Monday 15 July 2013
Divergent - Veronica Roth
In the last year or so, I've read a lot of rave reviews of Veronica Roth's teen dystopian novel Divergent, so when I found a copy in Ellie's book shop, I thought I'd see what all the fuss was about. In the wake of The Hunger Games, the YA market is full of dystopian futures: zombie apocalypses, corrupt governments and teenagers versus the world. Despite, or perhaps because of the hype, I was not convinced that Divergent would stand apart from the rest, but I wanted to be proved wrong.
The society of Divergent is split into five factions, each of which value and strive for a single character trait: Dauntless (courage), Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (kindness), Erudite (knowledge) and Candor (truth). I was very much reminded of Hogwarts houses, but turned up to eleven, and for life. Members of each faction have their own roles and contributions in this society, according to these values - but this view of humanity seemed too simplistic to convince me. People are complicated, and I could not believe in a world which dictated that a person can be either brave, or kind, or intellectual, that one quality must drive a person's every action, every thought, every decision, from the age of sixteen to the end of their days, or be outcast forever.
It took me a long time to get into Divergent, but my favourite segment of the novel was the middle, in which heroine Tris (Beatrice) trains for the initiation into the Dauntless faction. I was reminded of a school story, with new friendships and enemies made, learning and living together in dormitories, and facing up to bullies among other initiates and teachers alike. The famous knife scene was where my interest really started, which Tris shows real-world courage, as opposed to the daring stunts and tough fighting that passed for bravery in the Dauntless faction.
Fans of Divergent grow very tired of the inevitable comparisons with The Hunger Games, and between tough-girl Tris and Katniss Everdeen, and indeed they are very different stories within the genre. However, Divergent did not stand out from the other dystopian teen books. I enjoyed the Dauntless scenes fairly well, as a small group of characters getting to know each other and the workings of their new faction away from the hinted-at disturbances in their world's government. (How much of the world is factioned, and what happened to the rest of it?) However, I thought that the wider world, though full of potential, was quite weakly realised and unconvincing, and the final act was nothing exceptional. Sixteen-year-old heroine and a few friends-and-relations trying to bring down a corrupt regime? It's been done before, and better.