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After spending several years in social services, Nicole has finally followed her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer. In addition to her work for The Hudsucker, Nicole is also a staff writer for Womanista. An avid comic book fan, BBQ aficionado, professional makeup artist and first-time mom, Nicole can be found exploring Kansas City rich history when she's not blogging about suburban life at Suburban Flamingo.

Book Review: It All Comes Down To Which Side You Choose in ‘Allegiant’

There are days when I wish I had my mother’s quality of incredible restraint when it comes to books. Her restraint is not in buying books (what voracious reader has restraint when it comes to the act of buying books? None, I tell you.) Instead she has this amazing willpower for books in a series. She will not even start a series until all the books in it are available so that when she dives in she can fully experience the series without wait. She sets herself up for a whole experience.

I’m not that person. I can’t wait for all the books to come out. I have to read what’s available and read them right now which always ends up in the tears of impatience as I chew at my lip and pace for the final books to come out. Sometimes the wait is easier to bear when other times it drives me crazy. The wait for Veronica Roth’s finale to her highly acclaimed Divergent trilogy was one of those nearly-driven-crazy waits. I had quite literally devoured Divergent and Insurgent in a two-sitting stretch of a lazy Saturday so the anticipation for Allegiant was sharp and serious. The instant it was in my hands I disappeared into the book for a whole night and immediately found myself feeling…lost.

Image Credit: HarpersCollins

Image Credit: HarpersCollins

I am going to attempt to review Allegiant without spoilers or as few spoilers as possible. However, please be warned that from this point forward there may be spoilers and if you don’t want to know stop here and think about something else. Like getting a Dauntless tattoo!

Okay. Now that you’ve been warned let me start by saying I enjoyed reading Allegiant. It was a good, fun read and I both laughed and cried and got so excited that I actually woke someone up to talk about my experiences with the text. Enjoyment aside, though, the book was not an easy world to slip into which was quite a change from the previous installments. At the end of Insurgent readers are somewhat in the same position as Tris, Four, and their contemporaries when it comes to the big revelations. When the gang (and indeed all of the city) finds out about the world outside and the purpose of the Divergent via Edith Prior’s video the entire world is shaken. Everything they, and by extension we, knew about things is ripped away from us. I expected there to be some sort of explanation or comforting in Allegiant regarding this, but there is no safe footing here. Allegiant picks up shortly after the events of Insurgent and quickly starts shaking apart. Instead of focusing on the dynamics of a city and indeed a civilization in transition Tris and company are forced into the world outside their own. The Allegiant of the title appears to refer to a group within the city that oppose to the anarchy that is a consequence of the radical changes in Insurgent. The Allegiant want to fulfill the city’s purpose as explained by Edith Prior’s video: send people out to heal the world that they have been so carefully sealed off from for a long time. As expected, Tris, Four, and their friends all volunteer to go on this mission but a few other, less-than-welcome faces come along for the ride. Peter and Caleb both are part of the group leaving the city and are both established as being untrustworthy, but Roth makes it very clear in how she writes them that they are antagonists for Tris and Four.

The shift of setting from inside the city to the world beyond it also causes a shift of focus in the book. No longer are the characters concerned with the struggle surrounding the Factions. Instead they are dealing with an overload of information for when they leave the city it is not a wasteland that waits for them on the other side of the fence. Chicago is not an isolated city nor is it indicative of what the world has become. Instead we find out that Chicago is something of an exception. The world of the Divergent trilogy, always presented as being at least in the near-future, is revealed to actually be a few hundred years forward from our own time though it looks a great deal like our world on many levels—nothing in any of Roth’s descriptions that would lead us to see it as terribly different from our own world and this “world beyond the fence” is no exception. The United States still exists. People’s lives seem much the same. The details are where things really show their difference, though. War has ravaged the United States and created some differences in population centers. Chicago is not the city that we know now and that becomes very clear when it is revealed that the primary setting outside the city is housed in what was once O’Hare Airport. There are also details about the outside world that come as a shock to the protagonists, too: the big purpose of the Divergent that Edith Prior spoke of isn’t to save a world in dire need of help. Instead, they’re part of a big experiment that can be boiled down to nature versus nurture. That difference of purpose is ultimately the thread the whole story hangs on and when it snaps everything starts falling around Tris and Four.

Unlike Divergent and Insurgent, Allegiant is a book with very clear messages for the reader. These messages, mostly focused on the idea of identity and the idea of being defined by a label, are excellent ideas to explore. Unfortunately, though, Roth does less exploring and more heavy-handed presentation about them. As more information is revealed, Tris and Four (who is now referred almost exclusively as Tobias) both have to reconcile “truths” about themselves. Tris we are seen being fairly accepting of what she’s told but we are repeatedly told how Four is struggling with it. That struggle creates the subplot of the book—relationship issues between Tris and Four. I can tell you now that Allegiant does not pass the Bechdel Test.

Allegiant, even for being highly anticipated and being generally well-put together, is spectacularly less interesting than its predecessors. To start with the ending and the epilogue (a bland “two years later” jump) is disappointing and shaky at best. Even though the story resolves the reader is left with no real ending. It’s unsatisfying. There is also a lot of sketchy science in the book. Roth has some very provocative ideas and to be honest the things she proposes in the novel really do cause one to think about society on the whole. The problem is that she doesn’t really back those ideas with science that makes things believable and that is distracting. Roth also gives us new faces in the book, but they end up being half-formed and ultimately the reader doesn’t care about them. Nita, David, and Matthew all seem to just be cardboard cut-outs of people. David, in particular, is given a position of some importance but even his significance regarding Tris’ mother’s origin seems phoned in. The half-formed characters is particularly troubling, though, when we are given two characters who are implied to be gay. Roth flippantly explains in-book why their sexual orientation isn’t further explored, but her explanation comes across as a cop-out which sadly makes the characters seem like tokens (and that one of them appears to possibly a non-white is just insulting.)

Ultimately what it all comes down to is that Allegiant feels poorly plotted and lazily written. When Roth destroys the factions at the end of Insurgent and throws open the gates to the world outside the city at the opening of Allegiant she opened up so much potential for a story that truly lived up to the messages of sacrifice and transformation that she wanted to tell. Instead of digging into that she just seems checked out and only partially there. Maybe Roth should have taken her own advice when writing Allegiant; Roth’s message is to “be brave.” Too bad she didn’t take more chances with Allegiant.

Bottom line: worth reading if you want closure for the Divergent series and overall not a bad book, but Allegiant doesn’t hold up on its own.

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One Comment on “Book Review: It All Comes Down To Which Side You Choose in ‘Allegiant’”

  1. notacatalyst October 28, 2013 at 4:09 pm #

    I’d never heard of the Bechdel Test till you mentioned it, but after looking it up, I can say with certain this is a huge problem in fiction. I’d heard mixed reviews on “Allegiant.” While I plan to read it, I have a feeling it will be shoved down the list. It’s a pity Roth threw away all the potential her world-building had. Great review though!

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