In 2013, a lot of Griffin Free users recommended the Divergent series to me. I have been known to enjoy YA fiction in the past – especially the recent wave of post-apocalytpic/dystopian science fiction series (think Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy and James Dashner’s The Maze Runner series). So it didn’t take much convincing for me to jump in, especially when I heard a film was being made of the first book.
The series tells the story of Beatrice Prior, raised in a small society that uses a faction system. The five societal factions are Amity, Abnegation, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. Beatrice is raised in Abnegation, but learns during her testing – which is supposed to reveal which faction is most suitable – that she is suited to multiple factions. Called Divergent, this test result is considered dangerous, and Beatrice is warned to hide the result at all costs. Her decision on which faction to choose leads to her involvement in a whole new life and reveals parts of her society – and beyond – that she never dreamed of.
The strength of Veronica Roth’s trilogy is in the ideas. Science fiction is a genre of ideas, and the society and system that Roth creates in this series is both interesting and full of possibilities to explore. In Divergent, the sections about Beatrice’s training in her new faction are very interesting and reveal Roth’s dedication to creating a world that feels fully developed and letting us really see how it works.
Additionally, how Roth expands the series’ scope in Insurgent and especially Allegiant is impressive – she does not sacrifice the work done in the original book, but she provides additional context and backstory that propel the story forward. It is not an easy task to build a new world, but Roth does an admirable – although not perfect – job in these novels.
While the foundation for the story is solid, though, the foundation for the characters is much less so. Beatrice and her faction counterparts who make up the bulk of the cast in the series become increasingly difficult to differentiate through the course of the series. Outside of the few main characters, most of the original cast are blandly drawn, in ways that make remembering who is who more difficult than in should be.
Perhaps more importantly, Beatrice and the other lead character – both complex and vivid individuals in the opening novel – drift toward cliched speeches and behaviors. Especially in the third book, which alternates the point-of-view between the two characters from chapter to chapter, Roth fails to provide a distinct voice for the two characters, leading to times when I had to rely on context clues to help me remember who was the focus. For a three-book series, I would expect the main characters to be distinct enough from each other to have their own habits, mannerisms, and ways of talking/thinking that would let them stand as unique characters. But that is, unfortunately, not the case here.
As for the story itself, the 2nd book certainly lives up to the challenge of replicating the better elements of the 1st book (which is easily the best of the series). However, the third book finds Roth struggling to incorporate too many ideas, leaving none of them to get the level of development that would really make the book a page-turner. Instead, she seems to falter under the weight of her own creation, coming to rely on transparent analogies to real-life situations and a host of cliches and love, family, and humanity to finish Beatrice’s story.
To close, I will note that I am far from the intended audience for this series, and many of the elements I found problematic may not be the problem for many people – especially the younger readers who are the target audience. And it should also be said that despite the flaws, it is clear that Roth (herself a young writer) clearly improved her craft over the course of these three books, and I would look forward to seeing her continue to develop her abilities in subsequent novels. For the increasing number of adults reading YA, though, I would not recommend this series. The first book is worthwhile, but the other two stumble a little too often, and pale in comparison to some of the similar series that are on the shelf.