My Thoughts on ALLEGIANT by Veronica Roth

So this is probably going to turn out being less a proper review as much as just me rambling and using bullet points and stuff, because I’m exhausted right now and probably still too close to having read the book to say anything properly coherent.

But here are My Thoughts on Allegiant. (Because I know these are quite spoilery and I don’t want anyone accidentally coming across them, I’m putting the text from here on out in white. Just highlight below if you’d like to read on.)

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As I already mentioned in this week’s Wordy Wednesday, I had a bit of a mixed reaction to Allegiant. As a reader, I adored it–all my favorite characters were there, we finally got to learn what was outside the fence, and overall, it was a pretty satisfying conclusion to a trilogy I love. But at the same time, as a writer and someone who likes to critique movies in her free time, there was a lot I didn’t like about Allegiant. Not enough to make me actually not like the book–because no, I really do love it–but enough that I think it warrants me sharing my thoughts.

Also, let it be known: This in no way is a critique on Veronica Roth. A lot of people have been terrible to her since finishing Allegiant, returning their copies of the book and threatening her, and that is NOT okay. Veronica Roth is an amazing person who has granted us access to her life and writing, and she didn’t need to do that. She has given us a gift. Just because a book doesn’t end the way you want it to doesn’t mean you have a right to be rude or downright nasty to the author.

On the other hand, you are allowed to react to the book itself, which is what I’m doing here: Reacting to and critiquing the book. Not the author, never the author. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, right? (Not that I think anyone who’s awesome enough to read my blog would be one of the immature jerks being mean to VRoth, but I just wanted to get my opinion on the matter out there. So yeah. There ya go.)

*****

One: Let’s Kill Tris

Tris’s death scene was beautiful. I adored the way Roth wrote it, and part of me really loves her for going through with killing off the protag, because most people don’t have the guts to do that (I’m looking at you, Christopher Nolan, Beth Revis, and S’Meyer, just to name a few). After being disappointed so many times over being promised a good protagonist death that never actually happened (I swear I’m not a psycho–I just really love it when people actually do what they claim to set out to do), I should’ve been happy that Roth actually killed off Tris.

But here’s the thing that stopped me from sobbing my eyes out after David the Poop Face shot her: It wasn’t necessary for Tris to die. Tris’s dying didn’t solve anything, it just caused more problems. And oh yeah, we all saw it coming that you were going to kill Tris, Veronica Roth, because YOU WROTE THE BOOK WITH TWO PERSPECTIVES.

The moment Roth announced she was doing that, everyone knew what it meant. And yeah, yeah, yeah, having Tobias’s perspective throughout the rest of the book is helpful in giving a broader view of what’s going on, but for someone with as much character blood lust as Roth, it was obvious where that decision ultimately was going to lead. And the moment she started laying the breadcrumbs about Caleb and Tris’s relationship, it was obvious even how and why it was going to happen.

Not that Tris’s death being predictable is a bad thing, per say, but it did annoy me just because, after everything that happened in Insurgent, Tris was meant to survive. Killing her in the way Roth did destroyed Tris’s previous character development, and thus her arc.

Now, I REALIZE Veronica Roth can do whatever she wants to her characters–they’re her characters. But after spending so much time teaching Tris that throwing yourself head first into sacrificing your live isn’t the only option–that she could do good in her world without dying–it felt like a slap in the face for that ultimately to be the way she went.

You finally teach the girl how to survive, and then you make her go back on that freshly learned lesson in the defining moment of the trilogy–Tris claims to have learned the lesson that her life is important, but the first chance she gets to throw it all away again in Allegiant, she runs headfirst into the path of the bus LIKE SHE NEVER LEARNED IT IN THE FIRST PLACE. Tris’s death basically completely invalidates everything that happened in Insurgent. And sure, she has that line about not wanting to leave, but how is that one line supposed to hold up against 525 pages of Tris learning to value her life in the last book.

