Friday, 2 August 2013

'Divergent' by Veronica Roth (2011)

Synopsis: Divergent is the first novel in a trilogy. It's a dystopian sci-fi novel and is set in Chicago. Society is now being divided into five factions which are based on personality traits. There's Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave) and Erudite (the intelligent). Children are brought up in the factions that their parents belong to but they eventually get the chance to choose their own faction. On an appointed day every single year all 16 year olds must take a test to determine what faction they're best suited for, and then they'll choose where they'll be for the rest of their lives. The heroine, Beatrice Prior, is torn. She doesn't know whether she should stay in Abnegation with the rest of her family or leave them forever and stay true to who she really is - she can't have both. It doesn't help matters that her test results turn out to be inconclusive. She's a divergent and she doesn't fit perfectly into any of the factions. Beatrice is warned that her life could be in danger if this gets out. Ultimately, Beatrice chooses to go with the Dauntless faction and she renames herself Tris. She must then go through a physically and emotionally gruelling initiation process and keep her divergent test result a secret at all costs.

After the Twilight series became such a big hit there was a sudden surge of teenage vampire and paranormal romance books on the market. Even Fifty Shades of Grey is Twilight fanfiction! But now it seems that the interest in vampire and paranormal romance books has finally begun to die down. Since The Hunger Games series has become such a big hit it's now teenage dystopian books that are all the rage, with
Divergent being a part of this trend. I'm a huge fan of The Hunger Games and I'd heard that Divergent was a really good book and that it was one of the better post-Hunger Games novels. I was curious about the book and I was willing to give it a try. So how does Divergent compare to The Hunger Games then? Well, The Hunger Games is the better work without any shadow of a doubt and I did have some issues with Divergent.

The main problem that I have with Divergent is that I needed to suspend my disbelief quite a bit in order to swallow its basic premise. Whilst the whole concept of The Hunger Games is disturbingly plausible to me given the world's obsession with reality TV, the whole concept of Divergent is nowhere near as believable to me. I just can't see humanity ever getting to such a point that people would actually think personality segregation would be a good idea and would create world peace! It really doesn't help matters that there isn't very much backstory on how this dystopia came to be either. Did something happen? How did humanity reach this point? Is it only Chicago where people are segregated? Is it the whole of America? Is it the whole world? I know that Divergent is the first book of a series and that Roth has the time to go into this more later on but it still really bothered me. I also had an issue with the fact that being a divergent is supposed to be very rare. Hang on a minute, surely that can't be right?! It's very possible for a person to be selfless, peaceful, honest, brave and intelligent! Surely being a divergent shouldn't be that unusual?! You don't even need to have all five of these qualities to be classed as a divergent either. Tris has Abnegate, Dauntless and Erudite tendencies but that's still enough for her to be classed as a Divergent. Yeah... the basic premise of Divergent is kind of ludicrous when you stop and think about it. I didn't find the characters of Divergent as interesting as the characters in The Hunger Games either. Tris is an engaging heroine and her romance with Four is quite sweet but a lot of the supporting characters in the book are very underdeveloped.

Now, judging from what I've written so far, you might have come to the conclusion that I didn't like Divergent and that I wouldn't particularly recommend it. Well, if so you'd actually be wrong! I certainly wouldn't call Divergent a great book but - once I was able to suspend my disbelief - I found it very entertaining! The book is well-paced, a definite pageturner, and is full of exhilarating and suspenseful scenes. Divergent has got almost as much action as The Hunger Games. It's full of danger and fighting and life and death situations and characters jumping onto and off trains. As a result Divergent is really good fun. Another thing that really impressed me about the book was the quality of the writing. Divergent isn't a work of literary genius but Roth's writing is still extremely impressive when you consider that she was only 22 when she wrote it! 22! I am sickeningly jealous of Roth's writing skills at such a young age! Anyway, given more time and experience I think Roth is capable of writing a book that is genuinely amazing one day. She's clearly talented and there are some interesting ideas in Divergent.

For all of its flaws, Divergent is still a very entertaining book and I've given it a 4 star rating (which means that I liked it). I will be reading Divergent's sequels. The follow-up book to Divergent is called Insurgent and is available now. The final book of the series is called Allegiant and is due out in October. Divergent has also got an upcoming film adaptation which will be due out in February next year. The up-and-coming actress Shailene Woodley will be playing Tris and Kate Winslet will be playing the villain. I'll be watching that as well.

Rating: 4/5

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