Divergent by Veronica Roth
Divergent was a hugely well received Young Adult Sci-Fi Dystopian novel, and curse my own laziness, I have just gotten round to reading it in the new snazzy regular Paperback edition. Obviously, Dystopia is the new black, especially with the success of The Hunger Games novels by Suzanne Collins, but Divergent really deserves to stand head and shoulders above the crowd, because what it is, a strong social commentary, clever utopia gone wrong sci-fi and a fast-paced and human action story, is done perfectly, and it’s a delight at every turn.
Set in future where an untold war has decimated much of the planet, Divergent is set in a city where the survivors have established a government and society based on segregation, according to personally strong held beliefs. Let me make that a bit clearer… There are factions, each of whom value a trait in people above all others, and it is the enforcement of these traits that they believe will help avoid repeating the warlike behaviour of their ancestors. The factions are as follows:
Abnegation: Who believe that selfish behaviour causes war and conflict. They endeavour to never think of themselves, and to always put the greater good above the needs of the individual. Because of their selfless nature, the Abnegation are in charge of the cities government.
Dauntless: Who believe that to avoid conflict, or to overcome it, they must be brave and fearless. They are seen by the other factions as reckless and aggressive. They are the only faction trained to fight, and guard the city perimeter.
Erudite: Those who blame ignorance for starting war, and so pride themselves on being the brightest and gathering knowledge, as well as keeping records of events and individuals.
Candor: Who hold honesty above anything else, even when the truth may be difficult to hear. They are known for their strong opinions and debating, and also for their skills at lie detection.
Amity: Who value peace more than all other concerns. They believe that being pacifists, they can prevent further catastrophic conflict.
The novel focuses on the teenage Abnegation born Beatrice (or Tris), and her decision to abandon her faction at the age of 16, as she has never felt particularly selfless, and has always felt she lived in shame because of this. Choosing to join Dauntless means leaving her family behind forever, because Faction always come before Blood, and the rigorous training regime of Dauntless will make her a fearless and brave warrior. However, when she comes to test to see which Faction she is most psychologically suited for (a ritual for all teenagers coming of age), her results show unexpected signs. She is suited for more than one Faction. She is Divergent.
Not knowing what Divergent means, Tris is urged not to tell anyone, as others may try to kill her for what she is. Choosing a life of Dauntless, despite her strange results and cryptic warning, is Tris’ only was of escaping the mundane Abnegation Faction. So begins her hard, brutal initiation into the world of Dauntless, but she soon makes friends, and even starts to catch the eye of her mysterious instructor, known only as Four. However, Tris is about to learn that being Divergent shows, and it’s very hard not to get noticed in a world where you’re always being watched. Something isn’t right in Dauntless, or the city at all. Revolution is in the air, and only the Divergent seem capable of acting.
Divergent is a cleverly built social sci-fi. It focuses on the idea that no one ideal can be held above all others, and that only by using all the greatest traits humanity has can we hope to avoid crumbling. It’s a book that attempts to peer inside the pros and cons of virtues, and to piece together why none of them alone make a whole human being. It takes bravery to be selfless, and it takes intelligence to be brave, too. These are good ideas to analyse, and I look forward to seeing where Veronica goes with them as the series progresses (Insurgent is already out in Paperback now!), and hope she builds on the idea that only through uniting our strengths can humanity prevail. She’s clearly put the effort in to understanding the potential risks and traps of segregation in society based on personal beliefs, and I think that’s a very important topic to be put over to younger people if we’re to avoid such behaviour in our own future. Probably NOT to the same degree as seen in Divergent, but you never know!
Characterisation in this book is also brilliant, especially the confliction inside of Tris, which is a perfect reflection of the inner-turmoil that most young people go through at her age, deciding how they want to make their way in the world of adults. Her issues with Abnegation and her inability to always be selfless set her up as an immediately likeable character, because let’s face it, no-one gets on with someone so selfless. It comes across as self-righteousness, and that just ties back into the issue with separating people out based on personal beliefs. The supporting cast are also great, be it Tris’ brother, or her incredibly enigmatic mother, who fast slipped into one of my favourite characters, and showed hidden depths that I can’t wait to have revealed through her back story. Four is of course, the classic strong lead male, but as more is chipped into his history and his psychology, it comes across that he carries as much damage and baggage as Tris, in fact, far more, which makes him much easier to grasp and love. All of Tris’ transfer-initiate companions are richly brought to life, with Al being the biggest highlight, as a side character with so much boiling under his surface, and working as a superb catalyst for making the main characters motivations clearer, while throwing the morals of the Factions into stark clarity. Peter is a despicable little… Yeah, he’s what a rival should be, easily hateable. Put him straight up there with Draco Malfoy.
As for plot, Divergent is fast, heartfelt and twisting too. It throws the reader straight into the world, but at no point are we confused about how it all works. Immediately, the nuances and personalities of each Faction are brought to the reader’s attention through the narration and curiosity of Beatrice. The initiation section of the novel is brilliant character building, classic “school day” bonding, making all the characters likeable, and developing the values of Dauntless, as well as weaving in teen worries and day to day concerns that helps bring humanity to the whole novel. The latter half of the novel is a sudden drop, like a rollercoaster of brutal action that quite frankly, I wasn’t expecting at all, full of darkness and mystery. It really shatters the world and the reader’s expectations.
So, yeah, Divergent is superb, and I was hooked into it very quickly. If ever there was a “series to watch” as the successor to The Hunger Games in the whole Dystopian genre (not that these are similar of course), then these books are easily well written enough to receive just such praise and attention. I will get round to Insurgent as soon as I can order it back in at work. Unless someone at Harpercollins wants to send me a proof? PRETTY PLEASE?!