with kindness."

The idea that our choices define us and that in order to be our best selves we must embrace numerous qualities not just cling to a single identity is really powerful and at the beginning of Allegiant it looks as though that's going to be the driving force of the narrative. Early on Four reflects on the changing dress code of the new factionless society: " clothes, but beneath them, my Dauntless tattoos. It is impossible to erase my choices. Especially these." His aptitude was Abnegation and he chose Dauntless but he chose to embrace all factions. His body is physically branded with his belief that we can only be our best selves if we look beyond our instincts and dominant qualities. Later on, after the discovery of the genetically pure/damaged divide, Tris tries to explain why it doesn't matter, why she is so uneasy about that distinction being used to define individuals and to account for social unrest. The set-up is perfect to develop this notion of nature vs. nurture and for the characters to come around to the conviction that your genes matter less than your choices, to articulate that message to the world and to embrace diversity. But that didn't happen. Instead, all that build-up was passed off as the story became about defending the city from a big bad that wanted to remove their memories. It was no longer about trying to fix a flawed ideology of human psychology and behaviour but about a dubiously waged war and a sabotage plan riddled with plot holes.

The book traded in its important and relateable message about agency, responsibility and self-awareness for an ethics lesson on abstract social injustices. Not only that but it executed that message poorly.

On the plus side, there were some A+ make-outs...

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