Thursday, 11 August 2011
Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth
By: HarperCollins Children's Books
One choice decides your friends, defines your beliefs, and determines your loyalties . . . forever.
When sixteen-year-old Tris makes her choice, she cannot forsee how drastically her life will change. Or that the perfect society in which she lives is about to unfold into a dystopian world of electrifying decisions, stunning consequences, heartbreaking betrayals and unexpected romance.
One choice can transform you.
In this dystopia, people are segregated into factions that all wholly dedicate themselves to a particular virtue. There is Dauntless, who are brave; Candor, who are honest; Abnegation, who are selfless; Erudite, who are intelligent and Amity, who are, well, nice, I guess. The factions reminded me of the houses in Harry Potter, with Dauntless being Gryffindor and Erudite being Ravenclaw. Candor could equal Slytherin because the nasty kids do come from there.
Anyway, the ethos of the society is "Faction before blood" and everything's supposed to be about your faction and every minute of every day, you are supposed to be doing the thing your faction values. The members of each faction are also assigned particular careers that are compatible with these values. Everyone is born into a faction, but at age 16 they are allowed to choose to stay or join another. Tris grows up in Abnegation, which means she always has to put other people ahead of herself and sacrifice her own comfort and pleasure to give to everybody else. Unsurprisingly, when she gets the chance to jump ship, she does and she chooses Dauntless.
The majority of Divergent focuses on Tris' initiation into Dauntless, which is where comparisons to The Hunger Games have come from: The leaders of Dauntless make their initiates compete against each other in violent, sadistic and death-defying activities. It was here that I found the world of the book made the least sense. The Dauntless are in charge of military and security, so they need brave and skilled soldiers. However, the Dauntless idea of bravery is to risk your life in crazy stunts several times a day and their members drop like flies because of it. I don't know how much of an army you're going to have if you're losing soldiers daily, not through warfare, but because you're making them leap off buildings for kicks.
Still, there are parts of this that are very entertaining to read about, as the Dauntless stunts vary from frightening to thrilling. Being in this faction makes Tris undergo a complete metamorphosis and her development from a drab, introverted girl, to tattooed and fearless is pretty cool. By the end of the novel, she's running around like Sarah Connor; kicking ass and taking names. I liked her relationships with the other initiates: When she first meets Christina, Al and Will, I was thinking OK, these are obviously her loyal sidekicks, but the friendships were a lot more complicated than that and the tensions and jealousies between them were an interesting change from the normal BFFs in these kinds of stories.
Two things frustrated me the most about Divergent. One is that 300 pages of it take place exclusively in Dauntless territory, so we don't get to see much of the other factions or get a sense of the society as a whole. Some of the factions were very undeveloped, to the point where I wondered what Amity and Candor even did. The other is the title: the fact that Tris is Divergent. She's warned that this is dangerous and if anyone finds out, her life will be under threat, but we're only given tiny bits of info about this every 100 pages or so and Tris herself seems unconcerned about it most of the time. It's a story thread that develops ve-ry slowly and shouldn't really be the title - Initiation (or something like that) would be a more reflective one.
The initiation into Dauntless does drag on a bit too long, but the climax of the book is some rip-roaring action, as Tris discovers one faction's plans for war. The ending lead to me to believe that the following books in the series would explore the wider society, which will do away with one of my complaints. I'm also hoping there will be a good explanation for why being Divergent is so dangerous and rare. Overall, I found Divergent to be an imperfect read, with some things that worked and some that didn't, but I think there is enough good there to make it worth trying.
Rating: 3.5 stars