Initial reaction: I think a reader's reaction to this book will largely hinge on how attached to the narrative they are, and what kind of story they were expecting versus the one that came across. But I had a lot of issues with this story aside from the ending it puts across, and my rating will probably hinge on what my meditation lends in consideration with all these factors. That said, I'm probably not going to give this higher than 2-stars.
"I'm looking for something to live for
I'm thinking 'bout it all of the time
I just want something I can believe in
I need something that I can call mine
There's nobody listening to words that I say
Tell them to live for today
One thing I know is I'm not coming back
Nobody lives forever..."
-lyrics from "Nobody Lives Forever" by The Smithereens
There's a reason I start this review off with this set of lyrics by one of my favorite groups, and probably not for the reason that some people may think, at least those that already know the events of "Allegiant." This will be a spoiler free review, and really, I'm stating this on events/themes of this entire series in addition to what this book brought to the table.
When a story or a series ends, it is the end. There isn't any going back or reversal to what transpires once a story concludes, apart from the visitations that one who peruses the story may have churning in their minds, or may have in picking up the book again to relive the experience. There are many stories that, despite their conclusions, I love revisiting for the strength of the journeys and characters that it took on. I'm invested that much in that they never get old, even as I grow, change, adapt with the experiences I may have in my life. I love being able to pick up a book whose words continue to reach me, whose characters leave a lingering impression on me for the things they fight for, for the way they take me through the emotional gauntlet and kind of the nostalgic - pain, but a good kind of pain - air that they give me.
Suffice to say, the Divergent series is not one of those stories for me. Especially considering the events of "Allegiant" because the measure in this entire series just rang...loose to me. Surface. Like not even in the sense of surface like skimming the foam off a cup of mocha, because you might still have some sweetness to take from that.
To put it bluntly, the experience of reading this book really hammered home the fact that this series' foundations were fake from the very beginning. Or at the very least, they were never completely vetted out and simply skipping off from book to book with no idea as to how to bring them together.
You're probably thinking "Rose, that's harsh." But I feel like I have to be, and I'll explain why momentarily.
Veronica Roth's "Divergent" series, from point one, has always been this smorgasbord of different things that had different meanings (better and worse) for its audience. There's the angle of action and peril that the characters are in, there's the angle of the dystopian realm - world like ours but with more distinctive stakes and conflicts, there's the romantic angle, and there's also that of tragic consequence and sacrifice. There was also the appeal of the distinctive factions themselves - which many people will say that's the one of the root appeals that this book had. Many of these things were dotted like quickfire to keep the momentum of the story going, not necessarily explained or vetted out for what it offered.
But let's consider the role of a writer for a moment before I go too far. A writer, indeed, has the right to write about whatever elements they think are necessary to tell the respective story they're telling. I can respect that, I think many people can respect that.
However, if you are telling a story, you have to be very cognizant of the promises you are making in your narrative. Some of these are implied, others are overt. If you are breaking a genre standard, you'd better have a good reason for doing it, otherwise - the person you're telling the story to will be completely thrown out of what you're trying to tell.
I think the problem with this last book in the Divergent series was many factors that came before the ending's events ever came across. The major problem I saw firsthand was that it was trying so hard to put these themes together in a way that was supposedly convincing or supposed to make sense, but ultimately didn't. It's like Roth was trying to force her hand in hammering these themes or emotions to the point where it became plodding and repetitive.
For a YA dystopian series that was marketed as a romance, how am I supposed to believe that this wasn't supposed to be a "romance" if 17-18 scenes (may be more or less, but I counted) in this book were make out scenes between Tris and Four? And these were pretty extensive scenes, they weren't "in/out" transitions that were bridges to more focused events, they were events in and of themselves.
The romance was obviously a focus here. A major one that kept popping up more times than not in a 500+ page work. I'll let you guys meditate on that as I continue onward.
"Allegiant" picks up where "Insurgent" left off, though the narrative differs from the first two books in that for the first time in the "main" series (I'm not counting the side stories with Four's perspective - and notably, I haven't read those yet), this series trades between Tris and Four's perspectives. I had a difficult time following these two because their voices blended more often than not, and the characters were almost completely different from their former incarnations in the previous books.
