Monday, February 24, 2014

Divergent by Veronica Roth

From the first page to the last, the world of Divergent left me scratching my head.  It takes place in some weird-ass version of Chicago that is never explained.  Usually I like little to no exposition: BOOM!  The story starts and goes, no need to get bogged down in the details.  In this regard the story works fine, but the setting never jelled with me and in a story that is so intrinsically tied to it's world, I was left feeling a bit empty and confused.    

There are five factions and one's faction determines everything about the individual: their friends, jobs, lifestyle; everything.  Beatrice chooses a different faction than that which she was born into.  Her faction of choice, Dauntless, is rife with problems but I'll get there latter.  The factions each embrace different ideals and fulfill different roles and are supposed to work together for the greater good of all or something; I'm was never really sure about that last part.  

The story is of Beatrice, Tris, being an initiate in Dauntless.  They learn to jump off buildings, jump off of moving trains, shoot guns, and beat the crap out of people.  (Everyone in Dauntless is shot and beaten, which is fine, but I do question whether the author has ever shot a gun or knows anything about physical combat.)  The other part of the story, the reason why there are sequels, has to do with political intrigue and fighting among the factions.  It was never explained or even hinted at how things came to be as they were, this raised a lot of questions on my behalf and I felt like rather than undergo the difficulty of providing answers or fleshing out her world such matters were ignored.  

It's an intimate story, all about Tris, but I couldn't help wonder: What's happening in Denver?  Do they have factions there?  The Country?  The world?  Cause who would put up with this?  Why has no one left Chicago and most pressing, what happened prior to Tris' story to leave things in that state they are in?  Perhaps the answers are forthcoming… 

Weight classes exist in combat sports for a very good reason; that is why there are pound-for-pound rankings.  Imagine an eight year old girl (this is effectively Tris at sixteen or there abouts).  This girl is made to be Serigo Martinez's sparring partner for most of the book.  Now imagine Sergio not holding back.  She's sore in the morning but other than that, she's fine.  No one shoots a gun with an eye closed assuming they have two.  I could go on--at length--with some credibility issues concerning Tris' initiation but, no.  

I had no real idea as to where the story was going.  It's always good to hint at the ending, or at least I feel it is.  While the narrative never felt like it was wandering, I did at times try to figure out what was going on in a not-good kind of way.  

The ending was awesome.  Lots of action, energy, and everyone got shot or beat up eleven-teen times.  (Actually Tris was shot and or beat up at all points in time in the book--she even has knives thrown at her because she's extra awesome.  The two shirts she owned said 'target' and 'punching bag' across her chest, respectively.)  

My biggest gripe is that this is the kind of story where far too many problems--perhaps all of them--are solved with a gun.  "Just keep shooting people and all you're dreams will come true."  When I got out of grad school I wrote a few novels all of which deal with shooting a lot of people in the head.  Roth is far superior than I at both writing a novel and the shooting-in-the-head bit, but just because she does it well doesn't mean it's a premise to hang one's hat on.  By the end, it felt a bit like Rage Against the Machine screaming "Killing in the Name Of" and I'm thirty-three so I'm kinda over that stage of life…     

Despite what I may term short comings, or faults many of the novels aspects that weren't given a strong enough foundation to shine on their own came together in the story's romance.  I saw it coming (everyone who reads it will), I couldn't explain why, but it really worked.   

There is a healthy dose of Hunger Games here and that is certainly not a bad thing.  It's tense in moments, and a lot of fun at all other times.  It should be a phenomenal, testosterone, driven action movie.  If you've ever needed a strong, young, not pretty, female heroine who can take a beating better than any video game final boss, look no further than the whipping post Tris was tied to in Divergent.       


Wallflower said...

You are the second person who's reviewed this and been baffled and disappointed. I see it's a movie, opening in a couple of weeks.

Chad Hull said...

I have really high hopes for the movie, but that's only because it doesn't take much to get me excited about films.

I'm hoping the next installment covers some of the ground I felt should have been dealt with in this book.

Wallflower said...

Well, let's hope they improve.