I’ve recently been reading Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” trilogy at the behest of my son Ben, who thought we should read at least the first book prior to seeing the movie. I’ve made my way through the first two, but now, about 120 pages into the third book, I’ve hit something which not only broke my disbelief suspenders, it’s thrown me out of the story so badly that I’m not sure I want to finish it.
I’ve had other issues with these books as I’ve made my way through them the last few weeks. Most of what’s bothered me are artifacts of sloppy world-building. It’s really hard to get a handle on just how big the factions really are, and how big the factionless population is. And when I step away from the story of the main characters and try to visualize the society in which they live, things just don’t add up. Dauntless only accepts 10 new initiates a year? All of Abnegation can fit into the meeting room at their headquarters, and yet Tris never knew Tobias, despite both of their parents being leaders of their factions? The factionless don’t get food except from Abnegation and Amity charity, and squat in unused structures, but yet they work all the scut jobs? Why would they perform all that essential labor without getting something in return?
Roth’s descriptions of Dauntless training also clearly display a real lack of any knowledge or understanding of military or martial arts training. Two weeks to make soldiers? You can barely learn the minimum essentials in 9 weeks of basic training, and that includes a host of things Roth leaves out: tactics at any scale from individual to unit; movement under fire; first aid; weapons maintenance; patrol techniques; and a host of other things you have to know as a soldier. Of course, if you’re just going for “Thugs with guns” then two weeks is probably enough.
I’ve also not been pleased that the major villains so far have all been members, past or present, of the Erudite faction, the one which prizes knowledge and inquiry. Consciously or unconsciously, Roth displays a real anti-intellectualist and anti-learning bias.
Then there’s her lousy science. If you’ve got wet-nano technology such as she describes the various “serums” possessing, and the ability to perform research and development along those lines, there’s a host of other supporting tech you’re going to have access to.
But when I pushed those aside and followed the exploits and struggles of Tris, I found the story to be fairly engaging in the first book. The second, Insurgent, was more of a struggle, suffering a bit of “middle book syndrome” along with lots and lots of angst, but at least Tris has some good reasons for her angst (namely, she’s suffering post-traumatic stress).
The third book, Allegiant, starts out briskly, at least compared to its immediate predecessor. But about 120 pages in, Roth drops something that – for me, at least – is a deal-breaker. Without getting too spoilery – Allegiant hasn’t been out all that long – Roth reveals something about a character from the first book that should be flatly impossible, given the society she’s described so far. Readers can forgive a lot of implausibility, as long as the implausible world maintains a high level of internal consistency with it’s own rules. Roth and her editor break that covenant in Allegiant, and that drags all the other sloppiness up to the surface.
I think I’m going to put this aside, and get back to Kameron Hurley’s excellent “Bel Dame Apocrypha” cycle; I’d put the second of those books, Infidel, aside in favor of Divergent. It’s shame that Hurley, a far better writer than Roth, isn’t landing multi-million dollar movie deals for her vastly superior books.