Book review: The Divergent trilogy.

[As part of the Zero to Hero challenge, I’ll be including a new media element into this post that I’ve never used before – GIFs. Initiate WordPress-Tumblr synchronisation!]

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Just like every other young adult on the planet, I’m hugely into dystopian stories (although I was into Battle Royale and The Running Man etc. long before The-Trilogy-That-Must-Not-Be-Named (referred to as THG from now on) so that means I’m totally hip and better than all of you). Of course that would also mean that I have to review this series.

For those who have yet to touch the books, here’s the basic premise, taken from Divergent’s Goodreads page:

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue–Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is–she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are–and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

I left out the synopsis for the later two books to avoid spoiling anything but because a lot of the main problems I had with Divergent were answered in Allegiant and because most of my feelings about the books are series-wide and also because I’m lazy as heck, I’ll be reviewing all three books together.

How do I feel about the Divergent trilogy? Very underwhelmed, to be honest.

To start off, the whole series is rife with plot holes, inconsistencies, and events/explanations that don’t make any sense (and this is coming from just about the least astute reader that has ever existed). Even (or perhaps especially) in sci-fi/fantasy/dystopian settings like these where life is far-flung from what we know and understand in the real world, there has to be a sense of plausibility within that setting and Divergent (the series) fails here. *Spoileralert*Just to name one plot pitfall, while Allegiant answers the thing I found most incredulous about the first book (that everyone, well mostly everyone, can be neatly categorised into a single characteristic), the explanation given for the communities (that the genetically damaged are all grouped together to somehow breed the damage out of themselves in future generations) doesn’t make any sort of sense. I mean, come on..*Spoileralert*

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(More detailed diatribes about the ridiculous plotholes in the books can be found in the comments sections of the Goodreads pages for the three books).

To her credit, Roth’s writing is light and easy to follow. The pacing, however, is terrible. The books have no clear structure and often I can’t even tell what the bulk of the book seems to be building up to until I get there. Oftentimes, it feels like just a meandering series of events without any clear direction (which isn’t great for keeping a reader hooked).

And, I mean, the third book basically just ignores the entire premise (*spoileralert* the faction vs. factionless fight *spoileralert*) that the first two books focused on (and resolves it using a heck of a cop-out) and revolves around an entirely new storyline of its own which, while it might seem to make sense from a progression point of view, actually serves to alienate readers of Divergent and Insurgent. If the conclusion to the series focuses on a whole new storyline of its own, then what were the first two books for?

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The books are also plagued by excessive draggy sections. I mean, if you think about it, the whole of Divergent is basically just about the Initiation programme, which isn’t even particularly eventful (think of it this way – imagine Rowling devoting an entire book in the Harry Potter series to the Sorting Ceremony or Collins spending a third of her trilogy just on the Reaping and training centre).

Perhaps because Roth had to fill up three books with a story that could have been told in a book or two, the books were padded with excessive internal monologues, repetitive whining and emotional crises that weren’t all that different from each other, and a gratuitous amount of make out scenes that don’t seem to serve any purpose and could have been omitted beyond the first two or three times (because I do understand that this is a YA series and there has to be a certain amount of fan service to cater to the audience). It just ended up feeling like a frustratingly long read.

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Characterization, while varied, is often quite poor too. Key players have huge 180degree shifts in behaviour and act very out of character. Four, for example, goes from a mysterious confident enigma in the first book to a self-doubting emotional wreck of a pansy in the next two. The two-perspectives format of Allegiant, too, wasn’t executed well, with both Tris and Tobias sounding almost exactly the same. Often, I would be two or three pages into a new chapter before realising that it is written from the other point of view (and often only because they happen to mention in third person the one whom I had assumed was “penning” the chapter).

Although I don’t think THG was a perfect series (the first book felt the best written to me, although Catching Fire had the most interesting premise because goodness knows I love my all-stars series), it still had solid (and plausible) world building and premise, great (if slightly one-dimensional) characters and fantastic pacing. The Divergent series, unfortunately, does not have any of that.

Even taken on its own and ignoring the huge plot fallacies and other problems listed above, Divergent and its sequels just seem to fall short of what they are intended to do. The action is fast but not fast-paced enough, the characters are decently likeable but just not endearing enough, and the heart-tugging moments are somewhat moving but just lack that decisive punch. Overall, the series has quite a lot of potential but falls short of living up to it (and the insane hype machine that pumped it up). Not a recommended read unless you like being disappointed by hype.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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