Sunday, April 20, 2014

Review: Allegiant by Veronica Roth

What is it about the Divergent books that makes them so popular? Is it the headlong rush to violence? One guy/gal against the system willing to brave the odds? A world gone mad? The bleakness of the landscape? Whatever it is, Veronica Roth has brought to life a landscape of fear and control and lies within lies that is at the heart of this rocket through hell very popular -- and very readable.

At the core of change there will be blood and violence. At the core of Allegiant there is also death and redemption and the people in control willing to sacrifice everything to reset the world and wipe out generations of memories and history for the sake of . . . what? Depends who you ask.

The people on the Fringe believe it is control. The people in the government outside Chicago believe it is protection of their purification project, protection of their mythology that defective genes create defective people. For the people in Chicago, it is the truth, their truth, their faction's truth. Erudite was willing to destroy Abnegation to keep the truth from the people and protect their way of life even if they had to use mind control drugs on Dauntless to accomplish their aims and wipe out what they feel is a useless faction, Candor. Everyone wants control and no one wants to listen.

Tris and Four rescue Peter, who has done so much evil for the sake of power and his own greed for violence and destruction, and take them through Amity to the outside. They leave Four's father, the leader of Abnegation behind, but that does not change Marcus's plans or his ability to get back in control. Marcus convinces Johanna Reyes, the central focus in Amity and the new leader of the Allegiant group since she decided to leave Amity to help Four and Tris against Erudite, that she needs him to gather support because his name and presence will mobilize the remnants of the factions not under Evelyn Johnson's control.

Evelyn is Four's mother, the mother he believed to be dead, and the only person to be thrown out of Abnegation at Marcus's urging. Evelyn has become the head of the factionless when she threw in with the remaining members of the Dauntless faction not under Erudite and Jeanine Matthews's control. When Erudite was put down and Tori had killed Jeanine Matthews, Evelyn took control, abolished the factions, and became dictator, forcing the factions to disband and adopt factionless ways. Everything in Chicago is upside down, but Four has betrayed his mother, rescued Peter and Tris's brother Caleb, and fled for the outside with Amity and Johanna Reyes's help.

What they find is not a world in need of their divergent to set the world to rights, but the Bureau of Genetic Welfare and another layer of truth that belies the Truth they fought so hard to reveal against incredible odds and great personal loss.

Tris, Four, their friends and enemies, Peter chief among them, try to fit into a new world without factions and focused on the goal of fixing what went wrong in a country they didn't know existed when scientists decided to fix society's evils by changing their genetic code. Chicago was one of several enclosed cities where the goal was to fix the genetic mistakes and recreate a purer genetic heritage of which the Divergent were an integral part.

Tris and Four are tested and she is still Divergent, but Four is not. He is genetically deviant and less important in the world that the head of the bureau, David, wants to reset. The landscape opens up and a very different kind of prejudice and rebellion are revealed where the genetically deviant are slaves and menial laborers with a limited ability to advance themselves and the genetically pure, like Tris, are thrust into leadership positions. Rebellion is brewing and Tris is once again at the center of a maelstrom of change and violence where she will have to decide who to sacrifice next.

As if the imploding world of the factions in Chicago was not a violent enough landscape, Veronica Roth spreads out into the rest of the post apocalyptic American landscape where the economy has been destroyed and all semblance of a working and flourishing society has crumbled. Headquartered in what once was O'Hare airport, the Bureau has created a new kind of division between the haves and have nots by pinning it all on genetics. Underlying this new tyranny the one fact that is lost in the genetic shuffle is the resilience of humanity to bloom and grow in stony ground and continue to adapt and advance. Tris and the other Divergents are, for lack of a better comparison, the latest X-Men (and women), the evolution of the human species.

Roth focuses all of her attentions on Tris and Four and their friends -- and frenemies like Peter and Caleb -- and their struggle to return their world to one they recognize, a world of factions, but with a new focus. Evelyn's focus has been tight control and resentment of those she feels tossed her and a significant portion of their society onto the rubbish heap, forcing them into servitude and starvation. It is difficult to see Evelyn fitting into Abnegation society, especially since she has none of Marcus's ability to compartmentalize and justify his brutality to her and to their son, Tobias/Four.

