Book Review/Analysis: Allegiant

Warning, this review contains spoilers for the previous books of the series, Divergent and Insurgent.

Allegiant, the third and final book in the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth, picks up right where its predecessor left off.  At the end of Insurgent the factionless had taken over, doing away with the faction system and killing the leader of the Erudite.  A video had been found which revealed that the city was sealed and the faction system put in place in order to fix the problems of the outside world, and that when enough Divergent had appeared they were to emerge into the larger world to fulfill that purpose.  Tris and Tobias/Four had reconciled and decided to no longer keep secrets from each other.  What we were left with at the end of book two was a long list of questions and an uncertainty as to what could possibly happen next.

Tris begins the book in jail, along with her friends, accused of treason for allying with Tobias’s father, Marcus, to uncover the mysterious video.  Tobias on the other hand is allied with his mother, Evelyn, who has gone from leader of the factionless rebels to the ruler of the city.  All of the former faction members have been forced by the new government to abandon their old ways, forbidden from living in similar groups and made to wear a mix of clothing from every faction and work all of the jobs that each faction used to do alone.  Rising up against this new regime, which is just as restrictive as the previous one, is a group calling itself the Allegiant, who want to reinstate the faction system and believe in the message from the video.

However, Tris just wants answers, as do we readers, and she sets out to find them along with Tobias and the rest of her gang.  He journey will take her outside the city limits for the first time in her life, and what she finds is not at all what she had imagined.  To say any more about the story would be to spoil things, but the group’s discoveries and reactions to those discoveries make up the heart of the book.  Roth has crafted a plausible and interesting set of answers to the questions raised by her series and takes things in a direction that is both surprising and plausible, but which more importantly reflects on some universal truths about humanity.

Throughout the trilogy, Roth has used her story to examine the way the world works and how we find our place in it.  In Divergent she made us question the labels we put on ourselves and others as well as how we reconcile the conflicting parts of ourselves.  In Insurgent she focused on how we deal with the choices we’ve made and the burdens we carry.  Here in Allegiant Roth is much more direct with her introspection.  Much of the story revolves around how we deal with the issues we face in life, whether to take the easy way out or to keep fighting, whether it’s better to put everything you have into one huge effort or to slowly work the problems to alter the course of the future, and whether it’s human nature to do whatever it takes to separate ourselves from others.  Allegiant is the book in the series that is most concerned with the big ideas, as the complicated plot and maneuverings of the previous books take a backseat to topics like victim blaming and even a brief discussion of homosexuality.  In many ways the series has grown along with its protagonist, Tris, and we’re exposed to these ideas as the character grapples with them in the story.

Tris is again the driving force of the story, though Allegiant differs from the previous books by telling the story from two different perspectives.  The chapters alternate between giving us Tris’s point of view and Tobias’s point of view, allowing the story to branch out and cover more ground but also giving us different takes on the same events.  It can be a bit disorienting, as stylistically there is very little difference between the two perspectives, but it does allow the scope of the book to grow beyond just Tris’s view.  It works well from a logistical standpoint, particularly as events come to a head, but it does take some getting used to.

Roth excels at finding ways to convey her characters’ emotions by describing their posture and body language, in a way that’s not particularly common among the genre.  Whether it’s a simple action like the way Tris repeatedly combs her fingers through her hair upon waking up or using someone’s stance and body cues to give us an insight into their minds, it’s the highlight of her writing style for me.  It gives everything a tactile quality which in particular makes scenes of conversation and debate feel much more real.  For me, though, it’s Roth’s characters that have drawn me into this story and held my attention.  I’ve mentioned before that I find Tris a much more relatable character than I ever found Katniss (the most obvious comparison) to be, and that’s still true.  We really feel the conflict within Tris, as she struggles to make sense of what she has learned and to find a way to balance her emotions so as to make the biggest impact with her actions.  The rest of the cast of characters take a bit of a backseat in Allegiant as the focus rests much more on Tris and Tobias than it ever did before, but in hindsight that feels for the best, given the nature of this final chapter of the story.

