THERE WILL BE SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK ALLEGIANT BY VERONICA ROTH—PLEASE STOP HERE IF YOU PLAN TO READ IT.
Another week, another fandom meltdown.
In some ways it’s justified. In others, not so much.
The biggest controversy over Allegiant by Veronica Roth, the final book in the young adult dystopian series that started with the novel Divergent, is not the worst thing about it.
It’s not good, but not for the reasons most fans are flipping out over it.
Some fans are already writing up PETITIONS (groan!) to demand Roth rewrite the ending. Some are actually tracking her down at book signings and complaining to her face-to-face. Some are being total jerks about it, hiding behind the anonymity of the internet to say some hateful things about her, which is not cool, EVER.
The Divergent universe is author Roth’s to do with as she pleases. I’m not a fan of readers treating books like a game of Mad Libs, where they think they should have the right to command the story come out the precise way they wanted it to.
That’s as far as I’m going to go in defending the book. Because while some of the reaction is entirely inappropriate, it doesn’t change the fact that I found it deeply flawed.
I truly enjoyed the first book in the series, Divergent, which set up an intriguing dystopian society and a terrific main character, Tris. Roth’s dystopian society, divided into factions—Abnegation, Dauntless, Erudite Amity and Candor—and set in a real city, Chicago, felt very fresh.
I was less enthralled by its follow-up, Insurgent, feeling that it meandered too much, but chalked that up to the “sophomore curse.” I still had high hopes for the final book, which were quickly dashed.
Here are my major problems with it:
1. An aura of complaisancy. There’s no other way to put it: it seems as though Roth phoned this one in.
Everything that bothered me about Insurgent was magnified in Allegiant. Too many new and unmemorable characters, too much exposition (more on that later) and way too much internalizing by the characters made it very difficult to slog through the book. There seemed to be far less care taken with the writing style. Most of all, it felt unfocused.
Some other reviewers have mentioned that the book felt a lot like a first draft. I have to agree with that assessment. I doubt Roth made a conscious choice to coast through this last book because it was a guaranteed best-seller. Perhaps it was rushed to market by the publisher so the complete trilogy would be available for sale by the time the movie version of Divergent is released next year. Whatever the reason, the result is a less-than-stellar effort.
2. Exposition dumps galore. I have already written a couple of times about how much I loathe exposition-heavy books. This book is a wall-to-wall exposition dump, with the explanation of how the dystopian society came to be changing more than once.
When I think about some of my favorite dystopian novels—1984, Brave New World, The Hunger Games, This Perfect Day—I notice they all have one thing in common: there is not a lot of time spent on explaining how the dystopian society came about. Sure, in some great dystopians there are plot twists where the world turns out to be far different from what the characters think it is. But there isn’t a ton of exposition—whole chapters, even—devoted to explaining it.
Roth is far from the only dystopian author who has done this—I had a similar reaction to Hugh Howey’s Shift, which is a prequel that explains (in excruciating and sometimes slightly goofy detail) how the dystopian world in his books Wool and Dust came about.
I really hope this is not the beginning of a trend.
3. Sudden change in the story’s format. Unlike the other two books, Roth chose to alternate between Tris and Tobias’ points of view.
I have no problem with an author who does this. In fact, I quite enjoyed another YA series, Across the Universe by Beth Revis, which alternated point of view between the hero and heroine.
However, in that case it was done from the first book. Also, Revis gave her two main characters very distinctive voices.
Roth did not do this in Allegiant. I listened to the audiobook, which had a female and male narrator voicing Tris and Tobias. Even so, I couldn’t help being struck by how similar they sounded. There are complaints in reviews by those who read it in book format that they sometimes lost track of which POV the story was in at any given moment.
4. Character arc that’s not really an arc. Here we come to the issue that has driven many fans to utter distraction (AGAIN, BIG SPOILER WARNING): she kills off her main character Tris.
I admire authors who have the cojones to kill off major characters—WHEN it’s appropriate to the story AND when it’s an important part of their character arc.
Neither is the case in Allegiant.
Tris’ sacrifice is not truly necessary and does nothing to increase our understanding of her (we already knew she was brave enough to sacrifice herself; she came close several times throughout all three books) nor is it an example of her character’s growth (ditto).
When Sydney Carton in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities sacrifices himself by taking his friend’s place at the guillotine, it’s a true character arc because he started out the story as a lazy alcoholic who saw no meaning to his life. By saving his friend, he goes to his death believing his life was worth something. His sacrifice satisfies both the internal and external conflict of the story.
Again, I have no problem with a main character—even THE main character—being killed off. I do have a problem when it serves little real purpose other than to make readers angry.
It’s possible to have a true character arc over a trilogy—an example would be Luke Skywalker’s in the first Star Wars trilogy. Luke had to struggle throughout with his hatred for Darth Vader, which threatened his development as a true Jedi. It felt like a natural progression of his character when he tried to save him. Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels, on the other hand, had an arc into villainy that felt forced and artificial.
Tris’ arc as a sacrificial, almost Christ-like figure also suffers from feeling forced and artificial.
5. The story effectively ends—and then keeps going for several chapters. As if that’s not enough, there’s an epilog. All of it loaded with more exposition.
6. Deep misunderstanding of reader expectations. As I said, it’s absurd on one level for readers who were upset by the ending to demand a new, happy one.
On another level, it’s not so absurd.
A pitfall Roth avoided was creating a love triangle, one thing I loved about Divergent. The reason I don’t like triangles is you’re automatically setting up a large portion of your readership for disappointment by the ending.
However, Roth set up a romantic couple that was, well, kind of romance-y.
And people generally expect a romance-y love story to have a happily ever after.
I am not one who demands a HEA every time, far from it—but if you condition your readers to expect one, you can’t be too surprised when there’s a strong pushback.
Perhaps if Roth had eschewed or toned down the romantic storyline, fewer readers would have been angered by the ending.
I’ve said it before and still believe it: it’s impossible to make everyone happy. Sometimes I feel both readers and TV viewers fetishize the endings of series a wee too much. I can’t help thinking in this case, though, that if everything else about the novel had been on point the level of negative reaction against it would not be this high.
Have you read Allegiant yet? Was your reaction to the ending and the novel in general positive or negative? Let us know in the comments!