And then there’s the other stuff: It doesn’t solve any problems. Tris can save the day without dying; because she survives the death serum, it’s not actually necessary for Tris to die when she goes to set off the memory serum. She’s already made the decision to sacrifice herself to the death serum to save Caleb, which means that once she’s survived the death serum, it’s no longer a sacrifice. Instead, her death becomes one of collateral damage. Once she’s into the lab and David is there, she has no way of backing out or saving herself, because he’s going to shoot her whether she sets off the memory serum or not. She doesn’t sacrifice herself to save her friends and family; all she does is decide to take the bad guys down with her. It’s not a sacrifice if you don’t have any other choice.

So, when it comes down to it, Tris’s death doesn’t solve anything. It’s contrived. It’s not a martyr’s death like our brave, selfless protagonist deserves–it’s the death of a person who was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Roth put David in that room for the sole purpose of killing Tris in as dramatic a way as possible, and as far as I could tell from an outside perspective, she decided to kill Tris for the sole purpose of it being the ultimate people-die-in-war scenario.

But here’s the thing: Tris isn’t just another person. This isn’t real life, this is a book series. And because of that, even if you want to kill your protag, I think you still have to follow the rules of Plot Armor to an extent. Basically meaning: Anyone Can Die applies to everyone but the main characters, and then once you’re ready to kill off a protag, you should try to make it mean something. Plot Armor, in this case, stops meaning that everyone’s favorite characters can’t die, but instead that their death should not just be there as collateral damage, but as something that affects the overall plot, symbolism, AND his/her personal character arc. Otherwise, it’s not going to be satisfying to the reader–any reader, including someone like me who relishes a good fictional bloodbath.

I think the main reason readers are upset with Tris’s death is less because she died as much as because of how she died. If Tris had actually, in dying, saved the day, it would be a whole other matter. It’s the fact that she had already survived the death serum, thus fulfilling the obligations of the sacrifice, and then died as collateral damage–just another body–that got people upset. Sure, she still set off the memory serum, thus ending the immediate conflict, but she didn’t need to die to do that. David still could have been in the room and still could have shot her, and she still could have pressed the green button, without choosing to, in the end, let go of her life.

Tris deserved the death of a martyr–someone who could have survived, but chose to save her people, what she believed in, instead. And what she got was the death of someone who had no other choice–the kind of death that should be reserved for a secondary character, not the narrator. She becomes someone who knows she has no choice but to die, so might as well take the bad guys down with her. She should have been (in my personal, flawed, ultimately unimportant opinion) someone who could live, but decided to do the hard thing anyway, because it was right.

There was no right or wrong in Tris’s death. It just happened. It didn’t matter. Two+ books telling us how Tris matters, and then in the end, she doesn’t.

(Also: I would have been more disturbed seeing my mother with a bunch of bullet holes in her than relieved. just saying. That’s freaky, yo.)

EDIT, 10-28-13: Veronica Roth just posted her reasoning behind Tris’s death on her blog, and it’s definitely worth the read. It’s interesting to see how she views her protag’s death from a completely different perspective from the one I take here, and although I still don’t think Tris’s death is executed properly, it’s nice to know how Roth DID mean for the scene to be interpreted, and it’s nice to know that she didn’t mean for Tris to just become collateral damage. (I don’t know about you, but I still really want to know why the heck Natalie had to look like a redneck’s pinata at the end there, though.)

*****

Two: One Perspective Isn’t Enough

I actually think the two perspectives worked out all right in the book, because they did bring us such a broader image of what was happening. But at the same time, I am sick and tired of people changing how the third book in a trilogy is written–adding perspectives, etc.

Authors: You’re getting annoying. Stop making this a trend. It is possible to give multiple perspectives without making all the different characters new narrators (beautiful example: Natalie’s journal).