In all, Allegiant is a satisfying conclusion to an interesting story.  Tris has grown and changed over the course of three books in a way that was interesting to watch and emotional to relate to.  This final book answers most of the questions we’d gathered up to this point, even if they sometimes reflect how in life there are no easy answers.  The Divergent series gave us more than just an exciting yarn in an interesting setting with some exciting teen romance to enjoy, it gave us something to think about and reflect upon, which puts it above some of its peers in that respect.  I look forward to seeing what Roth comes up with next, and in the meantime I can’t wait for the film adaptation of Divergent due out next year.  The series, for me, has always been about blazing your own trail and not being afraid to “diverge” from what is expected.  If we can find a bit of ourselves in Tris, as she struggles to find her own path and set her own priorities in life, then I can’t think of a higher compliment for the series.

A-

Analysis

Warning: Spoilers below.  Seriously, I’m going to spoil the ending of the book below, so stop reading if you don’t want to know.

Ok, everybody clear on the spoilers?  Good.  There are a couple of things I wanted to briefly touch on, but obviously couldn’t include them in the review.  I apologize in advance for the rambling nature of this “analysis”.  First, however, a brief recap of the events of Allegiant would probably be a good thing.  Tris, Tobias and the gang travel outside the city limits and discover that in contradiction to the video they found the world is not in need of saving.  In fact, their community in Chicago is one of several experiments designed to correct “genetic damage” that was done to parts of the population in the past.  At some point a good while before the events of the trilogy, a large swath of the population was genetically modified in order to try to correct certain behavioral issues, but the plan backfired and caused the “Purity War”, which raged between the so-called “damaged” and the “genetically pure”.  After the war, the GD (“genetically damaged”) showed tendencies to violence and other negative behaviors, and were blamed for the purity war.

As an attempt to correct the “damage”, Chicago, and other cities, were walled off and some of the damaged population were put inside.  Their memories were wiped and they were subjected to some gene therapy, and in the case of Chicago the factions were introduced as a way to encourage positive attributes in the population.  The Bureau of Genetic Welfare, who monitored the experiments, claimed that the gene therapy was designed to treat the “nature” part of the GD personalities and the factions were to treat the “nurture” side.  The goal was to produce Divergent people, which was an indicator or repaired, pure genes in an individual.  These Divergent could resist the various serums used by the factions to control and manipulate their members, and were told in the video to leave the city so that they could be returned to the general population in order to combat damage in the gene pool.

What sets the Divergent trilogy apart from The Hunger Games is that it has some clear messages that we can apply to our world.  While I think The Hunger Games has a more compelling and tighter story, the real world connection to Divergent gives this trilogy something unique.  In the book, the Bureau and other GP (“genetically pure”) people have a very interesting opinion about those who are GD.  They blame the GD for the Purity War, going so far as to claim that war did not exist before the genetic damage was caused.  GD people have considerably more obstacles towards advancement, even when the Bureau claims that it doesn’t discriminate.  The GD are told that their condition, which they’re obviously not at fault for, causes them to lack empathy and other desirable traits.  Many GD live in squalor, in ghettos and in the “fringe” of society, both literally and figuratively.

The Bureau and particularly David, who is in charge, have an attitude that might seem very familiar to many readers.  They seem compassionate, trying very hard to make life better for the GD, but instead of trying to improve conditions and the way the GD are treated they are instead trying to “fix” the GD.  There’s a conflict in their attitudes, that acknowledges the GD are victims yet blames them anyway for their condition.  The line of comparison between the Bureau’s attitude and the attitude in America regarding race and poverty is a pretty strong one, though the story could be a metaphor for any sort of discrimination, really.  In the book, Tris finds out that she is GP but that Tobias is actually GD, his Divergent attributes merely being an aberration and not a sign of repaired genes.  Obviously, given all we’ve seen in the book, there is no difference between Tris and Tobias, but they are treated differently because of a slight genetic variation.  Tris frequently cites that genes are responsible for all sorts of differences, particularly in appearance, but none of those mean someone is “damaged”, so why should this difference mean it.

