Book Review: Insurgent or “The Extended Info-dump of DOOM”

Yup, I’m back in the trenches again.

insurgent

One might ask why I read the second book in the series when I wasn’t particularly impressed with the first. Well, my enjoyment of books isn’t entirely contingent upon their being objectively “good.” Sometimes, bad books amuse me in their badness. I guess it’s the same reason I keep watching Once Upon a Time.

That being said, this one might be harder to tackle than its predecessor because, well, nothing happens. Insurgent takes the pacing problems with Divergent and kicks them up several notches. It wastes a lot of time on crap no one cares about, and I just kept slogging through waiting for something to happen.

I’m glad I read it right after Divergent, because while the former doesn’t exactly end on a cliffhanger, it does end in a way that it’s not easy to just jump right into the sequel. Apparently, Veronica Roth had to post a “cheat sheet” on her site to help readers keep track of who’s who and what’s been happening, and personally, I think if that’s necessary… it’s not very good writing. I get it if we’re talking some sprawling A Song of Ice and Fire-type saga, but we’re not dealing with a whole mess of families and political intrigue in some fantasy realm here. If your supporting characters are so poorly-drawn people can’t tell them apart after a short break from the series, someone’s dropping the ball.

When last we saw our heroes, they were fleeing to Amity’s dope trailer after those Erudite assholes exterminated all the Abegation leaders, using a simulation serum to turn the Dauntless into mindless soldier-bots. You will come to see that serum is the sonic screwdriver of this series, except that Doctor Who is a campy family show, and this series is attempting to take itself somewhat seriously. Any time a plot element needs an explanation, it’s the serum! And just wait till we get to the pseudoscience of the divergent brain. But I get ahead of myself. Back to the tree-hugging patchouli-smoking hippie commune, otherwise known as Amity headquarters.

Tris, Tobias/Four, Marcus, Peter, and Caleb arrive at Amity headquarters, located on an apple orchard. Remember, the Amity are farmers. I’m sure they got the weed fields well hidden. Our heroes are welcomed by the Amity representative, Johanna Reyes.

Did you seriously make the only Latin@ representative the one of the agriculture community? Seriously?

This is not the first instance of racial fuckery in this tome, but once again, I get ahead of myself.

Amity attempts to be Switzerland in this conflict so the refugees have to move on. We find out that the reason the Amity are such happy hippies is that they’re all being dosed with some kind of happy-serum that sounds a lot like ecstasy. (See what I mean about THE SERUM?) There’s also a scene in which Tris suspects that Marcus, one of the Abegation leaders and Tobias’s father, knows more than he’s letting on. She belligerently demands the truth from him but he is evasive. This will be a recurring theme—Tris acting like a little shit to adults with no real consequences. Now, I get that most of the adults in this book are either ineffective or shady as fuck, but come on. Unless we’re talking some Lord of the Flies-esque scenario, most of the time teens still owe adult authority figures some degree of deference. Freakin’ Harry Potter had to defer to the adults in Hogwarts and he was the gotdamned Chosen One!

Eventually, the Erudite show up and a shootout/chase scene ensues. Ahh, it’s been a while since we had a good spot of gratuitous violence. Tris, Tobias, and a few others make it into the city where they hole up at a factionless safe house. There, they encounter Tobias’s mother, whom Tris believed had died when Tobias was a child. But it turns out that she left Tobias’s abusive father and has been hiding out with the factionless all this time. Tobias already knew this, because she had contacted him in the past, before the first book takes place. So the mother/son reunion, in which Tobias finds out his supposedly-dead mother is really alive after all these years, takes place off the page.

One of the first things you learn in creative writing courses is to never, ever have pivotal events happen off the page. I know Tobias’s knowledge of his mother’s whereabouts had to be retconned in so he could name-drop to the factionless and save their asses, but it’s still lazy writing. Big reveals: you’re doing it wrong.

Evelyn, Tobias’s Mom, is leading a resistance movement within the factionless that supposedly contains twice as many members as Dauntless. Tris finds this shocking, but considering that Dauntless only takes ten of its new initiates every year while the old/infirm usually leave when they can no longer take unnecessary thrill-seeking risks for no good reason, is it really surprising?

Evelyn informs our heroes that Dauntless is split and half are with Candor and the other half, the traitors, are with Erudite. Tobias and Tris go to Candor headquarters. There, we meet our second non-white faction representative, and of course he has to be an asshole. His name is Jack Kang, and I notice that VR likes to describe her Asian characters as possessing “slanted eyes.”

