With the faction system dismantled and Tobias's mother using her Factionless to run Chicago with an iron fist, a new group rises up against them, calling themselves the Allegiant. The Allegiant are dedicated to restoring some kind of faction system, while following the instructions left by Edith Prior which say that as soon as enough Divergents have emerged, they must leave the city to save their fellow man outside the fence. Tris and Tobias secretly join their cause, and eventually, along with a small group of their friends, they escape the city, heading for the no man's land outside.
Beyond the fence, they are surprised to find a governmental organization known as the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, which welcomes them with open arms. But it doesn't take long before they begin to realize that the Bureau isn't all that it seems. Not only have they been monitoring what goes on inside the fence for years, they've had a hand in recent events too. Angry over the Bureau's interference in their lives, Tris, Tobias, and their friends begin looking for ways to stop them, but not all their plans succeed. When things start getting out of hand inside the fence, with the Factionless and the Allegiant on the brink of civil war, the Bureau decides to step in and reset everyone's memories. But Tris and Tobias refuse to allow that to happen. They put into action a risky plan that could either free those inside from the Bureau's influence or end in their destruction.
***I usually try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but there are a number of things that bothered me about this book that I feel I can't explain without giving some things away. So if you haven't read the book but intend to, and don't like spoilers of any kind, you probably shouldn't read my review.***
Unlike most readers, I haven't been completely enthralled by the Divergent series as a whole, but I had high hopes that this final installment would finally explain things better and wrap it all up in a satisfying way. Alas, that was not to be the case. If anything, Allegiant alienated me even further. I finished it last night, and I'm still feeling confused, angry, and depressed about the whole thing. Even though the world building in the first two book hadn't been the absolute best I've seen, it was good enough that I didn't feel this final book lived up to the promise I'd seen. I had numerous issues with the plotting and general storytelling, not the least of which is the sucky ending. There were just way too many things that weren't explained well or didn't make sense at all, leaving me frustrated. Try as I might, I haven't been able to stop myself from drawing parallels between Divergent and The Hunger Games, and IMHO, The Hunger Games is a far superior book series.
On the upside, I didn't have as much difficulty with the characterizations in this book as I did with the previous two. Both Tris's and Tobias's personalities were a little more even, rather than seeming like they were being pigeonholed into the factions for which they exhibited an aptitude. However, this could simply be the result of the faction system being dismantled, so the author probably wasn't feeling the need to show the character's various personality traits that would have made them suitable for the factions. Despite this being the case, I still didn't relate to either Tris or Tobias all that well. They both tend to be a little hot-headed, running headlong into danger and often making rash decisions with which I didn't agree that are based more on emotion than logic. Even though we actually get Tobias's POV in this one too, I felt like his character was still on the weak side. One of those decisions I mentioned leads to him making a huge mistake and while he didn't directly cause the ensuing mayhem, he did contribute to it by helping others who did. I also felt like his part in the story was overshadowed by Tris. For Tris's part, I didn't really like it when she throws it in Tobias face about how right she was after everything goes south. Yeah, she was right, but in that moment, Tris came off as being a little arrogant. I was happy to see that Tris found her capacity for forgiveness by the end, which is something that she'd struggled with throughout the series. But ultimately, these two characters never fully captured my heart and imagination in the same way that many others have.
Anyone who is categorizing these books, especially this final one, as romance, really needs to knock it off.:-) As a longtime romance reader and now writer of the genre, I can unequivocally say that they do not qualify. Yes, there is a love story in here, but it's definitely secondary to other events. There's very little of what I would call truly romantic interludes in any of the books. In this one, Tobias and Tris share a couple of brief romantic moments early in the book, but not long after they go outside the fence, they start arguing, and especially after Tobias's big mistake, they're at odds with one another and separated for a while. Eventually they do reconcile, leading to one more mildly romantic moment that was equally as short-lived as the others, and that's about it. More than anything, though, my reason for disqualifying this book as romance is the lack of a happy ending. Many readers also call The Hunger Games romance, another genre classification with which I disagree, but I'd be more inclined to accept the romance label on that series than this one. In order to qualify as a true romance a book has to have a positive and emotionally satisfying ending for the romantic pairing, which Mockingjay more or less has, but Allegiant most definitely does not.