The Bureau’s attitude is infuriating, as it contributes to the problem while working hard to “solve” it in a way that completely misses the point.  Instead of expending the ridiculous amount of resources they have available to improve the lives of those suffering from being labeled GD or fixing the system to make the situation better, they instead try to “fix” the individuals who don’t need fixing.  Interestingly, in my review of Insurgent I compared it to the movie Serenity based on the group’s search for a secret that had been hidden and covered up by the government.  What I couldn’t have realized is that the truth of the situation in Allegiant matches that movie so well.  In Serenity, the secret is that the government tried to “improve” people in order to accomplish goals like weeding out aggression, and in turn created a horrible situation.  And while I wouldn’t compare the GD to the Reavers in Serenity, both the Bureau in these books and the Alliance in the film have a desire to “make people better”.  Both governmental groups have the belief that some people are naturally flawed, and that the solution is to try to fix those people, rather than fix the system so that it can accommodate all.  These governments both have the view that there is only one correct existence, and anything that varies is damaged.

One aspect of the book that I found interesting was the choice given to Tobias at the end of the story.  At this point, Tris has died and he is struggling to cope.  He has the option of taking a memory serum that would completely erase his memories (though leaving his abilities intact), which he considers as a way to escape the pain.  Earlier in the book, Peter, one of the villains of the trilogy, aids Tobias in exchange for the memory serum, which he uses to erase all of the horrible things he’s done from his mind.  Tobias looks down on Peter for the choice, and it’s clear that Tobias thinks Peter is taking the easy way out.  Peter obviously realizes that he has done bad things, and has shown moments of wanting redemption throughout the books, but instead of working for it and improving himself he’d rather just start over.  It’s a relief to him to forget, rather than struggle on.  In the end, Tobias decides not to drink the serum (after a talking to from one of his friends), knowing that erasing his pain would also erase Tris from his life and all of the good that she did to him.  The series plays with the nature vs nurture argument, and while it’s clear from the books that our experiences count far more than how we’re born, it doesn’t entirely discount genetics.  Peter is described later as working an office job and generally reformed following his erasure, but still kind of an asshole.

The entire trilogy is about the choices we make in life and how we define ourselves.  Tris starts in the Abnegation faction, but chooses Dauntless both because of its appeal to her and because of her frustration with her parents’ attitudes.  However she’s never truly able to escape the Abnegation attitude of selflessness.  It makes a strong argument that our upbringing will affect us all of our lives, particularly when you look at Tobias’s issues with his parents, but that we’re still responsible for our actions.  Tris may have been raised Abnegation and may have chosen Dauntless, but it’s up to her to decide how to mesh the two into a working human being.  Like many others, she could choose “faction before blood” and completely suppress her old ways and her family (particularly her traitorous brother, Caleb), but she chooses “blood before faction” instead.  In the end, she sacrifices herself in Caleb’s place, knowing both that Caleb might not succeed at his task and that even if he did succeed and died he would not be sacrificing himself out of love but out of guilt.  She basically forces him to take the hard way of living, rather than the easy way of dying.

Of course, one of the biggest issues of debate since the release of the book has been the death of Tris.  Very few recent young adult (hate that term) series have killed off their protagonists, particularly given the rise of first person storytelling.  Katniss, Bella, Harry Potter and others all survived, though Harry sort of died for a little bit there.  So I applaud Veronica Roth for bravely killing Tris, in a way that served the story and reflected the character’s growth through three books.  It felt right and natural, despite being sad and shocking.  I will say that I felt the decision to split the viewpoint in the book between Tris and Tobias was a giveaway that Tris would die, which would allow Tobias to continue the story after her death.