Now, being half Asian myself, my naturally double-lidded, non-slanted eyes would like to have a word with you. There are several different eye shapes Asian people can have, not all of which are the stereotypical slanted, single-lidded shape that most westerners seem to believe is representative of all Asians. Fine, you don’t want to describe someone simply by naming their race. I get that. But if you’re going to resort to broad and potentially offensive stereotypes, maybe it’s best to just bite the bullet and say “Jack appeared to be of Asian descent.” We’re not talking about some fantasy realm here; we’re talking Chicago in a not-too-distant future, so I’m fairly certain the context of race/ethnicity as we know it still exists. Given the fuckery earlier with Johanna Reyes, I am really not inclined to give VR the benefit of the doubt here.

The Candor don’t trust Tris and Tobias and subject them to a public interrogation under the influence of truth serum. The MAGIC SERUM strikes again! Tris spills that she killed Will, causing a rift between her and her former bff (and Will’s girlfriend) Christina. Throughout all this, Tris still manages to act like she’s the wronged party here. Don’t even feed me that “she was a kid who panicked” bullshit. That’s another thing that pisses me off about these books. When the plot requires it, Tris is some superhuman badass whose leadership adults defer to, but when she fucks up “she’s just a scared kid.” There’s no reason she couldn’t have just wounded Will enough to incapacitate him without killing him. If she’s a good enough shot to hit him between the eyes, she could certainly have blown out a knee instead. The only reason for her to kill Will is to cause angst, none of which I give a shit about, since neither Will nor Christina were developed enough as characters for his death to have any emotional resonance.

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The Dauntless traitors attack Candor and shoot them all with tranq darts containing MAGIC SERUM that knocks everyone out except the divergent. Tris and the other divergents manage to fight them off with the help of some undercover Dauntless double agents. But wait—it turns out the MAGIC SERUM is actually a special long-term simulation serum that will allow the Erudite to run a simulation on the affected at any time.

Is there anything the MAGIC SERUM can’t do at this point?

Jeanine, the Erudite leader and our big bad, programs a few Dauntless to jump off the Dauntless building and off themselves. The Erudite threaten to keep killing off Dauntless unless they cough up the divergents and turn them over to Erudite. So Tris decides to make the ultimate sacrifice and, since she is the soopah-specialest divergent of all—she tested into three factions!—turns herself in.

So we get this long section of Tris in captivity that is as exciting as it sounds. We learn that the Erudite want to use the divergent as lab animals for their magic serums, because apparently the divergent brain is inherently different from all those plebes who only define themselves by one trait. Some ridiculously oversimplified pseudoscience is trotted out that makes Fringe look like the height of credibility.Specifically, the divergents have exceptionally large prefrontal cortexes. Tris has one of the largest prefrontal cortexes they have ever seen.

interesting

Walter Bishop couldn’t make this shit sound sophisticated. If you’re going to bust out the pseudoscience, at least do something that can’t be easily debunked via basic freshman biology.

Tris angsts around and wants to die so she can join her parents. I resist the urge to cheer her on. Then Tobias turns himself in because if she’s going to die he’s going to die with her. Aww, how romantic. I’m going to buy myself some chocolate and roses when Erudite kills them both. Tris’s execution is first, but of course she’s saved just in the nick of time by… well, I won’t spoil you. But this person’s identity is pretty groanworthy. And no, it’s not Tobias, although he escapes with them. Tris also finds out that there was a mole among them, and well… I won’t give that away, either.

After the escape from Erudite, they rejoin the factionless and the divergent, who are now hiding out in the Abegation sector. Seungrisus Christ, this book is like a postapocalyptic Chicago travelogue. The factionless concoct a plan to attack Erudite and it’s time for the big climax! I won’t say much more, but there’s a big reveal at the end involving the outside world, and it’s as anticlimactic as you might imagine. It’s also a lesson in creative writing 101—once we learn what’s up, you have to ask why it was so important that Marcus  keep it hidden from Tris for basically the entire book. There is literally no reason for him to withhold that information except to keep the reader in the dark and stretch out the mystery as long as possible.

So that’s it for Insurgent. I’m surprised I used so many words to talk about nothing, but I guess there was more fuckery afoot here than I initially thought. This book was basically one long extended info dump. Some of the gaping world building holes in the first book are filled in, but those explanations don’t help this world make any more sense. Obviously, I would only recommend this for diehard fans of the first book, or people like me who are weird and/or easily amused.

And on that note, I’m out.

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