Monday, 23 December 2013

Divergent, by Veronica Roth

4 stars

I've seen people on Goodreads squeeing over this series for a while now but, having been taught a harsh lesson by George RR Martin, I'm now refusing to read a word of a series until they're already published. Now that the last part of this series, Allegiant, has made its entry into the world (and with a movie adaptation about to be unleashed upon us) it's safe to start.

We find ourselves a world where all of the old identifiers - religion, race, culture, money, whether you're the type of person who ties your jumper around your waist or your shoulders - are no longer important and people's lives are determined by which of five 'factions' they belong to: Abnegation, Erudite, Candor, Amity, or Dauntless. Abnegation are selfless, the Erudite value intelligence over all else, Candor about all about honesty, Amity about peace and the Dauntless are brave...

...well, at least that's what they're supposed to be (although they're mostly just pointlessly reckless, but more on that later).

Reaching 16 means it's time to choose - right after a personality test (I love those! And I initially think this would rock and that I would totally be in Erudite, with a smidge of Abnegation as I have a habit of acting the martyr, although whenever I've had a drink I'd belong to Candor, before realising that I'm actually a bit of everything depending on what day it is, what the weather is like, whether I'm at work or not, etc, etc). Joining Beatrice Prior as she chooses which faction to belong to, we find out that (as noted above) there are many people who find it difficult to think within such narrow perimeters, and that there's a word for these people - Divergent. And that having aptitude for Dauntless, Erudite, and Abnegation, Beatrice is Divergent too, a secret she must keep at all costs for fear of becoming factionless, or even killed. 

Choosing to join Dauntless, we're then thrown into initiation alongside the newly renamed Tris and things get a bit Ender's Game. As Tris is in Dauntless, initiation means she has to do things like no longer enter buildings via doors but by jumping off their roofs instead, hurling herself on and off the moving trains that are her main means of transport, beating her fellow initiates unconscious, and getting tattoos, piercings and wearing black clothes (as that's what the truly dauntless do. Which must mean that the wispy teenagers draping themselves over the sundial and hanging around Blue Banana are all actually triple-hard bastards). Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering how they go about their lives, there aren't many adults within Dauntless and so we shouldn't be too shocked when it turns out that the kids in charge have somewhat twisted its original ideals in favour of being pointlessly vicious and quick to punch people instead. Being cold, occasionally cruel and nearly always surly, Tris fits right in.

The biggest part of Dauntless initiation involves facing your fears in simulations (it's via these simulations that Tris's instructor and love interest got his silly nickname, Four. He only has four fears, you see, something which is apparently awe-inspiring although I think it just means he's spectacularly unimaginative). Unfortunately for everyone, those simulations and their methods of transmission were all designed by the Erudite, and are about to come in very handy during their attempt to seize power.

With an interesting world set up and a great pace this was an excellent start to the series that kept me turning pages long into the night. I'm interested to see where the attack will lead us and how it will affect the factions, as well as seeing if we'll find how those fences the Dauntless are supposed to guard are important. However, I really couldn't give two hoots about Tris and Four's relationship (even though he's actually quite a refreshing love interest who doesn't stalk his intended, nor treat her like she's weak and stupid, or throw a strop if she has an independent thought, and doesn't get violently possessive around other men) and wish that just once we could have a YA heroine whose relationship status doesn't become a large part of the story.

Still, the niggles are all fairly small in the grand scheme of things, and they're certainly not enough to keep me from diving straight in to the next book.

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