Friday, September 5, 2014

Book Review - Divergent

Divergent – Veronica Roth

Recently I bought a Kindle Paperwhite as I wanted to get back to just reading and not be distracted by every other gadget on the Kindle Fire. On the screensaver there is a quote from Haruki Murakami:

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you only can think what everyone else is thinking.”

It is a philosophy I happen to prescribe to but it also works both ways. Books like Fifty Shades of Grey, Hunger games, Twilight are wildly popular but generally shunned by the fantasy community as poorly written drivel. I prefer to form my own opinion.
I picked this novel up for that very reason.

The blurb:

In sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior's world, society is divided into five factions -- Abnegation (the selfless), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent) -- each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue, in the attempt to form a "perfect society." At the age of sixteen, teens must choose the faction to which they will devote their lives. On her Choosing Day, Beatrice renames herself Tris, rejects her family's group, and chooses another faction. After surviving a brutal initiation, Tris finds romance with a super-hot boy, but also discovers unrest and growing conflict in their seemingly "perfect society." To survive and save those they love, they must use their strengths to uncover the truths about their identities, their families, and the order of their society itself.

First of all, do me a favour and ignore the second part of the blurb above. The “super-hot boy” made me cringe. All I can say is thank goodness I read the book before reading that blurb otherwise I would never have downloaded it. It is entirely misleading and gives the impression the book is entirely a sappy romance.

Secondly, I love it when I am pleasantly surprised by a book. Yes, it could be argued that parts of Divergent are reminiscent of the Hunger Games, but they are very different in tone and style. Divergent handles them with more adult themes in the form of independence, bullying and physical and mental endurance in an accomplished manner. There are no life or death tournaments found in this novel yet the danger still feels very well.

The novel focuses on Tris who was born into the Abnegation faction. I loved the concept behind Veronica Roth’s world. The world has been divided into five factions based on human characteristics. It is believed that selecting the faction that closely resembles your personality will place you with like minded people and reduce crime.

Ludicrous of course, but an interesting idea and the five factions are well selected. Veronica Roth also avoids the inevitable trap of making the factions too stereotypical. Within each, people still retain individual personalities and the factions themselves all display their own merits and flaws so there is not one particular bad one and not one that is overtly good.

Tris is a good character. She discovers early on that she is different from others and we get to see her as an underdog and as a favoured one. Her trials are well thought out and unique. What I like most about her is that she is not your typical young adult heroine where she has no idea just how strong she is. She is perfectly aware of her abilities and her limitations and knows where she can push herself harder and do better.

Unfortunately she does possess the typical teenage romance angst. For once it would be nice to read about a character that is aware of other’s feelings towards them. Why do the teenagers always have to assume the one they are attracted to immediately hates them or are intentionally mean to them?

The other main character is Four. There is nothing surprising about his character but he is still likeable nevertheless. The only real negative I can say about him is that over the course of the novel Veronica Roth changes him from being a mature, mysterious character to just another teenage boy. It is a shame because the Four at the start of the novel is eminently more readable.

The rest of the cast is solid. Tris’ fellow competitors are diverse and the dialogue they share feels natural. Their allegiances also switch in places which makes them more interesting than your average secondary characters.

The plot is good. Tris’ initiation exam makes up the majority of the novel but at the same time a mystery begins to unravel that inevitably comes to the foreground as the novel progresses.

This plot development opens up the world and we begin to see the other factions. It is exciting and lays the ground work for the future novels. The only drawback is that despite some rather harrowing events happening to Tris, she remains relatively unaffected by them. It is unrealistic and spoilt my enjoyment somewhat.
The conclusion is good, if not predictable. There is never a point where I had any doubt as to how the book would end. Overall though, I think it is easy to see why Divergent is as popular as it is and I am looking forward to reading the next instalment in the series.

My rating: 8.4