Divergent (Veronica Roth) 2 out of 5

Divergent is supposed to be a tough-girl dystopian adventure following on the heels of Katniss and Katsa.  Tris (our new tough girl) lives in futuristic Chicago, which is divided into five factions: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Erudite, and Dauntless.  Abnegation runs the city and does lots of volunteer work, Candor runs the legal system, Erudite is smart (and useless?), Dauntless provides defense (against nobody?), and Amity is kind (and useless?).  Tris’s family belongs to Abnegation, but on choosing day she casts her lot with Dauntless.

I was expecting to like this book because the faction idea sounds fun, and the faction names are badass.  However, the faction names are 90% of what’s good about this book, so maybe we should refrain from reading the book and just write a bunch of fanfic.

The other 10% is that the Dauntless folks travel around Chicago by leaping on and off the El.  The train never stops, and part of Dauntless awesomeness is that they take superhero jumps for fun.

And here we can segue into a spoiler-free discussion of what’s wrong with this book.    First we’ll discuss the worldbuilding failures, and then we’ll move on to the gigantic ethical problem, with a bonus detour to Obvious Villains.

  • First, the worldbuilding: Abnegation does all the work while the other factions appear to be lazy and smart, lazy and kind, lazy and honest, or lazy with a death wish.  The factionless are an untouchable caste, and people keep getting cast out but nobody ever comes back in, so perhaps over time you’d end up with more factionless than factioned.
  • You live with your faction, not your family, and you choose your faction freely.  There must be plenty of not-so-genius Erudite kids who choose Erudite just to stay with their family, etc., so I expected the factions to be more varied than they were.
  • Now back to the trains.  The El trains run 24/7 just for Dauntless trainjumpers, and there’s always a train when they want one.  Which is weird because Dauntless is accepting 10 recruits this year (including the Dauntless-born kids who choose Dauntless), so maybe there are 50 years’ worth of recruits, meaning about 500 total Dauntless.
  • Ms. Roth, your city does not have enough people!
  • Hasn’t anyone in Candor or Erudite pointed out that Dauntless is hogging the world’s most awesome train system while the other four factions jolt along in buses on roads that have only been partially repaired by Abnegation volunteers?
  • Now, ethics.
  • Seriously, this is where Divergent loses one whole star off the top.  The romantic thread of this story follows Tris and her teacher, Four.  At multiple points, characters say that this pairing can’t happen because Four is “too old” for Tris, and then they immediately follow up by saying, “Well, she’s 16 and he’s 18, so grass on the field!”
  • Ahem.  There are 20 initiates and two teachers.  At the end of initiation, 10 will be welcomed by the faction and 10 will be cast into the outer darkness.
  • At one point, Four says that they have to be discreet because people will suspect favoritism.
  • Now why would anyone think that?  Can’t a hot guy just have a conflict-of-interest relationship with a pretty girl he’s evaluating?
  • Now, to the philosophical underpinnings.  Yes, I have problems there, too!
  • First, I have to issue a citation for Obvious Villains.  Ms. Roth, your villains have cold voices, cruel eyes, and no apparent motivation other than greed.  Work harder.
  • Secondly, I can tell that we’re working toward a Grand Realization, spun out painstakingly over the rest of the trilogy, that courage requires selflessness, honesty requires courage, selflessness requires kindness, and everything requires intelligence.  Yes, each of us embodies the attributes of all five factions!  Identifying with one while denying the others falsely partitions our identities.
  • Yes, Ms. Roth.  Yes, it does.  Nobody ever said otherwise…except for you.

8 responses to “Divergent (Veronica Roth) 2 out of 5

  1. AWESOME. I’d also point out that the factionless seem to actually do, well, most of the real work (mentioned specifically in the book: construction workers! fabric makers! OH THE HORROR! probably engineers too, and farmers). Perhaps it’s all a metaphor for the elite ivory tower? 😉

    (my review is here.)

  2. I love your review. I missed the Sorting Hat connection because this is SF and they choose, but now that you point it out, it’s so obvious.

    And the factionless! There must be more factionless folks running the train system than there are Dauntless to ride it. But personally I would choose Candor so I could be an asshole to everyone and never catch shit for it.

  3. I really want to read your review but I want to wait until after I read the book. I ordered it but we are traveling, so I am hoping to get home on Tuesday and find it on my doorstep! Then after I read it, I’ll be back, because I just can’t resist a bullet-list review! :–)

  4. I’d love to know what you think! So many people love DIVERGENT, but even if I hadn’t deducted a whole star due to a sneaky ethical ellision, it would only rate 3 of 5. C Ahn (commenter above) gave it a 3, too.

  5. Always nice to read a negative review when everyone else is positive. I like seeing balance. I haven’t read this book yet. I can’t decide if I’ll like it, but I want to try it.

  6. Okay, just finished Divergent (again) so I could start on Insurgent. To respond to a couple of your points:

    Agree with you totally on the non-nuanced villains. Peter is beyond absurd, worse than Eric. And Marcus with the glittering eyeballs…. Although Al was a nuanced villain – probably why he killed himself….

    I think there aren’t a lot of people in the city because of the posited prior war that caused the survivors to divide up into “factions” based on the qualities people thought most likely to ensure peace. So I could buy that. But obviously the technology does not seem to be powered by a workforce, since the factionless are just janitors and garbage collectors (although they do run the trains). [as an aside, I love how the trains run absolutely on time, just like in Nazi Germany – LOL]

    And I also agree the whole hang-up over the pairing of a girl 16 and a boy 18 was just bizarre.

    I get the impression from the interview following the book that the author made Tris a girl the author would want to be. And so her focus was really on Tris. And Tris being *her* got to have a boyfriend she would want. She said she loves Tobias most of all her characters and wanted to show a guy who balanced “strength with vulnerability” (read: strong yet tender). I can only say thank heavens there isn’t a triangle – yet!!!

    Off to start Insurgent… (it occurs to me that one could reference the two of them together as Detergent).

  7. Detergent, hahahahaha! I hope the villains improve in the second book. I don’t think I’m going there; reviews have been lukewarm even from people who liked Divergent a whole lot more than I did.

  8. Do you take review requests from authors and publishers? Your reviews are awesome.

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