*****

Three: Tris Loses Her Voice

This is actually less of a point of critique as much as just an observation: Tris was a LOT more mature in this book than she was in the previous two. Which I think is actually great, because it shows how she grew up throughout the series, but at the same time, maybe a LITTLE more transition into Tris’s grown up voice would have been nice. It was jarring to go from her younger, more teenager-y voice at the end of Insurgent to it being just a few days later at the beginning of Allegiant and suddenly she’s a grown up.

(Observation to go along with this: VRoth has stopped talking/acting as much like a teenager the past couple years, herself. She’s really growing into her role as an adult now–she’s begun talking down to teen readers rather than talking on level with them, in more of a super-awesome-older-sister sort of way than her previous awkward-fabulous-fellow-teenager one–and it’s been fun watching her grow up. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with her talking down to us a bit, because she is in her twenties and married and all that fun stuff. But it’s something I’ve been noticing in her interviews/videos/blog posts/tumblr posts/etc lately.)

*****

Four: Tobias is a Whiny Four Year Old

Tobias isn’t called Four because he only has four fears. He’s called four because that’s the age he stopped developing emotionally.

Seriously, Tobias stopped being attractive to me in this book. Not that he’s ever been my type or anything (I’m more of a nerdy, Peter Parker kind of girl), but I did get why someone like Tris liked him. He was strong, knowledgeable, and always pushing her to do better. Tobias was basically who made Tris who she was in this book–logical, resilient, always looking at the bigger picture rather than her own insecurities.

And then you find out that Tobias is actually the exact opposite of who he molded Tris into being.

There’s nothing wrong with showing weakness sometimes, but when you’re in the sort of situation Fourtris are in, it’s important to remember that you’re just a piece of a much larger puzzle, and you need to keep your focus on that–for someone who’s from Abnegation, Tobias is about as self-centered as they come; all he comes to care about is fixing the problems that directly affect him.

Tobias suddenly being so insecure and pre-teen-PMSing moody about the not being Divergent thing in this book made him seem less like he was weakened by the circumstances as much as that he just naturally was weak-willed and minded, emotionally immature, and a toddler lashing out at anyone who tried to help him by pointing out his mistakes.

You’d think someone who taught Tris how to be strong despite all the broken pieces in her life would know how to do the same for himself.

*****

Five: Let’s Kill Everyone But the New Characters

Anybody else notice how while Roth happily killed off Tori, Uriah, and Tris, she never even touched any of the new characters? Seriously, I don’t even understand why Nita is still alive. If anyone should have been sacrificing themselves at the end there, it should have been Nita–that would have been such a nice bit of character development, after she was so self-centered, manipulating, and idiotic with the first rebellion.

Both Nita and Matthew were such flat characters, just there to help move the plot along, I would have loved to have seen more development for the two of them, Nita especially since she ultimately was the more influential. I never knew whether or not I truly should trust Matthew, since he always was just sort of there without revealing a lot about himself. He seemed like a plant, trying to gain everybody’s trust before turning them over to David. Roth did eventually give us the bit about how he’d once been in love with a GD who died because the GPs attacked her, but it definitely felt like it was there purely just to justify Matthew helping them.

Also: Did we ever actually meet Matthew’s supervisor? Because I don’t think we did, which was weird since so much time was spent talking about him.

Also also: None of the bad guys, on either side, died. (Well actually: Edward. But he was never a figure in power, so I’m not sure if he should even count.) I would have loved to see one of the antagonist leaders go, and preferably in an inconsequential sort of way. Like if Marcus got caught by a stray bullet or something in the final battle–something super inconsequential like that–it would have been fantastic.

Also also also: I WANTED A FINAL BATTLE. ARE THESE YA ACTION THRILLER DYSTOPIAN NOVELS OR ARE THEY NOT.

*****

Six: I WANTED A FINAL BATTLE SCENE.

Seriously. Why didn’t we have a final battle. The only one who does any fighting in the end is Tris, and that’s for about point-five seconds before she gets shot.