I was surprised, after I finished the book, to discover the negative response Roth has gotten for killing Tris.  She has written a thoughtful response on her blog, and I suggest you go check it out.  She is much more calm and understanding than I would be about it, but perhaps that’s just the face she’s putting on.  She graciously says, “I don’t want to tell you how to read these books or even to tell you there’s one right way to read them.”  She tries to explain how she arrived at the story she told, and wants understanding of her process even if people don’t like how the book ended.  There’s a debate to be had about young adult (ugh) books and the audience for those books, who perhaps become more attached to the characters in them than the more “mainstream” population might, but I’m not going to start it.  I will say that I read many books as a child and “young adult” where the protagonist died, so I don’t understand the anger that Tris died.  If I thought Roth had killed her for “shock value” or to get people talking or whatever, then maybe I would feel differently, but she claims to have had this ending in mind from the start, and it completely feels fitting when taken in context, so I’m not going to be angry with Roth over it.  It’s fine to be upset when something sad happens in a story, but sad stories are worth telling.  Everything can’t be sunshine and puppy dogs, and the saddest of stories are often the ones that speak to us the most.

There’s another point in Roth’s blog post that I struggle with, however.  She says, “I’m the author, yes, but this book is yours as well as mine now, and our voices are equal in this conversation.”  I’m not sure I agree with this point of view, as I’ve struggled with who really “owns” a story once it’s been told.  I’m a writer myself, and while I love disagreements and being challenged when it comes to blogging, I feel like the author’s word is law when it comes to fiction.  We don’t have to like the story she’s told, or the way she told it, we can criticize the character’s actions as contradicting what we know about them, but I don’t like the tendency of fandoms to “rewrite” the parts they don’t like.  It often has such a wish fulfillment angle that it’s off putting, and I feel like mentally rewriting the story to make it “better” doesn’t show much respect for the concept of artistic vision.  Also, the “everyone owns this story now” argument has been used to justify negative actions on the part of the writers by simply saying “everything is open to interpretation”.  You can ask fans of TV show Supernatural all about how they were intentionally misled by the writers only to be told that everything was open to interpretation.  I just feel like authors do have ownership over the story, and this gives them both the right to be able to definitively have the last say on things and also gives them the responsibility to own up to their decisions and actions in writing the story.

I have a lot of respect for Veronica Roth following this trilogy, and I think she is a talented writer with a gift for capturing the emotional process through which her characters are going.  I understand people are upset that Tris died in the book, but I feel it is unjust to direct anger at Roth simply because Tris died.  The death of a character is sometimes (often) a necessary thing for the story, and to object to the principle of a protagonist’s death reflects a great misunderstanding about how stories work.  In other circumstances, I would welcome or encourage criticism of Roth over Tris’s death, if for instance she had died in a way that felt out of character or which served no purpose to the story, but that is not the case here.  I feel like Allegiant was a strong book with interesting and thought-provoking ideas, and Tris’s death fits perfectly in the story.

13 thoughts on “Book Review/Analysis: Allegiant

  1. I had heard about this and wondered what all the hoopla was about.

    Like Hunger Games, I will probably wait for the films ( I am more concerned with reading non-fiction and writing my own stuff these days… also, not a big fan of post-apocalyptic SF, at least, not enough to plow through, ugh, a trilogy).

    I pretty much agree with your take on storytelling: it’s the author’s creative vision that puts the story out there. Then everyone who reads it applies it (Tolkien used the word Applicability… he hated allegory) to their own life and experiences. I am fairly annoyed with fanfic and fanart that changes the canon… yet, if it was my story, I’d also say something like “When you read it, it becomes your story, you interpret it how you like.”

    The genetic manipulation in the story has lots of application to our present culture. There is the concept of those who are different being ostracized (a core element in many stories… because they are written by creative people who often are wired differently from the “muggles”). We see this in the mental health field: there are people who might be helped with gene therapy, or medications, but there are many who are immediately slapped on drugs when their lifestyle and inherent abilities/wiring should be addressed. “ADD” as an example: Lynn Weiss PhD wrote the best set of books about it I have seen yet. She points out that this is genetic diversity, a different kind of “brainstyle” which has for millennia been part of our survival as a species, and now, in our clock-driven, industrial age world has become a disability.