Even more so than my issues with the characterizations and the romance, I had trouble with a lot of things that simply didn't make sense. For starters, the rebel characters (Tris, Tobias and the others from inside the city as well as a few allies from outside) are constantly having discussions pretty openly about how to defeat the Bureau within the walls of the Bureau's own compound with seemingly no concerns whatsoever about whether someone loyal to the Bureau might overhear them or that someone might be listening in with surveillance equipment. Also for newcomers to the compound, they seem to have pretty broad access to what is essentially a government research facility, which was totally unbelievable to me even in a post-apocalyptic world. Next we discover that some of the initiates who were classified as Divergent weren't really Divergent at all for the purposes of the Bureau's genetic classifications. How this could be isn't really explained except to say that they have some kind of genetic anomaly which makes them seem Divergent, which was not a particularly satisfying answer. Also, Tris seems to have some kind of special ability to resist serums that goes above and beyond most Divergent, but yet again, the reason for this isn't really explained.
I also took issue with the memory and death serums and events surrounding the use of both. First how the memory serum works isn't explained well either. They merely say that it targets the memories of your life, essentially giving the person a permanent case of amnesia, rather than erasing the memory of how to do things, which wasn't very believable to me on a scientific level. Then there's the matter of how the memory serum was dispersed throughout the entire compound so that all the people in it were affected when the canister was located in the weapons lab on a subterranean level. There's absolutely no explanation for this. Also once the memories of everyone in the compound were wiped, wouldn't the greater US government outside of the Chicago area have had a problem with all this and objected to Chicago ruling itself? As for the death serum, it's supposedly so deadly that even a bio-hazard suit won't protect a person from it. So how did the scientists formulate and manufacture it in the first place without them all dying in the process? Not to mention the way in which the death serum works is pretty foggy. It almost seems like it would be some sort of chemical weapon that kills instantly or stops the heart, yet it appears to be more psychological in nature, since Tris can resist it like other serums. This was all very confusing and murky to me.
In addition to all this, I also found two more plot holes, which makes me wonder if there may have been even more things that didn't even hit my radar. (Actually in hindsight and after reading several other reviews, it turns out there were a lot. I now know why so many other things didn't feel right to me, not the least of which is the gigantic mess that was made of the genetics.) First of all, in the scene with Tris and David in the weapons lab, I couldn't for the life of me figure out how David got in there before her. I might be misremembering, but I thought the entrance she went through was the only way in, which is why the rebels had either needed a pass code for the security system or had to blow the doors open with explosives. Then there's the matter of Tobias's old friend, Amar, and his partner, George. They were said to be loyal to the Bureau, so them helping the kids get back into the city to inoculate their families against the memory serum seemed to contradict that loyalty. Now granted Tobias and company didn't let Amar and George in on the entire plan to prevent the release of the memory serum in the city and to use it to take down the Bureau, but even what little they did know seems like something the Bureau would have been against. Not to mention, what about when they returned? Wouldn't Amar have been upset to find the Bureau defeated? And Tobias had told George to inoculate himself against the serum, so surely he would have easily figured things out. None of this made any sense to me. As a little aside here, regarding the writing itself, much like with the first two books, it could have used quite a few more contractions to make the narrative and dialogue flow better.
****This is where I'm going to let a huge spoiler out of the bag, so if you don't want to know, don't read any further.**** Now despite all my many problems with plot holes and such, nothing bothered me more than the ending. One of our main characters dies, which I felt was completely unnecessary. I try very hard not to judge or second-guess authors for the way they choose to write a story, because as a writer, I know you usually have to follow your gut instincts. However, if you're going to make a move as bold as killing off one of your main characters, you'd better make sure you've given your audience an extremely good reason for that death to occur and make them buy into the necessity of it happening, and that's where I feel like Ms. Roth failed, which left me feeling betrayed as a reader. I can trace my feelings about this all the way back to the beginning of the book. From very early on, the story wasn't sparking off the pages for me, mainly because there was very little action or sense of danger. The world outside the fence wasn't really feeling like this big, bad, scary place that we were lead to believe it was. Now we do learn more about it as the story goes on, and yes, the Bureau was doing some pretty bad things. The people inside Chicago are basically little more than specimens in a petri dish being studied by the government scientists outside, but overall, they don't come off as dark, dangerous, evil people, more like misinformed, even in their complicity surrounding the deaths of the Abnegation and all the chaos that's taken place inside the fence since the civil war started.