Tris adapts quickly, but cannot come to grips with Caleb's betrayal of her and their parents, or how she missed Caleb's lies about who and what he was. What's more devastating is how he justifies his betrayals by upholding Jeanine Matthews's version of the truth and what he did in Jeanine's service to deliver Tris to death.

Roth puts the focus on the rebellion in the Fringe, within the Bureau, and against Evelyn's tyranny and yet she still manages to open up the heart of the main characters while adding more people and to the mix, always delving deeper for hidden truths and flaying mythologies for the seeds of their beginnings. There is no lack of violence and the violence gets bigger with high tech weapons, explosives, and a death serum protecting the serum that will reset Chicago and return the experiment to a world of factions and demolished memories. Allegiant lives up to the groundwork laid by Divergent and Insurgent and imagines a new landscape with free access to the rest of the world.

Roth does an excellent job of navigating this new and broken America and wraps it all up nicely in a bow reminiscent of an original Star Trek episode where a rigidly controlled world is allowed one day of excess and chaos and the computer controlling their society destroyed. What remained was a world of problems and unleashed minds and emotions finding a way to live in a more real, and usually chaotic, world.

The Divergent world is not without its problems, and adapting to change without the rigid construct of the factions makes it difficult, but Roth leaves readers with the hope that the scars will heal, the pain will ease, and the world will keep on ticking, ticking, ticking. I give Allegiant 4/5 stars. It is an admirable attempt to join up all the loose ends and offer a mustard seed of hope, but not without some devastating destruction wrapped in a nice neat bow.

Review: Insurgent by Veronic Roth

I have never gotten through a trilogy so quickly, at least not one where all the books have been published. I had a brief flirtation with the Children fo the Lion series by Peter Danielson, but that was far more than a trilogy and it took some time to get through the first 2 books.

I am not sure if it is the subject matter (dystopian future) or that the characters and plot are so interesting, or it could be Roth's writing, but I devour all three books in about 4 days.

Insurgent takes up where Divergent left off, but the ante has been upped way up. Tris's previous faction, Abnegation, is at the heart of the story because Erudite's leader is using Dauntless as the army to take the entire faction out. Even though faction before blood is at the heart of the factions, or at least has become in recent years, Tris cannot slough off her abnegation training and heart so easily. She is also divergent and the only person ever to come out of the simulations with three choices: Dauntless, Abnegation, Erudite. She is a very unique person, not to mention that she combines the elements of all three -- fearless, intelligent, and selfless -- in a brand new way and is immune to the simulation injections. She can control what happens and cannot be controlled by Erudite, which makes her a wild card in Erudite's plans, one that the cannot guard against.

Four, also known as Abnegation leader's son, Tobias Eaton, can be controlled, though he is also Divergent, and Tris must face off against him and all her friends in Dauntless. Erudite has a plan to get rid of her, thanks to Peter, Tris's nemesis in Dauntless, and her fear of drowning in an enclosed container is given life to take her out of the game. After all, Divergent must be eliminated in order for Erudite's plan to work.

As the Abnegation faction is attacked and many of its people eliminated, Tris must break find a way to break out of the cube and save the Abnegation people, including Four's father, whom she loathes, in order to get the truth out about the reason why factions were created and why they must live their lives within the confines of what once was Chicago, a truth that Erudite is willing to kill to protect.

Veronica Roth really turns up the heat in the Divergent trilogy with Insurgent and she brings out the interconnected layers and more characters, creating a dense onion of a world where friendships are tested and Tris's heart are laid bare. Roth adds complexity upon complexity and changes the game in fundamental ways for Tris and the faction divided world in which they all live. Sacrifice, truth, duplicity, control, manipulation, and fear add texture to a landscape already divided and fighting for its survival as the workings the workings of the remaining factions are brought to light.

Insurgent lays the groundwork for the final book of the series with a stunning truth that places Tris, Four, and their friends and enemies into a much larger world with so much more to lose -- and to gain. Insurgent is still 5/5 in writing, characterization, plot, and appeal.

I would also like to mention that although there are children killing children (and adults killing adults) the Divergent series shares nothing much with the Hunger Games books.