The Struggle to Pledge Allegiance

Allegiant by Veronica RothA book review of Veronica Roth’s novel Allegiant, by Jessica Dunn.

After ripping through the first two novels of the Divergent series so quickly, I was expecting Allegiant have the same grip on my literary eyeballs. While I still zoomed through with excitement, I must admit I was not left with the same adrenaline rush that I experienced in the first two books.

The series lost some momentum because the conflict of the plot is, unfortunately, almost exactly the same as the previous book. A tyrannical group of people fueled by a belief with an agenda [confusing] (Jeanine Matthews in book two, and the Bureau of Genetic Welfare in book three) are oppressing another group of people who organize a rebellion for their cause (the factionless in book two, and the fringe/genetically damaged in book three). The differences between the two conflicts are that the stakes are heightened and the scale of the story has grown, which are the reasons I continued to be curious about the outcome.

My curiosity was also sustained by the action and the increase in internal character conflict. Roth succeeds in crafting scenes with lots of movement and doesn’t congest the novel’s pace with excessive detail. The action is straightforward and determined, much like the heroine, Tris, whose voice remains consistent in this final installment of the series. The importance of Tris’s voice, however, is dulled by the addition of another point of view character, Tobias (aka Four), who brings his own set of insecurities and internal battles to the forefront of the novel. The inclusion of his first-person narrative does not change my feelings about his character; I still like him. Regardless, I felt I was getting an accurate representation of his character through Tris’s eyes in the previous books, so information beyond her knowledge came across as borderline supplemental.

Tobias’s alternative perspective gave readers a wider vision of the story, but I feel like it also introduced distracting redundancy, which bogs down the plot progression. The character Tobias goes through struggles that are slightly different than Tris’, yet he is so closely related to her story that it may have been more effective to show us his journey through her eyes, like in the previous two books. Part of his character’s appeal was his strong-but-silent demeanor that occasionally gave way to explosions of anger and passion. Now that the reader is in his mind, the mystery and volatile actions of his character are mitigated.

Roth most certainly has the ability to show readers what is going on in a character rather than tell what is going on. In this passage it is clear Tris is having a heavy internal struggle about leaving their home as Tobias describes what he sees:

She smiles, but her eyes are glassy, like a dormant part of her is fighting its way out and spilling over. The train hisses over the rails, a tear drops down Tris’s cheek, and the city disappears into the darkness.

This is great imagery because it is simple, yet it speaks volumes. Seeing that Roth has the ability to show, not tell, makes it frustrating and distracting as a reader when she includes moments of the point of view character doing unnecessary character analysis of another character. Sounds confusing, right? This is what I mean: below is a passage of Tobias deconstructing Caleb’s character into very simple terms, and I’m not entirely sure why.

I feel like I understand, then, the way he ranks things in his mind: his life, first; his comfort in a world of his own making, second; and somewhere after that, the lives of the people he is supposed to love. He is the sort of despicable person who has no understanding of how despicable he is, and my badgering him with insults won’t change that; nothing will. Rather than angry, I just feel heavy, useless.
I don’t want to think about him anymore.

Why would he think about him anymore? I’d say that about sums everything up. Fortunately, these types of expository moments are not terribly frequent, but they exist just enough to pull me out of the story, particularly towards the end.

As I finish the book, I’m left with the decision of whether I liked it or not, and nothing else. I’m craving the opportunity to question and analyze the characters’ motivations for their actions, but I’ve been explicitly informed of everything already.

The literary environment of young adult novels has been riddled with a trilogy trend, (Hunger Games, His Dark Materials, The Mortal Instruments, Percy Jackson, you get the point) which can make it difficult for authors to tackle large-scale issues like the ones Roth does in Allegiant. This novel is rich with questions of how a people should be governed, what determines authority and who possesses it, how identity is defined, the importance of the bonds of family and friendship, and what constitutes true sacrifice. All these thought-provoking ideas are so intriguing and are worth the attention they receive in the story, but the problem lies in having to cram all of it into three parts without spelling everything out. (Remember a certain Inheritance Trilogy that became the Inheritance Series?) There’s no question Roth wanted her story to convey specific messages about humanity; it just may have been better suited in a different structure.

The bright side of the published structure is that I’m convinced the third book will make a better movie because it will force the story to be told visually, and the overt moral themes will be more subdued. That being said, I’m still an overall fan of the book series and I look forward to see what Roth embarks upon next.

P.S. Here’s a little something to get excited about:


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