Book review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

I had not heard of this book until I read a simply wonderful review by Mandy Wrangles (a great reviewer, but the way) on the sublime writer, Marianne de Pierres’ Burn Bright website. After absorbing what Mandy wrote, I simply had to read this debut novel by Veronica Roth. I put down Feast of Crows by George Martin (no mean feat to tear me away) intending to get a feel for Divergent. Instead, inhaled this book and have only now come up for air. What a read!

A dystopian tale set in Chicago in a bleak future, it follows the story of Beatrice who, at 16, like all young people in this post-apocalyptic world, has to choose which of the five factions society is now divided into she will belong. Raised in a faction called Abnegation, Beatrice undergoes tests to see whether or not she is more suited to Erudite, Candor, Amity or Dauntless. Each faction lives by the moral and ethical principals its name suggests: the citizens offer a level of effective governance and/or some kind of communal contribution to keep society functioning at a high level. The only thing worse than not belonging to a faction is to be factionless… At least, that’s what is understood at the beginning of the tale. The novel follows Beatrice’s choice, the trials she undergoes as she is initiated and trained, and Beatrice’s (now named Tris) search for identity in a world that insists she and everyone else conforms. Only those who do not, or rather, because of their psychological make-up cannot, conform and are known as ‘divergent’, pose a threat to this ordered world… Or do they?

Leaving behind the life she’s known, Tris makes new friends and enemies quickly. She also learns a great deal about herself, loyalty, fear, honesty and what it means to both love and trust. Trained by the cruel Eric and implacable Four, Tris comes to understand that conformity is also about control and while at one level it appears to offer balance and equity, at another, it gives power to those who can and do abuse it. It also leaves those who trust the powerful to wield it wisely open to exploitation. When Tris stumbles upon a terrible betrayal, she will stop at nothing to try and save those who cannot save themselves. Only, there are those who will do anything to prevent their secret escaping: lie, cheat and even murder…

A sheer roller-coaster from beginning to end, Divergent is original, clever and emotionally centered. The main characters are ones you invest in and better still, believe in. You understand Tris, her strengths and weaknesses and you see the other characters through her generous and honest eyes. Motivations ring true and every action bears consequences and creates a delicious frission.

That Roth is only 23 is fabulous and, for me, adds a depth and credibilty to a work that is so young-people centred. What i mean by that is you have a young adult speculating about a future based on the present – it is written by youth for youth and older readers and I think this deserves mention. Roth has been praised but also, I feel, unfairly scorned on some review sites for not giving as much back-story or explanations as to why the factions exist or characters behave the way they do or accept the status quo. Quite apart from this being the first book in a trilogy, I didn’t struggle with the lack of explanations and quite enjoyed (and felt the narrative invited) the reader to join the dots and engage in supposition. Some of the inconsistencies that readers are wont to point out as faults didn’t rankle with me. I easily became lost in the pace and ‘what ifs’ of the tale – exactly what good speculative fiction should invite readers to do. The voice and earnestness (and fun and devil-may-care) of the narrative rings so true. I am so in awe that she wrote this! There is a rawness and simplicity to this book that leaves it lingering in your imagination. I cannot wait to read the sequel, Insurgent. I’ve no doubt that like the marvellous Hunger Games, this narrative will make it to cinema as well. I hope so. Certainly, if this first book is any indicator, it also deserves a place amongst other wonderful recent dystopian YA novels that have also received wide acclaim such as the above-mentioned’ trilogy by Suzanne Collins and Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy – though these latter two possess depths and frission that really becomes apparent when all books are read in sequence – so I am giving Roth the benefit of the doubt and believing that her works too will, when read together, form a whole. Of course, I may be wrong – but that won’t spoil my pleasure in this book!

For anyone who wants a pure dose of adrenalin-charged escapism, read this. I dare you to be able to put it down.

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