That's quite a transition to make. Tris isn't so much a kick-butt heroine facing off against any oppressive standards that she encounters in the beginning of this book - she's almost trivialized into a measure where she thinks she's always correct or has a jealousy streak (there's a scene where she questions Four meeting with another girl and there's a minor conflict with that). Four is a lot more vulnerable in this work than he was in previous installations of this series, and he makes some really damaging mistakes that are costly to the team and his respective peers. I would almost be more accepting of the fact that Roth decided to rip the band-aid off and expose the weaknesses of these characters if the problems themselves weren't so stereotypical, shallow, and unfocused.
Worse yet, it took about 300 pages to get to the main conflict/stakes of the story to get into focus. There were a few scenes in the first 200 or so that I think were worth merit, but weren't really front and center. It says something about what your focus will be if you give more palpable details to the intimacy between your characters than the actual root for conflict.
The root for conflict had to do with the identification of what Divergent really meant. Considering the factions occurred in some contained society in a futuristic United States, it was difficult to buy, and I had to take myself out of the story a few times to try to see how all of this mashed up. It was full of plot holes even for what it was trying to establish with the differences and injustices between Genetically Pure versus the Genetically Damaged populace.
I would normally be all into genetic modification expansions, but even I had to side-eye the book because there's a bit of unconvincing info dump about it. It's not compelling enough to tie the ends that the story had from the very beginning, which were loose at best.
And that's alienating also because on the one hand - the book focuses on romance, but tries to appease the action or science-focused readership as well and it doesn't balance out very well. Some (like myself) may be attuned to all three measures, but the narrative didn't flow well with it - I felt the length of this work bogging me down and it wasn't fun or immersive.
The story did provide some back expansions on Tris's mother, a few character deaths and ties, as well as included a major player thought deceased in the conflict (there's a small GLBT notation here with that character, but it really wasn't played up that much), but I also think that somehow it had a small focus for the length of the narrative itself.
That said, let's talk about the ending. I'm not going to say what the ending of this book is, but it does go against genre convictions, at least in terms of a romance novel. In a stronger narrative, I think Roth probably could've been able to do this. I've seen quite a few times when this was done.
The manga Rose of Versailles comes to mind immediately as a story that actually did this well, and is still considered a romance despite turns of events that actually do go against definitions of the genre. Without delving too much into spoilers for that manga - I will say it's a story that depicts a female soldier, Oscar, defending Marie Antoinette during the events of the French Revolution.
Oscar is a very strong character, with strongly held, progressive beliefs. It's already rare enough that a female soldier would be in such a prominent position, but she rose through the ranks since her father raised her to be a "man", but yet Oscar has an air of femininity and owns that without necessarily bending to gender convictions.
This manga was written in 1972, the anime aired from 1979-1980. I watched it during my mid-undergrad years (mid 2000s). It's one of my favorite manga/anime series of all time. I understood that certain things could happen to the character that I would not like in consideration to its genre delineations, but the relationship that she has with her best friend Andre is one that is naturally developed over time and I knew that Oscar would probably end up being put in a position where she would have no choice but to fight where she needed to fight, come whatever events that may.
If "Allegiant" had a lick of realism and foreshadowing elements that made it possible to convince me that the ending had as much punch as it was purported to have (like "The Rose of Versailles"), I would've been singing its praises, maybe even have been emotionally affected by it. Alas, I was made numb and I did not feel the purported impact of it for what it was meant to show. The build up, the conflict construction and the reasons behind the character actions in context with that scene was just poorly done. I was not convinced at all. I don't know how else to phrase it other than that.
Even Patrick Ness's "Monsters of Men" could've gone that direction and I would've believed it over "Allegiant" (though actually it didn't).
This reveals a glaring problem among authors penning YA dystopian fiction pegged as romances with lackluster endings: I've heard about the last book in Ally Condie's "Matched" trilogy. I've heard about Lauren Oliver's ending to the "Delirium" series. I've read "Mockingjay" by Suzanne Collins and while I actually didn't have as much problem with "Mockingjay" as this book, I still saw inconsistencies that affected my enjoyment of that book, as well as the scheme of events.
If anything, I think that Allegiant did nothing to take itself from the shadow of its comparisons to Hunger Games or other installations in the YA dystopian genre. If anything, with trying to set itself apart by doing something controversial in a haphazard way, it drops the ball and otherwise takes what could've been a decent tie of events and enthralling journey, and makes it nothing more than a lackluster, forced effort with little heart behind it. And not only did it ruin the book, it pretty much ruined the entire series.
Overall score: 1.5/5 stars