    “The Bureau’s attitude is infuriating, as it contributes to the problem while working hard to “solve” it in a way that completely misses the point. Instead of expending the ridiculous amount of resources they have available to improve the lives of those suffering from being labeled GD or fixing the system to make the situation better, they instead try to “fix” the individuals who don’t need fixing.” Bravo, just bravo!!!

    “The Bureau and particularly David, who is in charge, have an attitude that might seem very familiar to many readers. They seem compassionate, trying very hard to make life better for the GD, but instead of trying to improve conditions and the way the GD are treated they are instead trying to “fix” the GD. There’s a conflict in their attitudes, that acknowledges the GD are victims yet blames them anyway for their condition.”

    You said it.

    I’m glad to see some thoughtful, intelligent YAs out there (I am not bothered by the label, and why shouldn’t adults of a certain age read them too? If they are as intelligent and applicable as these.)

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    • I think moreso than the Hunger Games, the Divergent trilogy will lose something in the transition from page to screen. I found Tris’s voice to be much more integral to the story than I did with Katniss. I think it will still make a good film, but we’ll have to wait and see. I definitely recommend Divergent if it seems like something that might be up your alley. It was very applicable to our present culture, and you bring up a great point about something like ADD. You always have the most thoughtful things to say. As for my issue with Young Adult as a term, I don’t actually object to the term I just object to the stereotypes that go with it, much as I object to how some people treat every animated film as if it is a “kid’s movie”. But my issues with “Young Adult” are a topic for another day. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  2. Pingback: Trailer Tuesday: Divergent | Love Pirate's Ship's Log

    • Care to elaborate? I wasn’t attempting to capture the full spectrum of the series in book report format, merely to expound on aspects of the final book that interested me.

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          • She’s telling a story about someone that has the characteristic of someone that psychologists refer to as divergent thinking. David is someone that is a convergent thinker. He sees faction system or nothing. There exists no other way. Divergent thinkers tend to view things with an endless amount of options. I also believe the author has a lot of mathematical knowledge as well. Which would symbolically explain her death at the end if the series. She applies mathematical concepts to qualitatively explain a quantitative behavior known in maths as a divergent series. Ultimately, the author never wants the story convergent because it is the nature of a “divergent series”, leaving the amount of interpretations as a field of endless conclusions.

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            • Interesting. That’s an interpretation I had neither considered nor heard before. You should write your own in-depth analysis of the series from that viewpoint! Thanks for sharing!

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                • I hardly consider it a waste, and I doubt you do either given the thought you’ve put into it. There’s a great deal to be learned by studying an analyzing the works of others, either in helping our own abilities to grow, expanding our views, or simply learning more about ourselves. Just like the best advice most writers give is to read as much as you can. But good luck with your cultivating!

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                  • You obviously did read the part where I said I don’t “write” in-depth analyses. I do however analyze others work. As I’ve done yours. You apparently have very little logic to match your poor literary analyses skill. Enjoy writing about other people’s creations pretending as if you possessed the capability to creation something of your own. I do apologize for your lack of intelligence and my awful manners to provide you with criticism.

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  3. Hey, I just re-read this!

    Haven’t actually got to the films (so….done… with …the … Apocalypse).

    I was struck by this though… “These governments both have the view that there is only one correct existence, and anything that varies is damaged.” It relates all too well to our present political climate in which pundits are shouting from the Primary Pulpit that “I have the One True Religion and The One True Answer.”

    May we continue to have intelligent storytelling for young people.

    And I totally agree with the “ugh” on labeling it YA… good stories are universal, and some of the best are done for “young people”. It should not make the rest of the audience afraid to read them. (Let’s just mention Pixar, Disney and Dreamworks as doing great stories for all ages).

    I also heartily dislike the tendency of fans to edit and rewrite stories to their own tastes. To me the story as written is the “true story”, how it happened (which gives me issues sometimes with film adaptations, though i know film is a different medium and requires a different sort of storytelling).

    Another great analysis (and you’re the only reason i know that SHIELD is back too, thanks).

    Liked by 1 person

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