I get that Roth was trying to give us the message that talking things out, being diplomatic rather than pigheaded, war-hungry idiots is also an option, but I don’t know. I like fiction with action. I like elaborate battle sequences and unnecessary causalities, and you should know: I am the most gentle person ever in real life. I’m a vegetarian, I regularly talk my parents out of killing spiders, and I suck at stage combat because I’m always afraid I’m going to actually accidentally hurt the person opposite me in the scene.

But I do love a good action-packed book or movie. And in a series that has depended so much on violence to advance the plot up until this point, it was disappointing for everyone just to make nice in the end. Maybe if Tobias’s group had to dodge and fight off Bureau people on their way to getting the Chicago leaders to talk things out, it would have been more satisfying for me. As it was, they kind of just did their whole half of the climax without trouble and then were just done with it.

*****

Seven: Who Needs Consistent Pacing

In both Divergent and Insurgent, Tris is caught up in nonstop plot twists and action sequences. I felt like Allegiant just sort of plodded along in comparison, giving us the occasional twist and/or burst of action to keep us going, but not enough to make it a proper page turner.

In comparison, I’d like to retract my comment in the Wordy Wednesday post about the book not demonstrating as obvious an example of dramatic structure as D1 and D2. I read most of Allegiant while I was absolutely exhausted, and I think that affected my ability to pinpoint the inciting incident and catalyst and rising action and all that. Looking back on it, it’s actually all fairly obvious. So: Ignore me on that. The dramatic structure was fine. I more just have a problem with the lack of plot twists and action sequences. (Roth says she’s matured as a writer to no longer feel like she needs to include as many of those, but unfortunately, I have a really short attention span. Which means that unless there are five different subplots and a bomb about to go off at any point in time, I’m probably not going find the book very captivating when I go to reread it. And I kind of judge books’ quality on how well they hold up in the reread. So sorry about that, that’s more my problem than Allegiant‘s.)

*****

So, I think that covers just about all of my main critique. I could talk more about some of the little stuff, but this post is long enough as it is. (If you read through this entire thing: Here. Take my love.)

The important thing to remember is that I did enjoy this book. A lot. I stayed up until 5:00 AM to finish it Tuesday night, I and I don’t do that for just anything, especially during the school year. I loved the decision to give Uriah a slow death, and I loved the action sequences that we DID get, and I think Roth described grief in a very realistic, beautiful way. I liked that she almost broke up Fourtris at one point, and as much as Tobias’s weakness annoyed me (come on, seriously, GET A HANDLE ON YOURSELF, MAN), his scene with his mother at the end, when she chose him over power, brought me the closest to tears I ever got while reading this. I enjoyed all the inside jokes and the airplane ride and the scene with the targets when they’re teaching Caleb how to shoot. I enjoyed Christina and Uriah having a completely platonic relationship, and I love the fact that she and Tobias end up such good friends in the end, since they started out not liking each other much in Divergent. I liked SO MUCH about this book–and ultimately, all of that outweighs the parts that I didn’t like.

So: Allegiant isn’t perfect, but it’s still a good novel. It has its moments. The line-by-line writing is tight and purposeful, and I am really sad this trilogy is over. But I’m also really excited that Veronica Roth is still just at the beginning of her writing career.

In the immortal words of JK Rowling, “I think we must expect great things from you, Veronica Roth.”

If the Divergent trilogy is any indication, great things, indeed.

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About to leave for Chicago for VRoth’s book signing!!! 😀 See you on the other side.

~Julia

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2 thoughts on “My Thoughts on ALLEGIANT by Veronica Roth

  1. As previously discussed, I agree with all your points but the one on Tobias’s voice. I also loved that beautiful comment about mothers with bullet holes. I hadn’t even considered that but you make a good point, haha. I don’t know that I agree with you about the final battle scene. I thought that setup was fine. Otherwise, though, yes. Yup yup yup.

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