Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Review: Divergent

Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopia, Science Fiction, Romance
My Rating: ★★★★

DivergentPhoto by  cherylphang07

Disenchantment is not rare for dystopian lit fans these days. Every post-apocalyptic novel that pops up seems to have been inspired by the afterglow that The Hunger Games trilogy left in its wake, wrapped up poorly with a recycled premise and a promise of a new ride. It’s hard to find someone who writes like a true enchanter—someone who can still bring magic amidst the substandard hoi polloi of works under this genre.
Through her debut novel Divergent, Veronica Roth showed that she can rise as a very fine magician among groups of sub-par smoke-and-mirror artists, though not exactly one who can blind us with the swish of her word-wand.

Divergent is set in futuristic Chicago, where it is believed that the darkest demons residing in every human—selfishness, cowardice, ignorance, aggression, and dishonesty—have once driven the world to the brink of total destruction. A new society was thus born, systematically cleaved into five factions that cultivate a virtue opposing the one they believed to be the cause of society’s collapse: Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Erudite (the intelligent), Amity (the peaceful), and Candor (the honest).

This is the kind of civilization sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior was born into. Belonging to an Abnegation family, she struggles to be a paragon of altruism and kindness, but knows deep inside that she doesn’t belong to her faction. The inconclusive results of her aptitude test reveals that she is one of the rarest part of the populace—a Divergent. Not knowing what this means and with her feelings growing more confused, she opts to abandon her old faction and transfer to another. Her choosing does require her to muster all her bravery, but she immediately realizes that she would need more supply of courage in trying to be an official member of her new faction…and, of course, attempting to know what being a Divergent entails.

When I read a summary of this novel somewhere, the thought that it’s just a mishmash of elements from Harry Potter (choosing factions=sorting into houses) and The Hunger Games (…ahem) got stuck in my mind. And it came off as really ridiculous to me. For one, I don’t think the structure of that new Chicagoan community is plausible. How can anyone divide the society into just five subsets and expect real, complex human beings to nurture/follow just one core value for the rest of their lives? I think it’s an eye-rollingly silly foundation, but I still moved on, thinking that I’d soon see what those people who enjoyed this book saw in it. And see I did.

Plunging into the story’s main point is easy and enjoyable once you get past the rather unconvincing elements. Divergent banks on a lot of action; if you’re a sucker for scenes that pack a punch, you’re in for an exciting ride. The novel does not sugarcoat anything. Violence is violence, death is death, and Roth writes them without so much as a flinch. While the book’s meat consists mainly of Beatrice’s (Tris’) lengthy initiation process to her new faction, it as well tackles a lot about friendship, family, love, and some societal issues. Not so much on the latter, though, which I think is strange for a book in this genre.

But more than anything, it’s about Tris’ growth as a character. Antiheroines are my type of my protagonists and she is a great example of one. She is a valiant Plain Jane with a spiteful streak; she tolerates being a piece stuck in the wrong puzzle that is her saint-like faction and admits to herself that she is selfish. She has her personal fears and insecurities but never does she run out of audacity when the situation demands it. She is human: she gets hurt, gets disappointed with others and herself, gets angry…and yes, gets trapped in the snares of young love.

Speaking of love, well, it is almost automatic that romance will be involved in books like this. Maybe because I’ve been rendered calloused by having encountered so many romantic subplots that didn’t work for me, I think I still need to warm up to the relationship between Tris and Four. I have a very little—in fandom-speak—“shipper-y” feeling for them, but it never quite bloomed even after I flipped the last page. But who knows? Insurgent might be able to do it to me.

Like wizard with a knack for using adrenaline-rich potions for action scenes and the most humane of spells for the creation of interesting characters, Roth has truly crafted a novel that could convince disenchanted fans to go back to reading dystopian literature again.

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