This is where I can't help going back to my comparison with the The Hunger Games in which the insidious nature of President Snow and the Capitol reaches all throughout Panem and into the reader's mind to the point that I deeply feared him and would have gladly jumped into the story to kill him myself. I never once got that feeling with any of the characters in Allegiant, not even David (until the end), who is supposedly the leader of these misguided efforts. Ultimately, the character who dies does so while trying to prevent the people still inside from losing their memories, not some greater threat like dying themselves, which when added to the lack of suspense, IMHO, did not provide a good enough reason for a primary character to be killed off. If Katniss or Peeta had been killed in The Hunger Games, I would have been very pissed and extremely depressed, but I would have at least felt like they died for a greater purpose. With this character, it just felt like something of a waste, not only because the stakes weren't high enough, but also because there are so many ways the author could have written it differently so that it didn't have to happen. Case in point again with The Hunger Games or even the Harry Potter series: Ms. Collins and Ms. Rowling were able to kill of secondary characters that absolutely shredded me, leaving me in tears, without ever resorting to killing a main character to get their point across. In contrast, secondary characters die throughout the Divergent series, including in Allegiant, but I felt very little because I never got to know them well enough to truly mourn them. Even when the main character died, I didn't shed any tears, not because I didn't care at all, but because I was more angry than truly upset about it in the way one would be if they'd come to love the character, which is the opposite of what I should have felt. There should have been so much emotion wrung out of a moment like that that I couldn't help but cry, but I just didn't feel much of anything except depressed and ticked off.
Now that I'm done ranting about the ending, I'll add a few comments from a parental perspective. As with the first two books, Allegiant is, IMO, still appropriate for a mature teenage audience. There are a few more expletives in this one, but still no more than ten or so. There's no explicit sex, but there is one implied love scene. It's mostly just some passionate kissing, followed by the characters removing their shirts and lying down. Then the door closed with no details of any kind until they wake up together the next morning. There is an implied gay relationship between two secondary characters, but it's little more than a mention. As before, I think the major concern would be the violence, but even that was somewhat toned down in this book. As I've already mentioned, some characters die, which could be traumatic for a younger reader, so I'd advise discretion. I don't recall most of the remaining violence being all that explicit, except for perhaps the scene where the rebels are trying to infiltrate the Bureau, and then only moderately so. So overall, I would deem it OK for probably 15-16 year olds and up, depending on maturity level.
As you can probably tell by now, I was less than impressed with the wrap up to this story. I gave it three stars, because up until the ending, it was still a fairly entertaining and easy read. I suppose I should give the author some credit as well for making me care enough to be upset about the ending. If not for that (IMHO) epic fail, I probably would have given it four stars, despite my other numerous problems with it, but I just couldn't see any genuine justification for such a depressing denouement. I think Ms. Roth took the saying, "Once a Stiff, always a Stiff" way too far. Were the character's actions selfless and admirable? Sure, but I saw no real need to write that scene the way she did. And apparently, unlike the first two books, I'm not in the minority on my opinion of this one. It seems to have mediocre marks across the board on Internet books sites, so even though I haven't yet read any other reviews of it, I'm sure the author pissed off a whole lot of other readers besides me. Despite the book not living up to my expectations, I'll probably watch the movie version just to see if they change anything to make the story more logical and palatable, but I'll probably still be grinding my teeth at the ending. And I'll also probably read, Four, the short-story collection about Tobias that's a prequel to the series, just for the sake of completeness. But bottom line: If you're looking for a great YA post-apocalyptic/dystopian story, stick with The Hunger Games. It has a whole lot more depth to the characters and plot and at least it has a hopeful ending too.
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